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Discussing Zion Williamson’s rookie max extension

On July 1, the Pelicans can offer a 5-year, $181 million rookie extension to their superstar

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Having cemented the eighth overall pick in Tuesday’s lottery, the New Orleans Pelicans will remain preoccupied with all matters concerning the NBA draft, but free agency also sits right around the corner.

Zion Williamson can be presented with a 5-year, $181 million offer on July 1. He has stated unequivocally that he cannot wait to sign an extension with the Pelicans. Any reservations against the front office presenting him the rookie max this summer?

Kevin Barrios:

Perhaps it was the cycle of abuse of players leaving that has put me into a self-preservation mindset, but I really did not see Zion as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans in the near future.

The obvious strained relationship with David Griffin, the clear distrust of the training staff, the disagreements over availability and the constant shifting of his return to court timelines were all very troubling to me. I haven’t seen a player go through such things without asking out. That’s not to say that all of the blame for the aforementioned issues fall completely on the organization as Zion and his family also have a ton of equity in the early problems in his career. Then there is also just bad luck.

I have always hoped that my fears were for nothing, and that I was completely wrong about the situation — so hearing Zion say he wants an extension and seeing his body language while saying it and during the postseason run has made me so happy.

Without Zion, I feel like this time is an annual 4-5 seed in the West, which is totally fine with me. However, you throw Zion back into the mix and make a few minor tweaks and you are legitimately looking at a title contender for the next few years. So no, I have zero hesitation locking Zion into a deal. The ceiling increases dramatically while not lowering the floor due to how well this team handled the draft and midseason trade market.

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Six Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

I will say that I am curious about how the power dynamic works out going forward as Brandon Ingram is clearly the leader of this team, though Zion and his family certainly believe he is the biggest star. I’m less concerned with on-court issues or issues from Zion himself as he doesn’t seem to be made for leadership, but I do worry about how his family handles Zion being relegated to 1B or 2 in face/voice of the franchise/fan favorite/locker room leader standings. However, I am hoping that being fully thrust into the day-to-day with these true professionals in the locker room will lead to a Lonzo Ball-like awakening for him that puts some distance between him and the advice of his stepfather.

Hopefully, Willie Green, Ingram and CJ help Zion become his own man in the process. If not — and he does eventually want out, having him locked up helps turn him into other pieces to build around a team that I already think is a perennial 4-5 seed in the West, so I feel good about the future regardless.

Travis Tate:

Sign Zion! Period!!

Jamile Dunn:

This is a tricky one, but these are the decisions front office personnel get paid the big bucks to make. Only the Pelicans know the true extent of Zion’s physical condition.

If the team doctors and other experts who have looked at Zion think there is no reason for concern moving forward, send him the max contact the literal first moment you can. If medical experts think that perhaps Zion is the next Brandon Roy from a health perspective, however, then you might be better off stringing the extension along and seeking a trade partner.

The Pelicans front office has to tread lightly here, but they also need to do what’s best for the organization long term. My hope is that long term includes a healthy happy Zion Williamson.

It would be easy to just ink the extension for an incredible talent like Zion, but thus far the Zion experience has been anything but smooth sailing. And with the bevy of young talent now on the roster, you have to be open to moving Zion if you have long term reservations about his health. So I definitely have reservations about extending Zion — although it’s mostly because I don’t have all the information.

David Griffin and Trajan Langdon have access to the medical information as well as some of the perceived off-court issues surrounding Zion. The Pels brain trust will ultimately make a decision with all of that in mind. The only question is if there really are long term concerns do they have the guts to make the tough decision not to extend.

Let’s just hope Zion is healthy and the decision is a Big Easy one.

David Fisher:

Yes, the Pelicans should sign Zion to an extension right away. That doesn’t mean they should give him the full boat (fully guaranteed five years with the player option). Ideally they land on five years, no player option, and some kind of injury protection that decreases the amount guaranteed if certain games played metrics are not met. Joel Embiid’s first extension with Philadelphia is the template here. If they have to bend, my hope is they increase the amount guaranteed before relenting on the player option.

Oleh Kosel:

There should be no concerns about gambling on Zion Williamson’s future because he is potentially the most profitable investment sitting available to the Pelicans. He has the ability to raise New Orleans’ ceiling to the highest level possible.

Talent reigns supreme in the NBA. While Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and company showed they can be an above average team without Williamson, there’s a good chance that he’s still New Orleans’ best player.

New Orleans Pelicans v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

When Zion’s been on the court, he’s looked every bit of a superstar. He carries averages of 25.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 85 professional games. A career 60.4 FG% stands out in particular. Opponents know full well that he prefers to shoot at or near the rim, but they’ve been unable to stop him from getting to his spots consistently.

Don’t overlook the improvements witnessed in Williamson’ free throw percentage and playmaking department during year two as well. No one should bet against him from becoming an even greater force as he garners more and more experience.

The only question remaining in my mind is, should the Pelicans place any protections on a max extension? Both sides of the argument have valid points.

By not writing in any injury language, that would display the highest magnitude of good will possible from the Pelicans. Any appeasement that can be thrown into this relationship is a good idea. If Williamson were to miss games due to foot issues on such a contract, however, the Pelicans wouldn’t be able to file a claim since that injury is well documented and thus not insurable.

On the flip side, going the route of Joel Embiid’s second contract is financially prudent. Tying his salary to minutes and/or games played protects the Pelicans from a career-threatening injury or another avalanche of missed contests.

Had the Pelicans not enjoyed the level of success they had this season and the future didn’t appear as bright, the front office might have been forced to dangle a carrot, like having no injury provisions on an extension. But going that route doesn’t seem necessary, and by all accounts, Williamson appears beyond eager to continue his career in New Orleans.

Offer Zion the max with some injury protections please!