Zion Williamson

Pelicans Notes: Zion, Lewis, Luxury Tax, Coaching Changes

Appearing on The Hoop Collective (video link), Brian Windhorst’s podcast, ESPN’s Andrew Lopez said Pelicans star Zion Williamson is “ready to go” for the 2022/23 season. Williamson, who missed all of last season after undergoing surgery and subsequently experiencing setbacks from a broken foot, has been working out with his trainer as opposed to the team’s staff since he was cleared to play with no restrictions at the end of May, Lopez added.

He is now working with Jasper Bibbs, his strength and conditioning coach, he has a chef, he has taken steps to improve his body so we don’t have a situation where he is only playing 85 games in a three-year stretch, or missing an entire season,” Lopez said.

In an interview last week with William Guillory of The Athletic, Bibbs said Williamson was in “fantastic shape” and “a better athlete now than he’s ever been.” The former No. 1 overall pick signed a five-year, maximum-salary extension in July, and will reportedly be required to undergo regular weigh-ins throughout the duration of his new contract due to a conditioning clause.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • Speaking at Media Day on Monday, general manager Trajan Langdon said guard Kira Lewis Jr. is not ready for five-on-five yet action yet, according to Lopez (Twitter link), who notes that Lewis tore his ACL last December. The recovery period for a torn ACL is typically 12-plus months, so it might be a while until we see the 21-year-old former lottery pick back in action.
  • When asked about paying the luxury tax, executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin said that ownership was willing to commit when appropriate. “When it’s time to really go all-in on something, we will,” Griffin said (Twitter link via Christian Clark of NOLA.com). New Orleans is currently about $3.5MM under the $150,267,000 luxury tax line for ’22/23.
  • The Pelicans announced a series of front office and coaching promotions and additions in a press release. Sammy Gelfand is the team’s new senior director of basketball analytics. Ryan Pannone, formerly the head coach of the Birmingham Squadron, the Pelicans’ G League affiliate, is now an assistant coach. Jordan Kincaide has also been added as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. Ryan Frazier has been promoted to assistant coach; Both Corey Brewer and Darnell Lazare have been promoted to assistant coach/player development coach; Brandon Demas has been elevated to two-way coach; Jordan McGuire and D’Or Fischer have been elevated to player development assistant, with McGuire also serving as an assistant shooting coach.

Western Notes: Zion, Blazers, Okpala, Thunder

Zion Williamson‘s strength and conditioning coach, Jasper Bibbs, tells William Guillory of The Athletic that the Pelicans forward is “in fantastic shape” with the 2022/23 season around the corner.

“He’s been committed to putting in the work day in and day out,” Bibbs said. “I’m really proud of what he’s been able to accomplish. He’s a better athlete now than he’s ever been.”

Williamson missed the entire ’21/22 season due to a broken foot, so ensuring that he’s healthy and fully recovered from that injury is a crucial first step. The former No. 1 overall pick has also been plagued by questions about his weight throughout his NBA career, and while Bibbs declined to say how much Zion weighs, he expressed optimism about the forward’s physical condition.

“… (His body composition) has improved at an extremely high level,” Bibbs told Guillory. “That’s all I’ll say.”

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • The Trail Blazers have officially announced a series of additions to their basketball operations staff, including Jonah Herscu as an assistant coach, David Adkins as director of player development, and former WNBA star Tina Thompson as a scout. Herscu previously worked for Sacramento, Adkins was with the Clippers, and Thompson was the head coach of Virginia’s women’s basketball team.
  • The two-year, minimum-salary contract KZ Okpala signed with the Kings is virtually identical to the one Chima Moneke received earlier this offseason, as our JD Shaw reports (Twitter links). Okpala has a $250K partial guarantee in 2022/23 that would increase to $500K if he makes the opening night roster. He’d receive a partial guarantee of $250K for 2023/24 if he plays at least 1,000 minutes this season and Sacramento wins 41 or more games. His full ’23/24 salary would become guaranteed if he’s under contract through June 30, 2023.
  • If the NBA and NBPA agree to remove the one-and-done rule for prospects, as has been rumored, there will be one super-sized draft class during the year in which players become draft-eligible out of high school. Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman explores what it might mean for the Thunder, who have loaded up on future picks, if that happens in 2024. Oklahoma City holds its own pick, the Clippers’ pick (unprotected), the Rockets’ pick (top-four protected), and the Jazz’s pick (top-10 protected) in the first round of the ’24 draft.

