NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Months after Zion Williamson was entirely excluded from Pelicans promotional material regarding ticket renewals, the injury-riddled star forward was once again celebrated on Wednesday as a hugely influential figure in the future of New Orleans.
“The last few months have been a rollercoaster of emotions,” Williamson said. “The world just ran with stories, and so when my family would go out in public, they would get hassled by people about why we don’t like New Orleans or why we don’t want to be here, when this is not the case at all.
“I couldn’t play because my foot was broken,” Williamson continued. “Every time I check my phone, it’s always something negative. Even when you try to make the situation positive, it was very difficult.
So the Pelicans seized on the opportunity for Williamson to sign a five-year, $193 million contract extension — which could be worth up to $231 million if the explosive 6-foot-6, 280-pounder is out. the height of potential he displays when healthy – to try to dispel old notions of mistrust and begin a new narrative.
“This is a truly momentous occasion for all of us,” said David Griffin, executive vice president of basketball operations for the Pelicans. “This is an opportunity for us as an organization to really put a lot of the things that have been said to bed.
“So many things that are talked about are just words,” Griffin continued as Williamson nodded in agreement next to him. “What Zion Williamson did today was express his commitment to this team, this city and this community. … So the noise that’s on the periphery of it all is completely irrelevant.
Williamson appears to be in good health now, cleared by the club to engage in basketball activities without restrictions. Recently, he and his stepfather, Lee Anderson, held kids’ basketball camps at a YMCA in New Orleans, where Williamson officially signed his contract as campers stood behind him and cheered.
It was also Williamson’s 22nd birthday, and he commented, while grabbing Griffin’s shoulder and smiling, that it was his best birthday yet.
“Thank you all for really sticking with me last year,” Williamson told the Pelicans chiefs. “It’s been a tough year, and then for the Pelicans to come and give this birthday present, I’m not going to let them down. I’m not going to let the city down, I’m not going to let my family down and above all, I’m not going to let them down. won’t let me down.
Now, Duke’s 2019 No. 1 draft pick, who played just 85 games in his first three seasons, is ready to see how much his return could help a team that has improved dramatically at the end of last season and made a surprisingly competitive playoff. show without him.
Griffin, meanwhile, sees his vision of building a young team set up for lasting success under the leadership of Willie Green, who, in his first season as NBA head coach, has guided the team from a 1-12 start to playoff qualification, two play-in wins and two more wins in a first-round series against top-seeded Phoenix.
“We feel like with the team that we’ve put together, with Zion as a huge part of that, Coach Green and his staff are going to be able to put together an incredible run,” Griffin said. “We are young, we have talent and above all we are very hungry.”
Williamson played just 24 games as a rookie due to a preseason right knee (lateral meniscus) injury. In his sophomore season, he played in 61 of 72 games, averaging a team-high 27 points, and becoming an All-Star for the first time in his only non-winning NBA campaign. largely or entirely wiped out by injuries.
“Zion is a big part of what we want to accomplish,” Green said, noting that Williamson will periodically start the offense handling the ball like he did successfully in his sophomore season. “He’s not necessarily the one who fits in. He can do that with any team in the league. It’s about maximizing the group we have when we had it. And, frankly, I think it’s going to be scary for the rest of the NBA.”
Williamson said he’s focused on adopting strategies to preserve his health and promote career longevity – but cutting back on vigorous, high-flying dunks in favor of low-impact layers likely won’t. part.
“I’m a competitor, so when I’m on the court, I don’t think about, ‘Let me put that ball down; I hope my career lasts longer,” Williamson said with a playful smile. “No, I’m thinking of putting that person through the rim. So, as far as I’m concerned, it will always happen. It’s going to keep happening no matter what (team coaches and management) talk about. I’m still soaking. Come on man!”