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Zion Williamson wants to remain in New Orleans

Zion Williamson
Zion Williamson wants to stay put in The Big Easy. | (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

Zion Williamson wants to remain in New Orleans

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson cleared the air, yet again, regarding his stance on being apart of the organization on Saturday.

Amid the season-long rumors suggesting he’d want to get traded or that he would accept the qualifying offer (which would make him an unrestricted free agent entering 2023-24), the former No. 1 overall pick stated he doesn’t want to leave The Big Easy. This wasn’t the first time he’s denied the motion of leaving.

“I want to be here (in New Orleans),” Williamson told reporters Saturday. “That’s no secret. I felt like I stood on that whenever I spoke.

“I ain’t really paying too much attention to the [NBA Finals games] itself. I’ll look at who won. But the Pels, baby! The Pels in the first round was all I needed to see to really be excited to get back there. It’s exciting seeing our young players — Jose (Alvarado), Trey (Murphy), Herb (Jones), Jackson (Hayes) — just blossom into players I knew they could be and they knew they could be. The names speak for itself; and then CJ (McCollum) being at it, it was something to watch. And the fans made it so much better.”

Williamson did not play last season because of offseason foot surgery subsequently followed by repeated setbacks during the season. He was one of the electrifying, unstoppable offensive forces in 2020-21, averaging 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 61.1/29.4/69.8 shooting (64.9 TS%) with a 27.1 PER.

New Orleans was 7.5 points per 100 possessions when Williamson was on the floor in 2020-21, including 5.5 points better when he was offense, per Cleaning the Glass. Both rank in the 87th percentile relative to all players’ on-off splits. Then-head coach Stan Van Gundy made it an emphasis to put the rock in Zion’s hands and initiate the offense. And, buddy, did he.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osDWFvYOCCU

Because of Williamson’s ongoing health (and conditoning) concerns, there were serious questions about whether or not Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin would offer Williamson a max extension.

Griffin noted the upcoming decision of offering the max to Williamson this summer is an “easy decision,” he said on Ryen Russillo Show earlier this week.

“[Zion Williamson] is historically good when he plays,” Griffin said. “He played historically good as a back-to-the-basket big and played a season being historically good as ‘Point Zion’. This is a max player — that’s easy.

“What becomes significant as a small-market team and a team that can’t make mistakes in terms of injuries over time, you have to indemnify yourself some way for that, and that’s fine. But the decision of whether or not this is a max player is a very easy one. It’s really going to be about, ‘If you are all the way in with us, this is what it looks like.’ And we’re all the way with him and I think we always have been.”

All signs are pointing to this ending up with far less drama than many of us would’ve anticipated six months ago. Offering a max extension for a player who’s played roughly 38 percent of his possible regular season games while also missing on the team’s third postseason bid since 2010-11 is beyond risky.

At least one or two more injury-plagued seasons makes the max look like one of the worst contracts in the sport. A healthy Williamson, however, obviously bolsters the organization’s potential for competing for a title, should the roster keep improving. It’s a high risk, high-reward decision.

But for a player as good as Williamson, I see why Griffin would offer it — you have to hope the health checks out, no? He was recently cleared for full basketball activities this offseason, giving him nearly an entire summer to improve his game and work himself back into basketball shape.

The Pelicans, coming off a 36-46 season under first-year head coach Willie Green, were one of the league’s most fun young teams last season behind Jones (how’d he not make an All-Defensive/Rookie team again?), Murphy and Alvarado with McCollum, Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas leading the group.

Barring a (consolidation) trade, New Orleans will bring back practically all of its aforementioned core and will have three picks — including the No. 8 overall pick. Things are trending up in The Big Easy, and Williamson clearly sees that. If Williamson and Co. stays healthy, the sky’s the limit for this team.

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