Responding to the news that CJ McCollum hasn’t yet had a chance to speak to Pelicans star Zion Williamson since being acquired by New Orleans at this month’s trade deadline, ESPN analyst J.J. Redick expressed disbelief and criticized Williamson for not being more engaged with the team.
“This is a little bit insane to me. There’s a general decorum of behavior that you should apply as a teammate,” Redick said on ESPN’s First Take on Tuesday (video link). “Look, I wasn’t the best player on any team I was on, but if there was a buyout possibility, if there was a trade possibility, I would always reach out to teammates. I called Ersan Ilyasova, I called Marco [Belinelli], I called Wes Matthews trying to get him to come to Philly. This just shows a complete lack of investment in your team, in the organization, in the city.”
Williamson, who underwent foot surgery during the offseason, has yet to play this season and has been rehabbing away from the team since early January. However, Redick doesn’t view that as a reasonable excuse for the star forward’s lack of communication with McCollum.
“I get that he’s hurt and away from the team, but you just traded for one of the 50 best players in the league, a guy that’s supposed to be paired with you,” Redick said. “Reach out and say hello.”
Typically, opinions from an ESPN analyst about a player aren’t particularly newsworthy, since that analyst is often sharing his two cents without any inside info on the player or the team. However, this situation is a little different.
Besides being teammates with Williamson from 2019-21 before he retired as a player, Redick is also a fellow Duke alum, a fellow CAA client, and has publicly criticized of Pelicans head of basketball operations David Griffin, as Scott Kushner of NOLA.com tweets. As such, Redick’s comments about Zion are especially eyebrow-raising.
“This is a pattern of behavior with Zion that we are seeing again and again. And look, I was his teammate. I can describe him as a detached teammate. That is an accurate statement,” Redick said. “This is basic level of humanity, being a teammate. Send a text to a guy when he gets traded to your team. That is just normal behavior. That’s the bare minimum that you have to do.
“… This is something I addressed with Zion in front of the team,” Redick later added. “This is going back to his rookie year. There’s a responsibility that you have as an athlete when you play a team sport to be fully invested. You’re fully invested in your body, you’re fully invested in your work, and you’re fully invested in your teammates. That is your responsibility, and we have not seen that from Zion.”
Williamson’s desire to play for the Pelicans has been questioned since the 2019 draft lottery, when New Orleans won the No. 1 pick over bigger-market teams like the Knicks and Lakers. One report during the 2021 offseason suggested that some of Williamson’s family members wanted him out of New Orleans, while a subsequent story claimed that Zion and Griffin aren’t on particularly great terms.
For his part, the former No. 1 overall pick has repeatedly stated that he loves playing in New Orleans, but Redick and his ESPN colleague Stephen A. Smith expressed skepticism about Zion’s long-term commitment to the franchise.
“He’s never publicly come out and said, ‘I don’t want to be in New Orleans.’ But as we know, Stephen A., because we follow the league, where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” Redick said. “You didn’t hear rumors about Giannis [Antetokounmpo] being unhappy in Milwaukee. With Zion, you’ve heard that now for the last three years.”
Williamson will be eligible for a rookie scale extension during the 2022 offseason. Although no player has ever turned down a maximum-salary rookie scale extension, it’s unclear whether the Pelicans would even be comfortable putting that sort of offer on the table, given that injuries have limited Williamson to just 85 games since he entered the league in 2019.
When the Sixers extended Joel Embiid following his third NBA season, he had only appeared in 31 career games, so the two sides agreed to include injury-related language in his max deal in order to protect the team. The Pelicans and Williamson could theoretically explore a similar arrangement, but first they’ll have to decide whether the union is one they even want to continue for the next several seasons.
“New Orleans is going to have to make some sort of decision here,” Redick said. “We’ve seen this now for three years.”