There was some Duke on Duke “Brotherhood” crime on Tuesday. ESPN’s JJ Redick on “First Take” was asked about New Orleans Pelicans’ All-Star Zion Williamson not being in contact with new teammate CJ McCollum since the trade was made. Redick went in and referred to Zion as a “detached teammate” and his behavior as “a pattern of behavior that we are seeing again and again with Zion.”
Redick isn’t wrong and this entire Zion situation in New Orleans is ugly, and the youngster isn’t doing himself any favors with how he’s handled things so far.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Zion was drafted in 2019 and this is his third season in the league. In three seasons he’s played 85 total games. Eighty-five. When he was at Duke for his lone season, there were questions then about his weight and how things would go at the next level.
Most people chalked it up to being in college and once he got in an NBA training program, he would be fine. So far that hasn’t been the case. Pictures have surfaced all over the internet, calling his commitment to fitness into question.
Then there was the mysterious injury he suffered during the offseason in 2021. On media day at the start of training camp Pelicans’ executive David Griffin announced that Zion had foot surgery on an undisclosed injury suffered earlier in the summer but that he should be back for the regular season.
That was in September and Zion hasn’t anywhere close to returning to the floor. In the five months since we’ve gotten scattered updates, ambiguous timelines, and the announcement that with permission from the team Zion would be rehabbing away from the team in Portland, Oregon.
Portland is 2,537 miles away from New Orleans. It’s true that athletes sometimes rehab with their own medical team but it’s usually done where the team can be in close contact and monitor.
You might be thinking to yourself why Portland? Why does any of this matter?
Zion is signed to Jordan Brand, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nike, that bears the name and logo of the greatest basketball player of all time. Jordan Brand sees Zion as a generational and transformational talent. Perhaps in the same stratosphere, at least from a marketing perspective, as Michael Jordan himself.
Jordan Brand signed Zion to a five-year, $75 million deal. Zion has a four-year, $44 million contract with the Pelicans for context.
Nike and Jordan Brand headquarters are in Beaverton, Oregon. That’s 8 miles from Portland. We’ll leave that there.
It wasn’t a secret leading up to the draft that Zion wanted the Knicks to win the lottery and take him No. 1.
Zion Williamson was QUICKLY whisked out of the room after Pelicans were announced the winner of the draft lottery. Source said the former Duke star was rooting to go to New York, but now is going to New Orleans.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpears) May 15, 2019
When that didn’t happen his attitude toward New Orleans and their franchise has been lukewarm at best.
When asked about playing New York on the record after a game last season he didn’t hide his love for the Big Apple and the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden.
Sources familiar with the situation have told The Shadow League that Team Zion is driving much of the situation regarding his rehab and overall posture with the Pelicans.
ESPN’s Malika Andrews reported on Tuesday that she spoke with CJ McCollum and he did finally hear from Zion.
As reported on NBA Today: CJ McCollum told ESPN that since his interview over the weekend with the TNT Crew, Zion Williamson reached out and the two have spoken.
— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) February 22, 2022
Regardless, this situation isn’t good. Redick’s comments as a former teammate in New Orleans and a member of the Duke “Brotherhood” carry weight. He is speaking to Zion’s professionalism. Whether or not Zion likes the fact that he’s in New Orleans shouldn’t dictate his level of commitment to his co-workers (read: teammates).
That Redick called him detached is telling. In a team sport with a small roster, when one player isn’t happy that really messes with the vibe around the team. Zion has been away from the team, so he isn’t having a direct impact, but the constant questions surrounding him can’t be good for Griffin and the organization.