Eager to make up for lost time after missing all of last season, Zion Williamson wanted to leave no doubt about his future in New Orleans, committing to the Pelicans long term by agreeing to a five-year, $193-million max extension that, if all incentives are met, can reach as high as $231 million.
That put to rest months of speculation, quieting rumors that Williamson was secretly crossing his fingers for a trade, perhaps to New York, where he’d be reunited with former Duke teammate RJ Barrett. The 22-year-old spent much of last season rehabbing on his own in Portland, a curious decision that invited whispers about his relationship with the team that drafted him first overall in 2019. There were also rumblings Williamson had ballooned to well over 300 pounds, slowing his return from offseason foot surgery.
Williamson’s absence allowed the media to shape the narrative, a misstep GM David Griffin wishes he could take back. “We did a really bad job organizationally at getting him in front of people and letting him speak for himself,” Griffin acknowledged during his recent sit-down with Amin Elhassan and Tom Haberstroh of Basketball Illuminati. “Because he wasn’t playing basketball, being around the game was hard for him. I didn’t require him to speak to the media and he didn’t want to speak because he wasn’t playing. He wanted that to be for people who are playing.”
The media took Williamson’s silence as a sign of unhappiness, subtly distancing himself from the team by conducting his rehab elsewhere. Griffin insists that couldn’t be further from the truth, though he takes responsibility for not putting Zion in front of a microphone sooner, allowing the story to take on a life of its own. “If we would have controlled the narrative, it would have made your jobs a lot more boring, but it would have put him in a better position to succeed,” lamented Griffin, who accompanied the Pelicans to Las Vegas for last week’s Summer League action. “I feel like, to a huge degree, I failed him in that sense.”
While it’s refreshing to see that kind of accountability from Griffin, it should be water under the bridge now with the Pelicans, coming off a surprise playoff appearance, emerging as a team on the rise, poised to make their presence felt in a competitive Western Conference.