New Orleans Pelicans’ Zion Williamson after signing extension

NEW ORLEANS – What a difference a year makes. Last year on July 6, his 21st birthday, Zion Williamson found out he had sustained a broken right foot, an injury that cost him the 2021-22 season. That year, on July 6, his 22nd birthday, the New Orleans Pelicans forward put ink to paper and signed his five-year Rookie Max renewal, which could be worth up to $231 million.

When asked where that birthday is, Williamson smiled and patted Pelican’s executive vice president of basketball operations, David Griffin, on the back. “Number one,” he said.

Williamson signed the extension in front of around 80 kids attending his six-week summer camp at a local YMCA. Williamson sat down at a table with his parents Lee and Sharonda Anderson seated next to him and his little brother Noah – who attends the camp – on his right. A majority of the camp’s kids surrounded the table as Williamson signed the deal. As he capped the pen, Williamson looked up and said, “I’m locked up baby.”

Williamson’s deal is valued at $193 million over five years and could rise to $231 million if he fulfills the deal’s escalator clauses by forming an All-NBA team next season. Griffin said during the post-signing press conference that Williamson’s deal ended up not including a player option. When Brandon Ingram signed his five-year contract with New Orleans after the 2019-20 season, he also signed a five-year, no-option deal.

“Zion wanted to do the same with this organization,” Griffin said. “He wasn’t looking for a way out. He was looking for a way to stay. His family was looking for a way to be more involved in the community and it shows here today. It’s a human thing.” Speaking to the media, Williamson spoke about how not being able to go to court last season had taken its toll on him.

“I want to thank my family. I want to thank the YMCA. I want to thank the City of New Orleans, especially Mrs. Benson. Thank you all for believing in me,” Williamson said. “I’m just giving a kid like me a chance to showcase my skills and hopefully help bring the team multiple championships. Thank you for staying with me over the past year.

“On my birthday last year I found out I broke my foot. I’ve been traveling all year. It’s been a tough year. For the pelicans to give me this birthday gift, I won’t let them down. I won’t disappoint my family. I will not disappoint the city. And above all, I will not disappoint myself.”

Williamson said the past few months have been a “roller coaster of emotions” for him and his family. When discussing Williamson’s desire to stay in New Orleans long-term, he said it was his family that was starting to take the brunt of it.

“At the beginning of the season I said to the world, ‘If you ever want to know if I want to be here.’ Instead of asking me, the world just ran away with tales,” Williamson said. “When my family spoke publicly about why we don’t like New Orleans, why we don’t want to be here when we don’t at all. I couldn’t.” play because my foot was broken. So that sucked. Every time I checked my phone, it was always negative. Even if you try to take the situation positively, it was very difficult.

Williamson was officially cleared to return to full basketball activities on May 26. Now the focus is on preparing for the 2022-23 season, a season in which Williamson will look to prove more than just being healthy again.

“I want to prove that I’m a winner,” Williamson said. “It’s as simple as that. I want to win with the coach. Just like my teammates. The ultimate goal is to win the championship. I feel like we’re all striving for that. Like Griff said, we’re hungry. You You’ve seen what the team has achieved over the past year and I’m happy to add to that.”

Williamson credited Pelicans guard CJ McCollum along with the Pelicans staff for helping him work on things to improve his longevity. He said he thinks he’s in a “great situation” overall.

When Williamson returns to the pitch, the team will look very different from the one he last played with on May 4, 2021. McCollum is just one of the new additions, along with center Jonas Valanciunas, forward Larry Nance Jr., guard Devonte’ Graham, as well as sophomores Herb Jones, Trey Murphy III and Jose Alvarado and 2022 draft pick Dyson Daniels.

It was the core of that group that led New Orleans through last season’s play-in tournament and into the first round of the playoffs as the No. 8, losing to the Phoenix Suns in six games in the first round. New Orleans achieved this under first-year coach Willie Green, who was excited at the prospect of finally coaching Williamson on the court next season.

“Well, Zion is a big part of what we want to do or achieve, and it doesn’t necessarily fit with it. He can do that with any team in the league. It’s about maximizing the group that we have when we add him to it,” Green said. “Honestly, I think it’s going to be scary for the rest of the NBA. Now it will require work. Which groups play well together? How can we exploit different discrepancies? How can we use all of our guys to conquer the arena and give them the opportunity to be successful? That takes work. But at some point during the season it all comes together and when it does I think we can be a scary team.” New Orleans Pelicans’ Zion Williamson after signing extension

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