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The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

OPINION | Should the Pelicans fly away from the Zion Williamson saga?

Courtesy of Erik_Drost from WikiCommons
Pelicans’ star Zion Williamson’s days could be numbered in Nola…

New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson has been atop the sports headline pages as of late for all the wrong reasons. 

The former No. 1 pick from the 2019 NBA Draft has been the topic of discussion amongst offseason trade talks and now appears to be becoming a father to his first child, a baby girl due sometime in early 2024. 

The news of him being a father isn’t a bad thing but the backlash he has received on social media during the last couple weeks from a prominent jealous ex-girlfriend has garnered Zion a lot of negative attention

Coming out of Spartanburg Day High School in 2018, Williamson was named South Carolina Mr. Basketball as well as being a McDonald’s All-American. The highly coveted five-star recruit held offers from virtually every college institution across the country and ultimately chose to represent Duke and the legendary “Coach K,” Mike Krzyzewski.

The 6’6 284 pound freak of nature even received recruiting interest from college football programs. Former LSU tight ends coach Eric Mateos offered Williamson a scholarship to play for the Tigers, which he declined.  

Williamson’s rise to collegiate basketball stardom was immediate and by the end of the 2018-19 season, he was the National College Basketball Player of the Year. 

Williamson racked up the awards, winning ACC Athlete of the Year, Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year while averaging 22.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.1 spg and 1.8 bpg. 

He also shot an impressive 34% from three for a big man and 64% from the free throw line. 

On March 29, Zion put up 29 points to go along with 14 rebounds and five steals during an ACC Tournament quarterfinal win over Syracuse en route to winning the tournament championship. Williamson shot a perfect 13/13 from the field against the Orange, good for the best shooting performance in Duke history and ACC Tournament history. 

After this historic display, Zion became the first Blue Devil since the legendary Christian Laettner in 1992 to record at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five steals in a game.

Unlike Laettner’s 92’ squad who beat Michigan for the national title, Duke would fall to Michigan State 68-67 in the Elite Eight of the 2019 NCAA Tournament despite having each of the top three high school recruits in RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish. 

The heartbreaking loss effectively ended the Blue Devils season and marked the finish of a short yet illustrious college career for Williamson who joined Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis as the only freshmen in NCAA history to collect 500 points, 50 steals and 50 blocks in a single season.

He also shot 68% from the field for Duke during the 2018-19 campaign which led the ACC and was the highest EVER field goal percentage in NCAA history for a freshman.

Zion was a hot commodity for NBA front offices, to say the least, and was the unanimous No. 1 draft pick on nearly every scout’s big board. The New Orleans Pelicans won the Zion sweepstakes when their ping pong ball was selected first during the NBA Draft Lottery and Williamson was officially made a Pelican on June 20, 2019, just a little over four years ago today. 

The first sign of trouble would appear almost four months later when Williamson tore his right meniscus in an Oct. 13, 2019 preseason game against the San Antonio Spurs.

The untimely injury right before his rookie campaign was set to start reminded fans of Zion’s health concerns dating back to his lone year of college ball at Duke. 

In a huge nationally televised game against archrival North Carolina on Feb. 20, 2019, Williamson’s foot literally ripped through his Nike shoe after planting to make a move with the ball in his hands. 

His left shoe completely ripped apart as Williamson’s foot went right through the center causing him to fall awkwardly and injure his opposite right knee just 36 seconds into the contest as Cameron Indoor Stadium was stunned into silence. 

Zion limped off the court and was unable to return, subsequently missing his team’s final six games of the regular season before returning to action in the ACC Tournament. 

The injury scare cost Nike $1.1 billion dollars the following day and raised major concerns about whether Williamson should even play the rest of Duke’s season having already established himself as the perennial No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.

Zion ultimately chose to finish out the season once returning from injury, but this was a moment of foreshadowing. Was Williamson simply too heavy and powerful to ever consistently be healthy?

Over four years later that question is cause for even more uncertainty. Since entering the league in 2019, Zion has played in just 114 of the possible 317 games (36%) including postseason contests from the past two seasons in which he has missed. 

Despite suffering the torn meniscus in his right knee nine days before the Pelicans’ 2019 season opener, Williamson returned to the court on Jan. 22, 2020, for his NBA debut in the Smoothie King Center against, ironically, the San Antonio Spurs whom he was injured in the pre-season against just over three months prior. 

