It’s only been two years, and Zion Williamson isn’t extension eligible until next summer, but we’re already looking ahead to one of the most important seasons in the history of Louisiana basketball.
We’re at the point where Williamson’s name is being thrown around in way-too-early trade rumors as a report from The Athletic detailed his family’s growing discontent with the New Orleans Pelicans organization.
“Williamson’s family members’ thinly-veiled unhappiness with the Pelicans and whether those feelings seeped into the player’s own views,” The Athletic report notes, also adding that Williamson’s feelings don’t necessarily reflect those of his family members, indicating that he “remains focused on basketball and helping New Orleans win next season.”
As noted in a Bleacher Report aggregate story, former Pelican JJ Redick said on his podcast that he developed a distrust for the Pelicans’ front office while there earlier in the season.
“Truthfully ... I think I was a little naive thinking I was in year 15 and I attempted to do things right throughout my career,” he said. “But in terms of this front office, yeah, it’s not something where I would expect certainly the agents who worked on this with me to ever trust that front office again.”
Williamson was the No. 1 overall pick from the 2019 NBA Draft and has only been active for 85 games since. Though, the 85 comes out of a possible 144 instead of 164 since Williamson has yet to participate in an NBA regular season that goes a full 82 games. Even with the injury concerns surrounding him, he’s already made an All-Star team and might’ve won Rookie of the Year had he not only played in 24 games given his production.
Said production jumped from 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on 58 percent shooting to 27.0 points and 7.2 rebounds (and 3.7 assists from 2.1) on 61 percent shooting. Even if he’s not healthy for all of the ’21-’22 season, we should expect Williamson to be offered the max next summer — but that doesn’t mean he still can’t ask out if he wanted to, for whatever reason. NBA stars do it routinely and the next one is always around the corner. That said, unless Williamson is prone to listening to those around him, it’s something the Pelicans could eliminate by incorporating him on their off-season plans.
The infamous Anthony Davis trade finally happened in the summer of 2019, and the franchise can’t afford to lose another star … not this level of star, at that. Of all people, Williamson needs to be consulted on this coaching search. He’s the cornerstone the Pelicans are building around, so it goes without much other elaboration. Stan Van Gundy wasn’t a move that made sense from the jump, which is why he became a one-and-done, as did Nate Bjorkgren of the Indiana Pacers. Before SVG was Alvin Gentry, whose last of a five-year tenure was Williamson’s rookie season, meaning the upcoming hire will be Williamson’s third coach in three NBA seasons.
As for the candidates, NOLA.com reported five names to keep in mind, including Milwaukee Bucks assistant Charles Lee and Brooklyn Nets assistants Jacque Vaughn and Ime Udoka. WNBA legend and current Pelicans assistant coach Teresa Weatherspoon is reportedly in the mix as well. One thing is for sure: Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin would be wise to collaborate with Williamson on this, since he’s the reason people may line up for this job anyway, along with Brandon Ingram, if they elect to keep the duo together, of course. The answer could be Lee, could be Weatherspoon, but probably should be whatever Williamson wants, for better or worse. Granted, players don’t always know what’s best for them, but if they’re left out, things can grow sour quickly. Unless he really only cares about ball, which could also be possible. But why leave it to chance?