Pelicans Face a $181M Conundrum with Zion Williamson

    • It’s too early to call Zion a bust, but the 2019 No. 1 pick has played a total of 85 games in three seasons.
    • Now that he's eligible for a rookie max extension, the Pelicans should consider all options this summer.

At All-Star Weekend, the Pelicans’ newly acquired star CJ McCollum told the TNT crew that he hadn’t spoken to New Orleans’ franchise player. 

On Tuesday, JJ Redick described his former teammate as “detached.” After recurring injuries all season long, Zion decided to rehab privately, away from the team. 

At 21, it’s too early to call him a bust, but in two seasons, the former No. 1 pick has played a total of 85 games in which NOLA has gone 40-45.

Now that Zion is months away from being eligible for a rookie max extension, the Pels must consider whether they want to pay him, let alone build their future around him.

  • He is in the third season of his rookie deal (four years, $44.3M).
  • This offseason he’s eligible for a five-year, $181 million extension ($31.2M annually).
  • If no extension is signed, he’d be a restricted free agent in 2023.
  • He could sign a one-year, $17.6 million qualifying offer for the 2023-24 season, making him a UFA in 2024.

The Pelicans simply can’t afford to lose him for nothing, hence the recent trade rumors.

New Orleans (23-36) is wasting another season despite a talented cast around Williamson — namely Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, and now McCollum.

Williamson was viewed as a savior in 2019, but his time in NOLA is ticking. And if he can’t stay on the floor and continues to be a distraction, will another team be willing to take a risk?