Zion Williamson’s absence from the New Orleans Pelicans has of late led to tons of speculation about his future. Former teammate JJ Redick made the rounds on ESPN shows to talk about Zion’s lack of professionalism, even saying on First Take that he had even addressed it with Zion in front of the team when he was still playing.
Stephen A. Smith responded by saying “Zion Williamson was praying that he was gonna get drafted by the New York Knicks, that the New York Knicks would get the No. 1 overall pick… I’ve heard this, but certainly not from him… But the bottom line is everybody knows he ain’t interested in being in New Orleans.”
I’m not saying we should suddenly start putting a lot of stock in things that Stephen A. says he heard from someone else, but there is evidence to support this. Last April after the Pelicans played the Knicks in New York, Zion was asked about what it was like to play in Madison Square Garden. “New York is the Mecca of basketball. I love playing here. I played here in college, and this is my first time playing here in the pros. I mean, this atmosphere y’know, whether they’re cheering for you or booing for you, it’s amazing,” said Zion grinning from ear to ear.
That, combined with the fact that the Pelicans sent out emails promoting their season tickets and did not include Zion on the list of notable players on the team, combined with the fact he didn’t reach out to CJ McCollum when he was traded to the team, combined with the fact that he never plays and seems uninterested in getting healthy enough to play, may suggest he wants out.
If he wants to leave New Orleans for New York — and it’s still an “if” because this is all speculation — then why? The basketball situation with the Pelicans is actually pretty good. Brandon Ingram is only 24 years old, is averaging 22.2 ppg, and has already made an all-star team in his young career. Jonas Valančiūnas is a really good center who has started shooting (and making) more threes, clearing up the paint for a player like Zion. They just traded for CJ McCollum, a player nearing All-Star levels with an average of 29 ppg since joining the Pelicans.
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Despite being 11th in the conference, this is actually a pretty good roster. The only glaring hole is that their best player has played only 85 games in his three-season career. I’m all for player empowerment — if he played a full season this is easily a playoff team. Whether it’s college or professional basketball, players have a short window of time to play and should be able to make the most of their careers. Whether that means transferring to a school where they’ll get more playing time or leaving the team that drafted them in free agency because they feel like it. But I’m just wondering, why leave all this for the Knicks?
If you’re new to basketball, the Knicks have always been, and always will be, bad. Every once in a while the team’s owner, James Dolan, will do something like not let Spike Lee use his usual entrance and then an onlooking witch will cast a spell and make the team terrible for another year to teach him a lesson, which he never learns. The Knicks are 12th in the Eastern conference and have roughly the same record as the Pelicans. I don’t think Zion joining would lead to immediate success though as the Eastern Conference, for the first time in my life, is the better of the two. I’m serious. Check the standings. Every first round Eastern conference playoff series is going to be a dogfight and I have no idea who’s going to win any of them. I’m pretty sure the Warriors will make quick work of the Timberwolves.
Apparently Zion wants to go to a worse team in a better conference. Maybe he has some legitimate grievances with the Pelicans front office. They seem to be doing an okay job. All the players listed previously were acquired via trade. The worst look for the Pelicans front office I can think of is that with each day they look worse for passing on Ja Morant.
Maybe the fact that Zion is on his third head coach in three years is emblematic of some underlying chaos, but I doubt they would make a change that big without consulting their generationally talented first overall pick.
Maybe it’s the fact that Zion’s two college teammates, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, both play for the Knicks. Maybe he just misses his friends, in which case, what a weirdly wholesome and relatable ending to this article. Who hasn’t been there? “Sorry boys. Can’t hang tonight. I have work at 9:00 AM and also my office is on the opposite coast.” He was only in college for one year and apparently loved it so much that it was a really difficult decision to turn in his textbooks for tens of millions of dollars.
Zion, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but while your feelings are valid, we all have to grow up sooner or later. I believe it was Jay Gatsby who said, “Can’t repeat the past? Why, of course you can!” But he was shot in a pool and was also a fictional character, so what does he know? Sure the future is scary, but you’re going to make tons of new friends in New Orleans. Maybe CJ McCollum will be your best friend in the world, but you’ll never know unless you start with a welcome text.