The coaching change in New Orleans is only a small part of the situation facing the Pelicans, according to Shams Charania, Joe Vardon and William Guillory of The Athletic. Sources tell the authors that some members of Zion Williamson‘s family are extremely critical of the organization and want to see him on another team.
Wednesday’s decision to part ways with head coach Stan Van Gundy after just one season was part of the effort to make Williamson happier. Charania, Vardon and Guillory cite a “growing unease” between Van Gundy and his players, as well as between the coach and the front office.
The Pelicans have missed the playoffs in each of Williamson’s first two NBA seasons, and numerous sources spoke about family members who would like to see him in a better situation. Williamson seemed to exhibit his own frustration at an end-of-season press conference.
“It’s disappointing. I’d be lying to you if I said anything else,” he said. “It’s very disappointing. But the best thing we can do is regroup, come together as a team, come together as coaches this offseason, talk and do what we need to do to be better next year. It’s not much to it, we just gotta be better.”
Even if Williamson does want to go elsewhere, getting there won’t be easy. He will be under team control for the next three seasons and will almost certainly be offered a maximum-salary rookie scale extension next summer. Even if he turns that down and opts for restricted free agency, the Pelicans will be able to match any offer he receives.
Accepting a qualifying offer could get him to unrestricted free agency after his fifth season, but that’d be an unprecedented move for a player of Williamson’s caliber.
The team has already made changes to accommodate Zion, the authors add, reworking its support staff during the offseason. Even so, family members have remained critical of the organization, with Van Gundy as a frequent target. The family saw Van Gundy as too “rigid and demanding” and believed the Pelicans didn’t treat Williamson like a typical NBA star.
Williamson was also reportedly upset with a March trade that sent J.J. Redick to the Mavericks. Citing family concerns, Redick had asked to either be traded before the season or stay with the team until the season was done. Williamson had become close with Redick, who blasted the organization on his way out. His comments were believed to have affected Zion’s view of the team.