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Zion Williamson is happy, healthy and expected to sign rookie max extension with Pelicans

The inclusion of Exhibit 3 clauses in NBA contracts are not as uncommon as you may think

2022 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s a lot of positive energy surrounding Zion Williamson these days, including his burning desire to get back on the court as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans.

“I do want to be here,” Williamson said on Saturday at the Central City Dryades YMCA. “That’s no secret. I feel like I’ve always stood on that whenever I’ve spoken.”

The Pelicans star was cleared of any playing restrictions several weeks ago. He’s been a regular at the Metairie practice facility since arriving from Portland, honing conditioning levels, working on his game and building greater camaraderie with teammates.

There’s an unmistakable sense of dedication emanating from Zion. Although recent pictures do him justice, we’ve been down that road before. What’s different this time round is that distinct tunes are being sung publicly by Williamson and his family.

After informing media during his exit interview that he told Willie Green he’s ready to do whatever is necessary to help improve the Pelicans over the summer, Zion now wants to be a pillar of the New Orleans community. He said it so himself over the weekend and he’s already put words into action.

Starting on June 20, Williamson and his stepfather, Lee Anderson, will be involved in a six-week camp at the Dryades YMCA location to support area youth in an effort to curb the growing violence problem.

“I’m saddened by the violence that is taking place in our city,” Anderson said. “Why am I going to say our city? Because we live here now. We all live here. Noah has to grow up in New Orleans now. We’re counting on New Orleans to be that place that will accept Noah. Put their arms around Noah as South Carolina put their arms around Zion.”

This is a wonderfully benevolent undertaking by the Williamson family, showing a real commitment to the local region. This fact shouldn’t be glossed over, much like the sentences spoken by Anderson. They all echo a much closer relationship with the city of New Orleans than most previously assumed ever had a chance of existing.

But good vibes lie elsewhere too. Case in point, Williamson’s upcoming contract extension is expected to be completed quickly and seamlessly.

There had been rampant speculation for months that the opposite was going to occur, ranging from Zion potentially signing the qualifying offer for the 2023-24 season to get out of New Orleans to he’ll simply force a trade in the near future. Many presumed a contentious negotiation sat on the horizon, but the best NBA news breaker in the business doesn’t envision anything of the sort.

“You can expect Zion Williamson along with Ja Morant, who was the No. 2 pick in that draft, that those are going to be quick max-deal agreements out of the gate,” Adrian Wojnarowski said. “I think why David Griffin calls it an easy decision is just the historically great offensive numbers from Zion Williamson in his first two years in the league and now the recovery from that foot injury. The shape he’s gotten himself into and the full recovery of that foot, and as we’ve been reporting, Zion wants to stay in New Orleans.”

This entirely corroborates what Griffin recently said on the Ryen Russillo podcast, along with the notion that the Pelicans will be protected in the event of a worst-case injury scenario.

“What becomes significant as a team that’s a small-market team and a team that can’t make mistakes in terms of injuries over time, you have to indemnify yourself in some way for that, and that’s fine.”

Many have often referenced Joel Embiid, who suffered through multiple surgeries on his right foot early in his career, as a suitable example for the route that the Pelicans should take with Zion. Having missed his first two seasons entirely and then only appearing in 31 games in his third, the 76ers and their star center agreed upon a rookie extension which would reduce the guaranteed amount and allow the 76ers to release Embiid if several benchmarks were not met.

Specific injuries are laid out in the contract and include only past problem areas with Embiid’s feet and back, sources said. Embiid has to miss 25 or more regular-season games because of injuries to those areas, and play fewer than 1,650 minutes, for Philadelphia to have the option of releasing him for cost savings.

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If Embiid met that narrow criteria and the Sixers decided to waive him after the 2018-19 season, he would receive $84.2 million of his full contract; after the 2019-20 season, $98.2 million; after the 2020-21 season, $113.3 million; and after the 2021-22 season, $129.4 million.

Philadelphia never wound up having to contemplate parting ways prematurely with Embiid. Having met the minutes-played criteria during the first two seasons on that contract, the final three years of his rookie max extension were fully guaranteed.

Prior to Embiid’s specific catastrophic injury language in his contract, the Nets and Brook Lopez came to a similar agreement as well.

More recently, Jaren Jackson Jr. and the Memphis Grizzlies agreed to a rookie extension last summer that included Exhibit 3 language which will trigger if he fails to meet certain criteria due to his oft-injured left knee.

There’s also other much less heralded examples of teams protecting themselves from player pre-existing conditions, including Devonte’ Graham and Wesley Matthews.

Devonte’ Graham, who signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in August (technically a sign-and-trade via the Charlotte Hornets), has a prior injury exclusion in his contract for his left quadriceps. The Milwaukee Bucks were also protected in Wesley Matthews’ contract for his left Achilles and right fibula.

An unfortunate example involving a player losing guaranteed money because of Exhibit 3 Priory Injury Exclusion language is Jonathan Isaac. With the 24-year-old missing the entire 2021-22 season, Isaac failed to meet a 25 games played benchmark, which thereby reduced the Magic’s contractual obligation to him from $52.2 million to $23.6 million.

I personally do not expect the Exhibit 3 language in Zion’s rookie extension to be tricky or act as some high bar for Williamson to meet. It’s likely that he’ll have just about every opportunity to earn the full amount of a max deal. The Pelicans are merely seeking to protect themselves from losing millions and millions into the abyss due to a worst-case scenario.

From a number of different angles, Zion Williamson has already committed to the New Orleans Pelicans for the longer term. Largely the formality of signing on the dotted line next month only remains on the to-do list before the focus can exclusively be on basketball.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.