And-Ones: Top Under-25 Players, Wade, EuroLeague, More

Fifteen NBA executives polled by Michael Scotto of HoopsHype unanimously picked Mavericks star Luka Doncic as the NBA player under 25 years old whom they’d most want to build a team around. While Doncic’s selection comes as no surprise, there are some interesting picks further down Scotto’s list, which was derived from asking those 15 NBA execs to name the five players under 25 they’d most want to build around.

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and Grizzlies guard Ja Morant ranked second and third, with Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley following them at No. 4. Former first overall picks Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves) and Zion Williamson (Pelicans) came in at Nos. 5 and 6, with last season’s Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes (Raptors) rounding out the top seven. You can check out Scotto’s full story to see the other seven rising stars who received votes.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • After spending three years in an analyst role with the network, Dwyane Wade won’t return to TNT for the 2022/23 NBA season, reports Andrew Marchand of The New York Post. According to Marchand, TNT made an offer to retain Wade, but he decided to leave his position to focus on other business ventures.
  • Euroleague Basketball has appointed Dejan Bodiroga as its new president and Marshall Glickman as acting CEO, per a press release. They’ll replace Jordi Bertomeu, who served as president and CEO for 22 years and was a co-founder of Euroleague Basketball, which operates and oversees the EuroLeague and EuroCup, two of the world’s biggest non-NBA basketball leagues.
  • Former NBA star Baron Davis and ex-NBPA executive director Michele Roberts are among the backers of the new Fan Controlled Hoops league, which is scheduled to launch in February of 2023, as Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic outlines. The league, which will follow in the footsteps of Fan Controlled Football, will feature 4-on-4 games played on an LED floor, with fans getting the opportunity to illuminate parts of the court to create zones where players get extra points when they score.

Pelicans Notes: Zion, Offseason, Hernangomez

What’s the best way for the Pelicans to use Zion Williamson, who missed all of last season while recovering from a broken foot? Christian Clark of NOLA.com (subscriber link) tackles that question, examining how Williamson’s previous coaches utilized him on the court.

Under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, Williamson primarily scored out of post-ups, put-backs, and lobs, averaging 22.6 points on just 13.2 shot attempts per game due to his outstanding 68% field goal percentage. As Clark writes, Williamson was a dynamic defender in his lone college season, though that hasn’t translated to the NBA.

As a rookie under Alvin Gentry, Williamson’s season was disrupted, appearing in a total of 24 games. When healthy, Williamson was again primarily utilized down low, averaging the seventh-most post-ups per game (6.9) in the NBA, Clark notes.

Things changed fairly dramatically in 2020/21, Williamson’s most healthy season to date. Stan Van Gundy allowed Williamson more on-ball opportunities, and he responded with an All-Star appearance while averaging 27 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists on .611/.294/.698 shooting.

According to Clark, Williamson’s drives per game more than doubled in his second season (5.0 to 12.9), and after not logging a single possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler as a rookie, he recorded 3.2 per game in ’20/21.

Williamson has yet to play under head coach Willie Green, but Green is known for preaching ball movement and asking players to making quick decisions, Clark adds.

Ultimately, Clark says he’d be surprised if Williamson is used as an initiator as frequently as he was a couple of years ago due to the addition of CJ McCollum in February. He also notes that individual statistics will likely have to be sacrificed amongst the team’s leading scorers (Brandon Ingram, Williamson, McCollum, and Jonas Valanciunas).

