Zion Cleared To Play With No Restrictions; Should Pelicans Give Him The Max Extension Bag?

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The New Orleans Pelicans have announced that their star young forward Zion Williamson has been cleared in his return to play with no physical restrictions. Zion missed the entire season with an injury to the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot, more commonly known as a Jones fracture. The 2021 All-Star is eligible for a rookie max extension this summer to the tune of five years and $186 million. Should the Pelicans offer Zion the bag? Are we sure he wants to be in New Orleans?

These are the questions vice president of basketball operations David Griffin and general manager Trajan Langdon are asking themselves.

On the surface this is a no-brainer. Zion is 21 years old, was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, and last season averaged 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game on 62 eFG% and 65 TS%. He is one of the best interior scorers in the league already, and his game has room for improvement.

While he was out his Pelicans teammates started off the season rocky, but under first-year head coach Willie Green they rallied to make the play-in tournament and earned the eighth seed for the playoffs.

The young and undermanned Pelicans took the top seed Phoenix Suns to six games in a very competitive series. Given the Suns’ loss in the next round to the Dallas Mavericks, many NBA pundits wondered how this team would have done with a healthy Zion. It’s not unreasonable to think they could’ve won the series.

Now to the other question. Are the Pelicans sure Zion wants to be in New Orleans?

The circumstances around his injury were strange. He was injured last offseason over the summer, yet nobody reported it until the Pelicans said something at training camp. News leaks out about everything in this league, but nobody knew this?

Then there was the very obvious uncertainty as to how long Zion would be out. The team gave vague timelines and updates throughout, even up to and including the playoffs.

Zion also chose to rehab in Portland, Oregon, with the “permission” of the team.

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.

Jordan Brand signed Zion to a five-year, $75 million deal. Zion has a four-year, $44 million contract with the Pelicans for context. They see Zion as a marketing superstar. Nike and Jordan Brand headquarters are in Beaverton, Oregon. That’s 8 miles from Portland.

Zion did eventually rejoin the team and was seen on the bench with his team during the playoffs. But even that wasn’t without “drama.”

Video of Zion throwing down hammer dunks pre-game made their way around the internet. His stepfather Lee Anderson appeared on a podcast and said he expected his stepson to play late in the season and possibly in the play-in tournament.

There’s all of that noise and the never-ending speculation that Zion and his team would rather he play in NYC or another big market.

Given all that, you could see why the Pelicans might be a little hesitant on tying the franchise to someone that is a little mysterious and injury prone.

The Pelicans have the leverage here. They have Zion’s early Bird rights and he’s under contract. They could let this season play out and see what type of shape and commitment they get from Zion and then give him the offer. They could also sign him with the goal of trading him. They have a lot of options and a young team with talent and draft capital.

It doesn’t have to be all about Zion.