However, a fully guaranteed maximum-salary offer is unlikely to be on the table for Williamson, according to Brian Windhorst, who said on ESPN’s Get Up (video link) that team ownership is expected to seek protections in any extension agreement.
“From what I have been told, the Pelicans at this point are not willing to offer a full five-year guaranteed deal,” Windhorst said (hat tip to RealGM). “And a lot of it is flowing down from ownership. Gayle Benson, the owner, is also the owner of the New Orleans Saints and I have been told they are going to take a football-style, Saints-style mentality with this contract negotiation. They will offer him a huge contract, but will not guarantee all of it.
“If Zion accepts those terms and still protects himself and maybe gets $100-plus million guaranteed, he signs it and everything’s fine. If he doesn’t sign it and wants the full thing guaranteed, we could have some drama into the fall.”
A former No. 1 overall pick, Williamson missed the entire 2021/22 season while recovering from right foot surgery and has appeared in just 85 career games since entering the NBA in 2019. The 21-year-old has played at an All-Star level when healthy, averaging 25.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 3.2 APG in 31.7 minutes per contest.
Williamson’s situation has frequently been likened to the one Joel Embiid was in following his third year with the Sixers, a comparison Windhorst invoked during his appearance on Get Up.
Following Embiid’s third season, injuries had limited him to just 31 career games, but Philadelphia was confident enough in his superstar potential to offer him a five-year, maximum-salary extension that included injury protection. The deal was worth $146.45MM, but would have been guaranteed for as little as $84.2MM if Embiid sustained a “contractually agreed upon injury” and the 76ers waived him. Embiid, of course, stayed healthy enough and played at such a high level that the Sixers never considered the possibility of letting him go.
The Pelicans could take a similar route with Williamson, offering him a maximum-salary contract that includes a substantial guarantee while also giving the team an out if he continues to be impacted by injuries. As Windhorst notes, it remains to be seen whether Zion would be willing to accept such an offer now that he no longer has any restrictions related to his foot surgery.
While Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin figures to take the lead on negotiations with Williamson, Windhorst stresses that the desire to reduce the team’s risk is being driven more by the club’s owners than by the front office.
“From what I understand, it’s not even about the Pelicans, it’s about ownership,” Windhorst said. “It’s about them saying, “Look, we have to make decisions on football players all the time that we’re worried about their injuries. We’ll guarantee them a certain amount of money and if they play, they can have all the money.’ And that’s what’s going to be presented.”