Here’s more from New Orleans:

  • Andrew Lopez of ESPN takes a look at how Williamson has spent his offseason thus far, including signing a maximum-salary rookie scale extension and a trip to Las Vegas to support the Summer League squad.
  • In a separate article for NOLA.com, Clark interviews reserve center Willy Hernangomez. Most of the Q&A session is focused on international competition, as Hernangomez is set to play for Spain in the upcoming EuroBasket tournament, which begins September 1. The 28-year-old averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds in 50 games (16.8 minutes) for New Orleans last season. As we noted last week, Valanciunas (Lithuania) will also be competing at EuroBasket.
  • In case you missed it, Luke Adams took a look at the Pelicans’ pre-camp roster situation within an article earlier today about the Southwest Division.

Southwest Notes: Zion, W. Green, Spurs, Grizzlies

The schedule of nationally televised games for the upcoming season indicates that league officials are still skeptical about the prospect of a full year from Zion Williamson, writes William Guillory of The Athletic. Not counting games on NBA TV, the Pelicans will play in front of a national audience just 11 times — six on TNT and five on ESPN — which ranks 13th in the league. New Orleans was featured 10 times last season, Guillory notes, and 20 times in Williamson’s rookie season.

Williamson, who signed a max contract extension last month, is reported to be healthy after missing all of last season following surgery on his right foot. However, his physical condition will always remain a concern after he managed just 85 combined games in his first three seasons.

Guillory notes that the league can always flex the Pelicans into more national games if they get off to a strong start, but both they and Williamson have a lot to prove before that might happen. Even though New Orleans is coming off an exciting playoff run, the team was only 36-46 during the regular season and doesn’t have a lot of national appeal without its star player.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • The way Williamson is utilized will be among the most important questions for the Pelicans, per Christian Clark of NOLA.com. This will be the first chance for Willie Green to coach Williamson, who was a primary ball-handler under Stan Van Gundy. Other topics Clark identifies as important are the battle for backup point guard minutes, the roles for Larry Nance Jr. and Jaxson Hayes and whether Trey Murphy is ready for more minutes in his second season.
  • The Spurs will play four home games in sites other than the AT&T Center, the team announced in a press release. In addition to hosting the Heat in Mexico City on December 17, San Antonio will return to its former home in the Alamodome on January 13 and will play a pair of games in Austin on April 6 and 8. The games are part of the team’s 50th anniversary celebration. “Hosting these four games is part of our vision to purposefully engage and celebrate our entire Spurs following from Mexico to Austin, while fostering the next generation of fans,” said RC Buford, CEO for Spurs Sports & Entertainment.
  • The Grizzlies will be on national TV a franchise-record 18 times, notes Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. They will be part of the NBA’s traditional showcases on both Christmas Day and Martin Luther King Day.

Western Notes: Porter Jr., Williamson, Engelland, Spurs, Thunder

If the Rockets and Kevin Porter Jr. agree to an extension this offseason, it’ll likely have to be a team-friendly deal, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype reports. Scotto relays Houston is looking to preserve salary cap space for next summer.

Porter is coming off a season in which he averaged 15.6 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 41.5% from the floor and 37.5% from distance. At 22 years old, he’s shown he can be an electric scorer and ball-handler, but he’s dealt with maturity and discipline issues throughout his career.

It’s unlikely Houston would want to offer much more than Porter’s 2023 cap hold ($9.65MM) as a starting salary on an extension. If the two sides don’t work out a deal by opening night this fall, the 22-year-old would be eligible for restricted free agency next summer. Before joining the Rockets, he was the No. 30 pick in 2019 and started his career with the Cavaliers.

Here are some other odds and ends from around the basketball world:

Zion Williamson’s New Extension Includes Conditioning Clause

New details have arrived on the five-year maximum contract extension signed earlier this month by Pelicans star power forward Zion Williamson.

The 2020 All-Star, who has famously struggled to maintain his weight since arriving in the NBA as the top draft pick out of Duke in 2019, will be required to undergo regular weigh-ins, reports Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

According to Clark, if the sum of Williamson’s weight and body fat percentage does not come in below 295, New Orleans will have the ability to reduce the guarantee on his salary.

Clark notes that Williamson’s deal could pay him as much as $231MM, should he qualify for a 2023 All-NBA Team or be named the Defensive Player of the Year or MVP next season. If he doesn’t meet the Rose Rule criteria, it will be worth $193MM. Those figures are based on current cap projections for 2023/24, which is when Zion’s new deal will go into effect.

