Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson ‘Couldn’t Ask For Better Situation’ With Pelicans

This year’s first overall pick Zion Williamson is preparing for his first NBA season and the Duke product could not be more thrilled with the situation he’s in. Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Williamson said that landing in New Orleans has been conducive to his style of play.

“I couldn’t ask for a better situation,” he said. “The Pelicans keep up the pace constantly, just the way I like it. I am already working with members of the technical staff and the idea of running is emphasized in each exercise. I’m sure that our offensive schemes will allow me to be lethal for the next season.”

Williamson, 19, figures to be an integral part of the Pelicans’ postseason aspirations in his rookie season. Despite trading away superstar Anthony Davis, New Orleans’ lineup will consist of Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick, Williamson and others. Williamson believes it’s a core that can potentially win a title.

“I think we can compete for a championship,” Williamson added. “Yes, I am convinced that this team can have the NBA title as a goal…I’d be lying if I said something different.”

Pelicans Notes: Zion, Ball, Holiday, J. Johnson

Zion Williamson appeared to be fully healed from a bruised knee during a promotional appearance today in Harlem, according to Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. The first pick in this year’s draft performed two acrobatic dunks during the 15-minute session, delighting the crowd and a few fortunate youngsters who will appear alongside him in an ad for Air Jordans.

Williamson has been out of the spotlight since concerns about his knee ended his Summer League stint after one half. However, the Pelicans called it minor at the time, and Bondy said he looked to be 100% today as he soared to the hoop.

There’s more from New Orleans:

  • During his appearance this week on teammate Josh Hart‘s LightHarted Podcast, Lonzo Ball said he is looking forward to teaming with Jrue Holiday in the Pelicans’ backcourt (hat tip to Christian Rivas of Lonzo Wire). Ball and Holiday both finished in the top 10 in Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating last season, and both were among the top five in 2017/18. “Jrue is one of the most underrated players, in my opinion; I can’t wait to play with him on both sides of the court,” Ball said. “That’s going to be a lot of fun.”
  • Although the Pelicans could use another veteran presence, it’s unlikely that they’ll be the team to sign Joe Johnson, writes William Guillory of The Athletic. New Orleans already has 18 players under contract, including both two-way slots, plus reported deals with Jalen AdamsJavon Bess and Aubrey Dawkins. The team may get a Disabled Player Exception in the wake on an injury to Darius Miller, but Guillory expects his playing time to go to somebody already on the roster, such as Kenrich Williams or Nicolo Melli.
  • The Pelicans told Williamson and fellow rookie big man Jaxson Hayes to be careful about bulking up over the offseason, Guillory adds in the same piece. The organization believes both players, who are still only 19, may grow a few more inches and they don’t want extra weight to make them more susceptible to injuries in the future.

Zion Williamson Alleges Early Recruitment By His Former Agency

Attorneys for Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson contend that a Florida marketing company began recruiting him in January, three months before he declared for the NBA draft, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The charge is included in amendments to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in North Carolina in an attempt to terminate an agreement with Prime Sports Marketing.

The legal action alleges violations of North Carolina sports agent laws and comes in response to a June lawsuit filed in Florida by the company and its president, Gina Ford. She is seeking $100MM from Williamson and his current representatives, Creative Arts Agency, for “breach of contract.”

Williamson contends Ford and Prime Sports lacked proper certification from the NBPA and wasn’t registered in North Carolina. It also alleges fraudulent inducement and violations of North Carolina’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic shares a portion of the suit that alleges Ford “approached Mr. Williamson’s family before and after basketball games, texted them repeatedly about a potential business relationship, and eventually met with Mr. Williamson and his family to discuss the prospect of entering into a marketing agent agreement.” It also claims she misrepresented her involvement with sprinter Usain Bolt.

This year’s No. 1 selection, Williamson signed a marketing deal with Prime Sports on April 20, five days after declaring for the draft. It included a clause preventing him from terminating the agreement for five years. Williamson’s family announced on May 31 that he was leaving the agency, and he later signed with CAA.

Williamson’s suit contends that Prime Sports isn’t registered to act as an agent in North Carolina or Florida and his agreement doesn’t contain “a conspicuous notice in boldface type in capital letters” informing him that he was forfeiting his college eligibility.

Peers Choose Zion, Morant As Top Rookie Of Year Candidates

Top pick Zion Williamson of the Pelicans is considered the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award by his peers, but he’s not a clear-cut choice. The second pick in the draft, point guard Ja Morant of the Grizzlies, finished a close second in the voting. However, that might not be such a good thing for either player.

For the 11th time in 13 years, John Schuhmann of NBA.com got the opportunity to ask the NBA’s incoming crop of rookies a series of questions related to their fellow draftees.

Historically, the NBA rookies haven’t been soothsayers. They haven’t accurately identified a Rookie of the Year winner since Kevin Durant in 2007/08. Last season, Deandre Ayton and Collin Sexton were considered the co-favorites. Luka Doncic ended up winning the award with Trae Young finishing a solid second.

