When the New Orleans Pelicans were awarded the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, it was a sign of hope. The Pelicans were set to usher in a new era with generational prospect Zion Williamson. However, fans are still waiting for the hope to arrive.
Through two seasons with Zion, New Orleans has gone 30-42 and 31-41. Veteran head coaches Alvin Gentry and Stan Van Gundy have each been shown the door. Worst of all, there are growing concerns that Williamson is unhappy with the franchise, a potential sign that the superstar’s days with the Pelicans are numbered.
Zion Williamson is already a star for the New Orleans Pelicans
There aren’t many instances where a team can replace one generational talent with another. But that’s exactly what happened with the Pelicans, who enjoyed seven seasons with Anthony Davis before drafting Williamson.
Since entering the league, the 6-foot-7, 284 lb Williamson has proven to be one of the most dominant forces in the NBA. Through two seasons, Zion has used his incredible size and athleticism to average 25.7 points on 60.4% shooting. In 61 games last season, the former Duke Blue Devil averaged 27.0 points to earn his first All-Star Game nod.
But the biggest concern surrounding Zion is health. The big man tore his meniscus during the 2019 preseason, keeping him out for the first 44 games of the season. He also missed games due to knee soreness, a thumb sprain, and a fractured ring finger over the course of his two-year career.
Injuries are also the main reason why Williamson is frustrated with the Pelicans.
Zion is frustrated with how the Pelicans have handled his injuries
In a bombshell report, Christian Clark of NOLA.com revealed that Williamson is upset with the organization, as well as Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin. The main issue stems from how the team handled his torn meniscus and subsequent recovery.
“Throughout his rookie season, Williamson had grown increasingly frustrated with the Pelicans for the number of hoops they required him to jump through to return from the knee injury he suffered in the preseason,” Clark wrote. “The team initially provided a return-to-play timetable of six to eight weeks, but it took more than three months for Williamson to get back on the floor. When he was finally given the thumbs up to play, he was placed on ‘burst’ limits, which he detested. The way Williamson’s return was handled caused significant tension between him and the team’s medical staff, sources said.”
In Zion’s 24 games as a rookie, the big man only played 30 minutes or more in 11 of them. He saw his minutes increase in his second year, but the tolls of another losing season were frustrating. After missing out on the postseason once again, Williamson spoke to the media and voiced his frustration. (h/t: NOLA.com)
“Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is kind of insane, so I’m not going to sit here and say we’re close. The reality of it is, it was very disappointing not to be a part of the play-in tournament and stuff.”Zion Williamson
Strong seasons from Williamson and Brandon Ingram weren’t enough to lift New Orleans to the postseason. The Pelicans finished two games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the 10-seed, ushering in a third consecutive year without postseason basketball in the bayou.
The Pelicans face a difficult decision with Zion Williamson
New Orleans spent several years losing a lot of games and wasting a prime Anthony Davis. The last thing the team wants is to repeat history with Williamson. But so far, the trajectory isn’t headed in a very positive direction.
New coach Willie Green marks the third head coach in three years for Zion. The Pelicans replaced starters Lonzo Ball and Steven Adams with Devonte’ Graham and Jonas Valanciunas. And the tension surrounding Griffin is palpable throughout the organization.
The next few months will go a long way into determining Zion’s future in New Orleans. The third-year forward will be eligible for a contract extension next summer, which the Pelicans will all but certainly offer. While no player in modern NBA history has ever turned down the rookie max extension, Williamson could be the first if things continue to sour in New Orleans. Even if he does sign it, the big man could also force a trade if he remains unhappy.
The Pelicans need to show drastic improvements on the court in 2021-22. But they also need to improve the relationship with their disgruntled star before he officially wants out.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.