Clark adds that Williamson’s body weight and overall consistent fitness have been an issue for the Pelicans throughout his three-year NBA tenure.

The former No. 1 overall pick entered the NBA weighing a listed 284 pounds in 2019. After fracturing the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in the summer of 2021, Williamson’s conditioning was impacted, and he checked into team training camp at a figure beyond 300 pounds. He did not suit up for a single game during the 2021/22 season.

As Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report notes (Twitter link), a hypothetical decrease in Williamson’s guaranteed salary would only be relevant if the Pelicans eventually decide to waive him or trade him (for salary-matching purposes). As long as he plays out his full five-year contract without being cut, he’ll still earn his full salary for all five seasons.

Pelicans Notes: McCollum, Nance Jr., Zion, Graham

It sounds like the Pelicans might be interested in extending the contracts of a couple of mid-season additions. Speaking on his latest Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip to RealGM), ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said he’s heard that New Orleans is interested in coming to agreements with CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr., who were both acquired from Portland in February prior to the trade deadline.

It sounds like CJ McCollum is having some contract extension talks with the Pelicans,” said Windhorst. “I’m not sure when he can actually sign that. I know he signed his last contract extension in 2019.”

I believe it is next month when they can start talking about that,” said ESPN’s Andrew Lopez. “I know it’s before the season…”

Maybe they haven’t ‘talked’, but I heard they ‘talked’, don’t tell anybody,” Windhorst replied in a hushed voice.

I think the Pelicans are also interested in extending Larry Nance’s contract,” Windhorst added. “We’ll see if that gets done.”

McCollum, who turns 31 in September, is under contract for the next two seasons at a combined $69.13MM, while Nance, who turns 30 in January, has one year left on his deal at $9.67MM.

Here’s more from New Orleans:

  • Zion Williamson offically signed his five-year, designated rookie max extension on Wednesday. At the press conference to announce the deal, he said he’s determined to show the world that he’s a winning player, Lopez relays in a story for ESPN.com. “I want to prove that I’m a winner,” Williamson said. “It’s as simple as that. I want to win with coach. As well as with my teammates. The ultimate goal is to win the championship. I feel like that’s what we’re all striving for. Like Griff (executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin) said, we’re hungry. Y’all saw this past year what the team did and I’m just excited to add to that.”
  • With Williamson locked in for the next six years, the Pelicans could be ‘scary’ for the rest of the NBA, according to Christian Clark of NOLA.com. “Now it’s going to take work to get there,” head coach Willie Green said at Williamson’s press conference. “What groups play well together? How can we take advantage of different mismatches? How can we put all of our guys on the floor and give them an opportunity to be successful? That takes work. But it all comes together at some point throughout the course of the season, and when it does I think we can be a scary team.” Adding Williamson to a group that made an impressive turnaround to reach the postseason after a miserable start will certainly make the Pelicans an interesting team to follow in 2022/23.
  • Guard Devonte’ Graham, whom the Pelicans acquired in a sign-and-trade last summer, was arrested for driving while impaired on Thursday morning, Clark writes in a separate piece for NOLA.com. The incident occurred in Raleigh, North Carolina, Graham’s hometown. The 27-year-old averaged 11.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG and 4.2 APG on .363/.341/.843 in 76 games (63 starts, 28.3 MPG) with New Orleans last season. He was limited to just 10 MPG in the team’s first-round playoff loss to Phoenix. Graham is under contract through ’24/25 for a total of $36.3MM, but the final year is only partially guaranteed at $2.85MM, making the guaranteed portion of his deal $26.5MM.

Pelicans Sign Zion Williamson To Five-Year Max Extension

JULY 6: Williamson’s five-year, maximum-salary extension is now official. The Pelicans put out a press release confirming the signing after Zion put pen to paper at the Dryades YMCA in New Orleans today on his 22nd birthday (Twitter video link via ESPN’s Andrew Lopez).

“Zion is an astounding 22-year old talent, who we believe is just scratching the surface of what he is capable of, both on and off the floor,” Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin said in a statement. “We are extremely pleased to take this next step of our collective journey together.”

