There hasn’t been much noise surrounding Zion Williamson since a June report suggested some of his family members want him out of New Orleans, but the 2021/22 season will be crucial for the Pelicans and their long-term relationship with the former No. 1 overall pick.
Williamson will be eligible for a rookie scale extension, and while no player has ever turned down a maximum-salary rookie scale extension, New Orleans will want to take a major step toward contention this season to reduce the risk of Zion becoming the first.
In a deep dive into the situation in New Orleans, Christian Clark of NOLA.com suggests Williamson grew frustrated back in the Pelicans back in his rookie season when they handled his return from a preseason knee injury with extreme caution, extending his recovery timeline and then having him play in short “bursts” when he returned. Williamson detested those “burst” limits, according to Clark, who says there was significant tension between the star forward and the team’ medical staff that season.
Additionally, while executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin tried to forge a bond with Williamson during his rookie season, Zion’s relationship with the head of the team’s front office had “begun to sour” by the end of the year, says Clark. The two men don’t communicate frequently now, Clark adds.
Here’s more from Clark’s report, which includes several interesting tidbits and is worth checking out in full:
- Griffin isn’t particularly popular among a segment of Pelicans employees, who referred to him in a group chat last year as “Griff Krause” while ‘The Last Dance’ was airing, according to Clark. The moniker was a reference to former Bulls GM Jerry Krause, whom the ESPN documentary portrayed as disliked by the team’s stars and head coach.
- Although many people in the Pelicans’ organization believed the team needed to replace head coach Alvin Gentry in 2020, some didn’t like the way the change was handled. According to Clark, Griffin blamed Gentry for the Pelicans’ poor start that season, telling one person, “I give Alvin all the answers to the test, and he still fails.”
- Tyronn Lue was believed to be the Pelicans’ top choice when they replaced Gentry, but Lue opted to join the Clippers. When Griffin pivoted to Stan Van Gundy, some people in the organization raised concerns that the fit would be awkward, Clark writes, but the Pelicans hired him anyway. The team dismissed Van Gundy this spring after just one season.
- While J.J. Redick‘s public criticism of the Pelicans’ front office earlier this year placed Griffin and his group under a microscope, Jrue Holiday praised the team for sending him to a contender after he quietly asked to be traded, and several prominent agents – including Mark Bartelstein – told Clark that their interactions with New Orleans’ head of basketball operations have been positive.