Community Shootaround: Zion Williamson

One of the biggest storylines this offseason will undoubtedly revolve around a player who isn’t even eligible for free agency.

While three of the top five picks in the 2019 draft – Ja Morant, RJ Barrett and Darius Garland – have delivered highly productive seasons for their respective teams, that draft’s No. 1 pick has been in virtual seclusion most of the season.

Pelicans big man Zion Williamson wasn’t supposed to be out of uniform all season but the rehab from his surgically-repaired right foot has dragged on. He suffered a couple of setbacks along the way and only recently returned to New Orleans. He spent a good chunk of the season rehabbing in Portland and hasn’t spoken to the media since September. It seems unlikely we’ll see him suit up before the end of the season.

He’s gone from freakish talent to one of the league’s biggest enigmas. It’s difficult to say whether Zion wants to continue to his career in New Orleans. It’s also hard to know whether the Pelicans want to retain him long-term, considering his injury history and aloof personality.

Williamson is eligible for a rookie scale extension this offseason. The former Duke star would be eligible to sign for up to five years with a starting salary worth 25% of the 2023/24 salary cap (or 30%, if he makes an All-NBA team next season). We don’t know the exact amount yet, but if the ’23/24 cap comes in at $125MM, a five-year max for Zion would work out to at least $181MM.

If Williamson signs an extension this offseason, he’ll likely push for the max or something very close to it. If an extension agreement isn’t reached, Williamson would be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2023 (as long as New Orleans extends a qualifying offer).

New Orleans has two very good players – Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum – and adding a healthy, productive, motivated Williamson would form the core of a solid playoff team. That’s a huge if.

The draft lottery could also play a role in the Pelicans’ decision. They’ll get the Lakers pick if it lands in the top 10. They’ll also keep their own pick if it lands in the top four — otherwise, it will be conveyed to either Portland or Charlotte.

Let’s not forget how dominant Williamson can be when he’s healthy. He averaged 27.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 3.7 APG last season. If New Orleans front office has soured on him or he asks for a trade, plenty of teams would line up and offer a substantial haul for his services despite his nagging foot issues.

That leads us to our question of the day: What should the Pelicans do with Zion Williamson this offseason – pursue a max extension, trade him, or wait to see how next season plays out and allow him to become a restricted free agent in 2023?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.

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