Zion put up 22 points and seven rebounds in only 18 minutes of play, electrifying the Pelicans franchise and showing just how bright the future could possibly be. 

Williamson lived up to the hype during his rookie season finishing the year averaging 22.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 2.1 apg while shooting over 58% from the floor and a staggering 43% from three.

Zion became the first teenager in NBA history to score 20 points or more in 10 consecutive games and paced all rookies in points per game as well as offensive rebounds per game, ranking second in total rebounds. 

Williamson also was the first rookie to post 16 20-point games within his first 20 contests since Michael Jordan while also averaging the most points per game as a rookie through his first 24 games since “His Airness” did it in 1984.

Zion’s breakout season in his first NBA campaign earned him a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First Team. Williamson finished third in NBA Rookie of the Year voting behind former AAU teammates Ja Morant and Kendrick Nunn in large part due to him missing a significant portion of the season due to injury. 

Zion’s sophomore season in 2020-21 would be his best to date as he played and started in a career-high 61 games. Williamson posted career-bests in points per game (27.0), rebounds per game (7.2), blocks per game (.6) and shot 61% from the field, also his best shooting percentage of his young NBA tenure. 

Zion went on to make his first NBA All-Star selection. Season highlights included becoming the youngest player in league history to score 30 points or more on 90 plus percent shooting, a feat accomplished in a Feb. 12, 2021 contest against the Dallas Mavericks. 

Williamson shot 14/15 (93.3%) from the floor to the tune of 36 points in the 143-130 defeat at the American Airlines Center Arena. 

The budding star also surpassed NBA legends/Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Karl Malone for the longest streak of at least 20-point games on 50-plus percent shooting within his first two seasons since the shot clock era in 1954-55. 

Zion ultimately saw his astounding streak end at 25 games, level with the ever-dominant Shaquille “Shaq Diesel” O’Neal for the longest in NBA history. 

Despite his best efforts, the Pelicans (31-41) compiled another losing season and missed out on the 2021 playoffs. 

Williamson’s third season was when the injury bug struck the star big man yet again. During the off-season, Zion suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot forcing him to undergo surgery. 

In late September team officials expressed hope that he would be able to return to the court for the Pelican’s 2022-23 season opener. 

However, this never came to fruition as not only did Williamson not play in the season opener, he didn’t play the entire season. Yes, you read that correctly. 

In a frustrating injury saga, Zion’s return to action kept getting pushed back further and further throughout the course of the entire season until finally in March with the playoffs looming, it was announced that Williamson would not return for the remainder of the campaign. 

In spite of missing its best player, the Pelicans rallied late to finish ninth in the Western Conference, earning themselves a spot in the Play-In tournament. 

Once into the postseason, the team shined by triumphing over the tenth-placed Spurs 113-103 at the Smoothie King Center before traveling to Los Angeles to face the eighth-placed Clippers and defeating them 105-101 to clinch their spot as the eighth seed. 

Against the No. 1 seeded and reigning Western Conference Champion Phoenix Suns, the Pelicans fought admirably pushing the series to six games, giving the fanbase confidence for the future with the thought of what the team could accomplish with a healthy Zion Williamson. 

Last summer, on July 6, 2022, Williamson inked a five-year rookie extension deal with the New Orleans Pelicans worth $193 million guaranteed, increasing to $231 million if he made an All-NBA team in the 2022-23 season. 

Zion only managed to appear in 29 of the 83 possible games for the Pelicans this past season, failing to make an All-NBA team and missing out on an additional $38 million dollars. 

Williamson did, however, earn his second career NBA All-Star selection due to a torrid start to the year. Led by Zion, the Pelicans were either solely in possession of first place in the Western Conference or tied for first for a week straight from Dec. 7-14 before a Dec. 15 overtime loss to the Jazz in Utah dropped them to second in favor of the Memphis Grizzlies. 

The Pelicans also were tied for three days from Dec. 28-30 with the eventual NBA Champion Denver Nuggets for first place in the West. 

This turned out to be the high point of the season for the squad from the “Big Easy” as Zion hurt his hamstring in a Jan. 2 road loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. In the Pels’ first game of 2023, their star player had gone down. 

Despite initial reports that Williamson would only be sidelined for a few weeks and could even possibly return near the end of January, the fanbase had seen this movie before. Zion’s return kept getting pushed back repeatedly and he never played another game for the Pelicans the rest of the season.

