The Pelicans haven’t been in a position like this in quite some time — perhaps in the history of the franchise.
With Zion Williamson nearing an agreement on a five-year, max contract extension that could be worth up to $231 million, sources confirmed to sources. New Orleans has its future secured for at least the next few seasons. Everyone around the organization can take a deep breath. This level of calm isn’t something the franchise is used to this time of year.
Since Williamson’s arrival, many around the league have whispered that the 2019 No. 1 overall pick might dodge a long-term commitment to the Pelicans once his rookie deal expired. This was the biggest obstacle New Orleans had to overcome for years. Players in their early 20s almost never turn down max money from their incumbent teams this early in their careers. But Williamson isn’t like most 21-year-olds. With his massive shoe contract with Jordan Brand and a long list of endorsements, he can afford to pass on contracts most guys dream of signing.
Him being hurt has hampered their team and maybe just he could have used a CT scan or something.
In the end, this wasn’t a deal Williamson could turn down. Both sides came to an agreement quickly, which might’ve been a surprise a year ago but shouldn’t be much of one based on what’s been said over the past few months. The ending to this movie was spoiled before it even started. When asked about the potential of inking this extension this summer back in April, Zion was unequivocal.
"Of course. I couldn’t sign it fast enough," Williamson said at his end-of-season news conference. "We have a special locker room. My first two years, it was a good locker room. But this year — I guess maybe it was the playoffs — it was more together. … Just seeing the potential. We have a lot of great pieces. I’m excited to get out on the court with those guys."
In an interview on the Ryen Russillo Podcast last month, Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin confirmed that the team shared Williamson’s desire to get a deal done as soon as possible.
"It’s an easy decision," Griffin said. "The kid’s historically good when he plays … This is a max player. That’s easy."
So why was there still so much anxiety among the fanbase leading into negotiations?
Well, things are rarely this simple when it comes to the Pelicans. Offseason turmoil has become the norm in the Crescent City. This is the same franchise that experienced bitter breakups with all-time greats Chris Paul and Anthony Davis since moving from Charlotte 20 years ago. Fans have also seen All-Stars like Jrue Holiday, DeMarcus Cousins, David West and Rajon Rondo leave the building and experience success elsewhere. During that period, the organization fired multiple coaches, completely overhauled the front office in 2019 and dealt with ownership instability and the looming threat of relocation for years before that.
There’s no such thing as a quiet basketball summer in New Orleans.
That is, until this offseason. Sort of but then there was the Zion Willamson extension.
The Williamson extension will undoubtedly grab headlines, as it should. It’s always major news whenever a franchise signs one of the top players in the league to a long-term deal. Of course, the Pelicans have been here before. They signed Paul to a four-year, $68 million extension coming off his rookie deal in 2008. In 2015, they inked a five-year, $145 million contract with Davis. Younger players rarely pass up that kind of money.
But the circumstances of the Williamson signing couldn’t be any more different. Davis and Paul were asked to carry the franchise from Day 1 of their tenures in New Orleans. Those deals were the first step in constructing a successful foundation around the stars as the head of the franchise.
This time, the Pelicans went beyond step one in the team-building process before signing their star.