Here’s some of the highlights from the survey:

  • Williamson got 35% of the vote for the Rookie of the Year prize, while Morant received 27% backing. No one else got more than 5%.
  • Nuggets second-round pick Bol Bol and Cavaliers’ late first-rounder Kevin Porter Jr. were considered the steals of the draft, with each getting 19% of the vote.
  • Two players stood out to their peers as being the best defenders in the draft — the Sixers’ Matisse Thybulle and the Hawks’ De’Andre Hunter. Thybulle collected 37% of the votes in that category, while Hunter received 29% backing.
  • By a wide margin, Williamson was chosen as the most athletic rookie, garnering 87% of the votes. Morant was selected as the best ball-handler, receiving 40% of those votes.
  • The Heat‘s Tyler Herro (33%) edged out the Kings’ Kyle Guy (29%) as the best shooter.
  • LeBron James (38%) got the highest total in the ‘Favorite player in the league’ category with Kevin Durant (20%) finishing second.

Zion Williamson: “My Intentions Are To Stay With The Pelicans My Whole Career”

Zion Williamson hasn’t yet made his NBA debut in New Orleans but he has already expressed his interested to remain with the franchise long-term.

“Growing up, I loved what Kobe [Bryant] did and Dirk [Nowitzki] did… My intentions are to stay with the Pelicans my whole career,” Williamson told Macklin Stern of Complex. “But if something happens, I wouldn’t leave because I hate the place. It’s just the business.”

The Pelicans are beginning a new era after trading away superstar Anthony Davis this offseason. Davis demanded a trade last February with over a year left on his deal and the team held onto him until this summer when the new front office – led by David Griffin – traded him to the Lakers.

Williamson is the star of the future in New Orleans. Like many top players, he may take recruiting free agents into his own hands one day. RJ Barrett, who played with Williamson at Duke and was drafted by the Knicks at the No. 3 overall pick, could be a player Williamson targets.

“Yeah, [Barrett and I] talked about it in college a lot. We kinda talked about it as we were both going to get our careers started and see how it goes. I mean, if we can possibly link up in the future, that would be great. But we both understand that if things are going well in our prospective cities, we’ll just kind of leave it there,” Williamson said.

The Pelicans brought on two other 2019 first-round picks (Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker) during an offseason of change that also includes the acquisitions of a trio of former top-three overall picks (Derrick Favors, No. 3, 2010; Brandon Ingram, No. 2, 2016; Lonzo Ball, No. 2, 2017). Williamson believes the Pelicans currently have the talent to reach great heights.

“Me being confident in my teammates, I would say I think the ceiling is [a] championship,” the latest No. 1 overall pick said. “But I have to be realistic about this. I have high expectations for us, but you gotta see how we’re gonna work. I think we are going to work, but it does take time to adjust to each player—knowing what they like to do, finding out their tendencies. So I think the quicker we find out those things, I think we have a very high ceiling.”

Southwest Notes: Duncan, Morey, Iguodala, Zion, McClure

While perhaps not as noteworthy as some of the more marquee free agent news we’ve seen this summer in terms of on-the-court impact, Marc Stein of The New York Times opines that the return of all-time-great Tim Duncan to the Spurs as a full-time assistant coach under legendary head coach Gregg Popovich is a gigantic story all the same.

As Stein notes, Duncan has been a frequent visitor at the Spurs’ practice facility throughout his retirement, mentoring/coaching players along the way, but this had always been done outside of the limelight, a setting in which Duncan prefers. So his abrupt return to the court for an 82-game season filled with continual travel and other headaches is a bit surprising, to say the least.

One narrative as to why Duncan accepted a position on Pop’s staff despite his disposition is simply need. Duncan reportedly knew that his old coach was struggling to fill the last open spot on his bench staff after departures by longtime Spurs’ assistants Ime Udoka and Ettore Messina, and his loyalty dictated he offer his services.

Here are some more stories from around the Southwest Division:

  • As Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said on Friday that while Houston is not yet done adding to their 2019/20 roster, the team is much more likely to make further additions by trade rather than via free agency.
  • According to Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian, it’s not a certainty that trade offers for Grizzlies veteran swingman Andre Iguodala will improve as time goes on, and Herrington remains skeptical that Iguodala will play a meaningful role for the Grizzlies at any point.
  • Pelicans president of basketball operations David Griffin tells Jeff Duncan of The Athletic that rookie phenom Zion Williamson is still getting taller and that the team is more worried about making sure the 19-year-old is eating well and in good condition than what his playing weight will be.
  • The Grizzlies have hired Pacers player development coach David McClure as an assistant for new head coach Taylor Jenkins’ staff in Memphis, reports J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star. McClure also spent two seasons in San Antonio before joining the Pacers back in 2015.

And-Ones: Zion, World Cup, Schedule, Marinkovic

Zion Williamson, one of the top free agents on the shoe endorsement market, has reached a deal with Jordan Brand, he announced today on Instagram. Although terms of the multi-year arrangement were not released, Williamson received offers in excess of $10MM a year from some of Jordan’s competitors, relays Nick DePaula of ESPN.