Now that the deal is done, it should just be a matter of time before we learn what sort of protection language is included in the contract. Griffin did confirm today that the contract does not feature a fifth-year player option (Twitter link via Lopez).

JULY 2: Williamson and the Pelicans have now reached an agreement on a five-year, maximum-salary extension, agent Austin Brown tells Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

Details on the protections included in the contract still haven’t been reported.

JULY 1: The Pelicans are nearing an agreement on a five-year rookie scale extension for forward Zion Williamson, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

According to Charania, it’ll be a maximum-salary deal that can be worth up to $231MM. That indicates it will contain Rose Rule language allowing Williamson to qualify for a starting salary of 30% of the 2023/24 cap instead of 25% if he makes an All-NBA team next season.

Charania’s report doesn’t include any details on how much of the contract will be fully guaranteed, which figured to be the sticking point in negotiations. He does say (via Twitter) that the deal is expected to include some protections for the Pelicans and that the two sides were sorting through those details overnight.

We’ll have to wait for more specifics on that front, but it appears the two sides are on the verge of finding common ground fairly quickly after the former No. 1 overall pick officially became extension-eligible.

The agreement ends months of speculation that Williamson might turn down an extension offer from the Pelicans to play in a larger market or for a more successful franchise. Williamson has attempted on several occasions to quash those rumors by proclaiming a love for New Orleans, with his latest comments coming three weeks ago at his youth basketball camp.

Injuries have derailed Williamson’s career since he entered the NBA as a highly touted No. 1 pick in 2019. He missed all of this season after undergoing foot surgery and has played in a combined 85 games in three years. However, he has shown signs of being a dominant force, averaging 25.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game and making an All-Star appearance in 2021.

A healthy season from Williamson, who will turn 22 later this week, could make the Pelicans a serious Western Conference contender. New Orleans staged a late-season surge after trading for CJ McCollum, advancing through the play-in tournament and into the first round of the playoffs. Williamson could be a difference maker for an already talented roster, but he’ll have to prove that he can stay on the court.

Based on the NBA’s latest cap projection of $133MM for the 2023/24 season, Williamson’s deal would be worth $231.42MM if he meets the Rose Rule criteria next season, or $192.85MM if he doesn’t. That’s without considering any protections that might be included in the contract.

Southwest Notes: Popovich, Spurs, McGee, Williams, Williamson

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is facing a long rebuilding process if he remains with the team, Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News writes. The Spurs recently traded Dejounte Murray to the Hawks in exchange for Danilo Gallinari‘s expiring contract, three first-round picks, and a pick swap, choosing to further shift their focus from the present to the future.

As Finger notes, Popovich has expressed reservations in the past about the idea of coaching a losing team, most notably when his former – and newly re-hired – assistant Brett Brown left San Antonio to coach the “Process” Sixers.

“I couldn’t do it,” Popovich said in 2015 when asked about Brown’s new job in Philadelphia. “I’d last a month.”

However, in recent years, Popovich seems to have embraced the concept of coaching a young team without realistic championship aspirations. He recently helped orchestrate the re-hiring of Brown as an assistant coach and appears motivated to return to the sidelines in San Antonio next season.

Here are some other notes from the Southwest Division:

  • Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News examines the fit between Luka Doncic and JaVale McGee, who agreed to sign with the Mavericks and can serve as a rebounder, rim-protector and lob threat for Doncic. McGee reportedly expects to start for Dallas, but Caplan isn’t sure the coaching staff has made that decision yet.
  • The Grizzlies‘ two-way deal with Vince Williams Jr. covers two years, tweets Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Edwards, who was drafted No. 47 overall by Memphis last Thursday, averaged 14.1 points per game at VCU last season, shooting 38.7% from three-point range.
  • While it’s a massive investment, Zion Williamson‘s maximum-salary extension with the Pelicans was something the team simply couldn’t pass up, Scott Kushner of NOLA.com writes. Williamson has only played 85 games in his three NBA seasons, but he has shown in his limited NBA action that he’s a special player, says Kushner. It’s still unclear how much of Williamson’s new five-year deal will be fully guaranteed.