As the Pelicans slid down the standings without him, the mood around New Orleans began to sour and it all came to an abrupt head on April 12. 

With the Pelicans finishing in ninth place for the second straight season, they hosted another play-in game, this time against the tenth-placed Oklahoma City Thunder. 

There was buzz around the team that Zion could possibly suit up for the first time in over three months and make his postseason debut, but that never came to be.

Williamson was seen warming up, throwing down windmill dunks before the game but didn’t play because he “didn’t feel like Zion.”

The Pelican’s power forward was quoted as saying, “Physically, I’m fine. Now, it’s just a matter of when I feel like Zion,” when asked by reporters if he would be available for the game. 

Williamson added, “I understand the magnitude of these games coming up and I don’t want to be out there hesitating or doing something that may affect my team in a bad way.”

The Thunder ultimately beat the Zion-less Pelicans 123-118 at the Smoothie King Center, ending their season. 

What Williamson doesn’t realize is that he hurt the team more by not playing at all in the contest. I’m sorry, but if you’re feeling good enough to show off in warmups with a windmill dunk, then you’re healthy enough to at least come off the bench and give the team a spark in a must-win game, especially when your season is depending on it.

Pelican’s point guard CJ McCollum revealed after the loss that he had been playing the last three months of the season (roughly the same amount of time that Zion missed) with an injured thumb that required surgery. 

McCollum, who is the president of the National Basketball Players Association, said, “I delayed it to try and help our team get to the playoffs and we came up short. I was doing what I could to try and help out the team.”

After the game, Pelicans head coach Willie Green stated, “It’s important to have your guys on the floor. It helps your team reach its potential. We didn’t do that this season.”

Now I’m no rocket scientist, but I think one can conclude from these statements that the team was not happy with Zion’s prolonged absence. 

Offseason rumors have been swirling on whether or not New Orleans’ front office would move on from Williamson. There was speculation that the Pelicans may trade their franchise player to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for the number two pick and select Scoot Henderson, but that never happened.

Instead, the Pels stayed put at pick fourteen and drafted UConn’s shooting guard Jordan Hawkins who was instrumental in the Huskies’ 2023 national championship run while Henderson wound up going third overall to the Portland Trail Blazers as the Hornets selected Alabama’s Brandon Miller one pick before.

With the NBA Draft now in the rearview, all attention has shifted to free agency. The Phoenix Suns made arguably the biggest splash so far with the signing of former Wizards star shooting guard Bradley Beal. 

Right behind that move is the Warriors trading for the aging yet still effective veteran point guard Chris Paul. What will the Pelicans do and will it involve shipping off Zion?

I personally believe New Orleans should wash its hands of the rarely available Williamson. While there’s no denying his generational talent, the man simply cannot stay on the court for any real extended period of time. He’s unreliable. 

As I’ve said before, Zion has played in only 114 of a possible 317 career games. That is a paltry 36% of contests Williamson has actually participated in and this isn’t some small sample size. 

Zion just finished his fourth NBA season and while he’s undoubtedly shown flashes of greatness, he has become one of the biggest “what if’s” in the league since Derrick Rose. 

The Pelicans should absolutely shop Williamson around this off-season and see if it can trade him for a proven, reliable star. The squad already has a solid young nucleus in Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones, Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado and now rookie Jordan Hawkins who are all age 25 or below.

Led by an impressive up and coming 41-year-old head coach Willie Green and savvy veteran CJ McCollum, the Pels are one more piece away from being a real title contender. 

Now if New Orleans is unable to agree upon a deal they want to ship Zion, then this 100% must be his final season to prove himself as someone the franchise can count on. 

Williamson needs an ultimatum that if he doesn’t perform or more importantly continues to remain unavailable for large portions of next season, then he can forget about ever playing for the organization again. 

It’s make or break time in Nola, will Zion stay or will Zion go?

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About the Contributor
Chase Gispert
Chase Gispert, Sports Editor
Chase Gispert is a communication major with a concentration in sports communication. He joined The Lion’s Roar in March of 2021 and now serves as sports editor. Chase is a native of Madisonville. He has a strong passion for sports and is excited about where the future may take him.
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  • J

    Joey GrazianoJul 8, 2023 at 7:36 pm

    Lots of information; very in depth..

  • T

    Theresa JuarezJul 8, 2023 at 3:38 pm

    He will probably stay just need to stay healthy and FOCUSED.