The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t just win the rights to Zion when the lottery balls bounced their way in May of 2019, they may also be gifted a playoff spot thanks to that glorious outcome.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst dropped a bomb this morning on the latest edition of The Hoop Collective that will have jaw-dropping implications for fans. It appears the NBA may be scrapping the idea of playing meaningless regular season games and would push the Pelicans right into a Group Stage style first round if that format gets selected.
“I’ll tell you one thing: that scenario gets Zion Williamson in,” added Windhorst. “Look, I’ve just heard... I’m not saying the NBA is going this route, I’m just saying I’ve already heard this scenario that no matter what happens, the cutoff line will be the Pelicans. They’ll be in. It will be the first time in the history of the NBA that the league kicked the ball into the fairway for New Orleans.”
There have been several proposed formats. Kevin O’Conner’s soccer style grouping system would give the Pelicans the opportunity to play in eight games before possibly advancing to the next round of the NBA playoffs.
A play-in tournament is another suggested solution, but the logistics surrounding it could be troublesome. How do you convince four teams to travel and participate in four weeks of training to appear in just a few games?
The Pelicans faired well against the other four opponents vying to breaking into the final 16. If a play-in tournament of that ilk does become presented as the best solution, their previous performances probably make them the favorite.
“I’d like to see 20 teams,” Nancy Lieberman of Fox Sports Nola told us on today’s podcast.
The Pelicans went 7-1 against Memphis, Sacramento, San Antonio and Portland this season.— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) May 28, 2020
Their lone loss came against SAS in Zion’s debut (121-117) on Jan 22. https://t.co/XMhLsYo5wD
The NBA stands to lose a significant amount of money with the loss of its 270 regular season games and ticket receipts. The NBA proposed playing as many as 90 of them to earn the remainder of salary from local television networks. However, that proposal doesn’t give bubble teams the means with which to overtake the Grizzlies in the standings.
“We are wired to play for something that matters,” Lieberman continued. She went on to praise Damian Lillard’s comments on refusing to play in such a scenario. NBA players don’t mind the low risk that comes with returning to action, but it has to be for meaningful basketball.
Some of that can be recovered by bringing in the NBA most exciting and most profitable young player.
“The league is smart,” Lieberman said. “Why would you not want Zion in the playoffs?”
Zion signed the richest shoe deal among any rookie ever ($15 million annual salary), narrowly eclipsing LeBron’s ($13.8 million) from awhile back.
Zion is also already the fourth-highest offcourt earning athlete in the NBA, behind only LeBron, Curry and Durant, and involved with some very popular companies.
- Mountain Dew
- Beats by Dre
In his first performance on January 22nd, Zion produced the second-highest telecast of the season on ESPN, surpassing all but one game on Christmas day.
The Zion Impact:— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) January 23, 2020
-Zion gained 40,000 followers in one night according to @opendorse
-800 highlight videos created according to @WSC_Sports
-ESPN’s highest rated game this season according to @Ben_ESPN
-Ticket prices for next five games rising according to @TickPick
The NBA banked on his immense popularity early, scheduling the Pelicans 30 nationally televised games despite the team finishing just 33-49 in the 2018-19 season.
However, this has led to some skepticism. Is the league doing and risking too much by including Zion, the Pelicans and three other challengers currently outside of the playoff seeds?
“Let me just say how do you get to 20 though?” said Brian Windhorst. “Because if you just go by the straight records, because to me, this is what I’ve already heard, alright. I’ve already heard people in this league say this is an elaborate game to get Zion Williamson into this bubble.”
Zion is putting on a show in the just-debuted Air Jordan 34 pic.twitter.com/ISFD8HaCte— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 7, 2019
It’s difficult to peg down which is the best way to buy the Pelicans’ participation without excluding the Memphis Grizzlies.
The risks of spreading a dangerous contagion loom in a group-style format. However, Zion’s effect seems to be great enough to assume any additional risk.
It’s an unfathomable circumstance and it may dictate an unorthodox response. The Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs may be the first teams on the back end of a 20-team playoff format.
If it takes place, one thing appears certain: it’s all because of Zion.