August 19, 2021

Is Zion Williamson Headed Toward a Breakup With New Orleans Pelicans?

The Big Easy could have some big problems. 

In his second season, Zion Williamson solidified himself as one of the NBA's best young talents. But things aren't going as planned for the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. 

Williamson emerged as the New Orleans Pelicans' franchise centerpiece, along with Brandon Ingram. Together, the duo carries the hopes and dreams of a franchise that is looking to finally make a deep playoff run.

However, the Pelicans, located in the smallest market in the NBA, haven’t constructed a roster that would suggest to Williamson that a prosperous future lies ahead. The front office’s miscues, along with rumors of Williamson's displeasure with the franchise, have some around the league wondering if he could force his way out of the Big Easy sooner rather than later. 

New Orleans failed to land a single high-impact player in the open market while sending restricted free agent Lonzo Ball to the Chicago Bulls for Garrett Temple, Tomas Satoransky, and a second-round pick. 

The team followed that by trading a lottery-protected first-round selection to acquire restricted free agent Devonte’ Graham. It’s certainly not the offseason gameplan that the Pelicans hoped for, which only brings more questions concerning the front office’s vision. 

While David Griffin is still riding the wave of success from winning a title with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, his moves as Pelicans general manager have only created more cause for concern. 

Yes, New Orleans holds promising pieces with Williamson and Ingram, but the team is still far from being a championship contender. There will come a point where the Duke product will want to take that next step toward vying for a championship, and the organization’s recent history doesn’t suggest that will be the case anytime soon.

The team’s two biggest stars over the last several years each won an NBA title elsewhere. All-Star forward Anthony Davis guided his way to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won a title in his first year. Meanwhile, star guard Jrue Holiday accomplished the same feat with the Milwaukee Bucks by being a pivotal piece toward helping earn the 2021 NBA championship.

Beyond that, New Orleans hasn’t been a place where star talent either wants to stay or flock to in free agency. Chris Paul pushed for his departure after the 2010-11 season to compete for an NBA title elsewhere.

It only places more pressure on the Pelicans to prove they are building, at the very least, a playoff contender. It also doesn't help that Williamson is heading into the third year of his four-year, $44.2 million rookie deal. 

If the 21-year-old remains on the same trajectory, it’s hard not to envision New Orleans offering him the five-year, $173 rookie extension he’s eligible for after next season. The Pelicans’ front office is quite aware of what’s at stake, and if things don’t drastically change, they will let another star talent slip through their hands. 

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