“I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” Williamson said. “Since I was a kid, I dreamed of making it to the league and having the type of impact on the game Michael Jordan had and continues to have today. He was one of those special athletes I looked up to, and I really can’t express how happy and excited I am for this journey.”

The company held an all-employees meeting this morning where the news was disclosed. Digital billboards featuring Williamson are scheduled to be unveiled soon.

There’s more NBA-related news to pass along:

  • FIBA’s decision to move the World Cup to the summer before the Olympics may be responsible for so many stars deciding to skip the event, tweets Michael Lee of The Athletic. He notes that it’s difficult to find elite players who are willing to commit two straight offseasons to international competition. Many of the players who withdrew are sincere about their desire to prepare for the upcoming season, observes Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). With no obvious favorite for the 2019/20 title, many stars are seeking any advantage they can get. Damian Lillard and DeMar DeRozan are the latest players to pull their names out of consideration for Team USA.
  • A summer filled with blockbuster trades and unprecedented free agent movement presents unique challenges for schedule makers, writes Jacob Feldman of Sports Illustrated. The scheduling process usually starts in mid-June, but the league came to an agreement with ESPN and TNT to push it back because of the expected flurry of transactions. The schedule release is still anticipated for its normal time of early to mid-August.
  • Kings second-round pick Vanja Marinkovic will leave his Partizan Belgrade team to sign with Valencia in Spain, tweets international basketball consultant Vedran Modric. It will be a two-year deal with an option for a third season, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando (Twitter link).
  • Center Matt Costello, who played briefly for the Spurs during the 2017/18 season, has reached a deal with Spanish club Herbalife Gran Canaria, according to Nicola Lupo of Sportando.

No Zion Williamson For Team USA This Summer

In addition to the five Team USA training camp invitees that have already withdrawn from 2019 World Cup consideration, a member of the Select Team has now removed his name from the player pool as well. USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo tells Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link) that No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson won’t suit up for the program this summer.

As Charania details in a follow-up tweet, Williamson and the Pelicans are focused on making sure the former Duke standout is “fully integrated” in New Orleans this fall.

Williamson had been on track to participate on the Select Team which will scrimmage against Team USA’s training camp roster next month in advance of the World Cup in China. The Pelicans’ big man reportedly would have had a chance to earn a spot on the 12-man roster with a strong showing, but that scenario is no longer in play.

Williamson joins Anthony Davis, James Harden, Bradley Beal, CJ McCollum, and Eric Gordon among the players who have pulled out of Team USA obligations so far this offseason. The program is still waiting on final decisions from Damian Lillard and Kevin Love, tweets Joe Vardon of The Athletic.

While Team USA hasn’t officially announced the list of players who will make up the Select Team in August, reports have indicated that John Collins, Marvin Bagley, De’Aaron Fox, Jarrett Allen, Mitchell Robinson, and Trae Young are among those expected to participate. If more members of the initial 20-man camp roster withdraw, some of those youngsters could receive consideration for the final 12-man roster.

Zion Williamson To Miss Rest Of Summer League

No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson will be held out for the remainder of this month’s Las Vegas Summer League after suffering a bruised left knee in Friday’s game, the Pelicans announced today in a press release.

While fans in Vegas will be disappointed not to see any more of Williamson in action this month, it’s no surprise that the Pelicans will be cautious with their new franchise cornerstone. Based on the club’s announcement, it doesn’t sound as if Zion’s knee issue is serious.

“Zion will move forward from this incident without issue,” head of basketball operations David Griffin said in a statement. “However, in an abundance of caution, we have made the determination that he will not appear in game action for the remainder of the NBA Summer League. He will continue to take part in training and conditioning with our performance team.”

Williamson played just nine minutes in his professional debut on Friday vs. the Knicks, but looked good in limited action, pouring in 11 points and grabbing three rebounds.

Williamson, Morant Sign Rookie Contracts

The top two picks in the draft, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, have officially signed their rookie contracts, according to a press release from the Pelicans and a tweet from the Grizzlies’ PR department.

Assuming he receives a max of 120% of the rookie-scale salary for the top pick, Williamson will earn approximately $9.757MM in his first year, according to Jeff Siegel of EarlyBirdRights.com (Twitter link). Morant would receive $8.73MM if he received the max for the second pick.

Williamson’s salary numbers for years 2-4 would be $10.245MM, $10.733MM and $13.535MM. Morant would get $9.167MM, $9.6MM and $12.1MM over those seasons.

Williamson appeared in 33 games for Duke, averaging 22.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 2.1 SPG and 1.8 BPG. With Anthony Davis‘ impending trade to the Lakers, he’ll immediately be the marquee attraction for the franchise.

Morant averaged 24.5 PPG, 10.0 APG and 5.7 RPG for Murray State. Morant should step right into the starting lineup after veteran point guard Mike Conley was shipped to the Jazz.