Pelicans forward Zion Williamson crushed the long shot hopes of Knicks fans by committing to New Orleans for the long term.
Williamson, the 21-year-old phenom, is eligible to sign a five-year, $181 million contract extension with the Pelicans — and he will “of course” take that deal, he said on April 29.
“I couldn’t sign it fast enough,” Williamson said during his first time speaking with the media since late last year.
The renowned product from Duke University, who came into the league as the first-overall draft pick to the Pelicans in 2019, has missed significant playing time due to injury in his young career, including a right foot fracture that kept him sidelined for the entire 2021-22 season. He has played just 85 games over the previous 3 seasons.
Still, Williamson’s potential, as well as the massive hype he saw during the leadup to his NBA debut, has made him one of the most sought-after players in the league.
As often happens with marquee players, the Knicks became linked to a potential deal with Williamson before he announced his intention to sign an extension with New Orleans — with many fans noting the Duke connection with him and Knicks youngsters RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish.
The trio played together for one season, before they all entered the NBA Draft and subsequently went pro. The Knicks drafted Barrett third overall, while acquiring Reddish from the Atlanta Hawks in a trade in January.
Many fans held out hope that Williamson would forgo the elusive contract extension and head into free agency, possibly to rejoin his former college teammates. Some of that speculation came from the forward’s decision to rehab his injury away from the franchise, and his previous non-committal attitude towards the Pelicans. Williamson himself also praised the Knicks franchise in the past, while telling reporters that he “loved to play in New York City.”
“New York is the mecca of basketball,” Williamson said last year. “I love playing here…I mean, this atmosphere — whether they’re cheering for you, whether they’re booing for you, it’s amazing. Honestly, I think, outside of New Orleans, obviously, I think this might be my favorite place to play.”
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But, just as the Knicks are often linked to marquee players, they are just as often spurned in favor of other franchises (see Kevin Durant, LeBron James, etc).
Williamson rejoined his team in time to watch the playoffs from the bench, as the Pelicans lost to the first-place Phoenix Suns in a 4–2 series — and added that the team has “a lot of great pieces,” and he was “excited to get out on the court with those guys.”
“Being around the guys, being in Smoothie King [Center], seeing that playoff environment,” Williamson said. “And the locker room — we have a special locker room.”
Nevertheless, the Knicks still boast a solid young core of players, led by Barrett and Reddish, along with Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, and Obi Toppin, who are all under the age of 25.