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Pelicans to extend Zion Williamson for $231 million

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Zion Williamson, the NBA's first overall pick in the 2019 draft, missed all of last season with a foot injury.  (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Zion Williamson, the NBA’s first overall pick in the 2019 draft, missed all of last season with a foot injury. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The New Orleans Pelicans will sign 22-year-old occasional superstar Zion Williamson to a five-year, $193 million designated player contract extension, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

The deal will pay him $231 million if he makes an All-NBA team or wins league MVP honors next season.

Both sides previously expressed optimism about this contract, despite Williamson’s health, which has limited him to 85 games in his first three years, including all of last season, and multiple reports of friction between Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin, and the player who drafted No. 1 overall in 2019.

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“It’s not a big decision; it’s a pretty easy decision,” Griffin said on The Ryen Russillo Podcast about offering Williamson a maximum deal. “The kid is historically good when he plays… This is a top player. That’s easy.”

Knee problems followed Williamson into the NBA, with a torn right meniscus costing him all but 24 games of his rookie year. He averaged 27 points (in 61/29/70 shooting splits), 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 33.2 minutes in 61 games during the 2020-21 campaign, making an All-Star appearance in his only stretch of healthy basketball in the league. . But a broken right foot sidelined him for all of last season.

Injuries raised questions about Williamson’s conditioning at 6-foot-6 and (perhaps conservatively) 284 pounds. No player under 6-9 is within 25 pounds of Williamson’s stated weight, and no one comparable to his height and weight has ever enjoyed a long NBA career. Then again, no one of that size is as exceptionally athletic as Williamson, whose highlight reels made him the most anticipated prospect since LeBron James.

The Pelicans are confident Williamson will deliver on that promise over the life of his contract extension, and his commitment indicates confidence that his foot and knee issues may not be long-term concerns.

Whether or not Williamson ends this deal in New Orleans, even if he’s healthy, will be the subject of much debate for years to come. Both Chris Paul and Anthony Davis, the only other superstars the franchise has known, requested small-market trades before the end of similar contracts.

Those concerns fueled debate long before this deal. If you trust the reports of the past three years, Williamson wasn’t happy with the organization’s cautious treatment of his knee injury, and his rehab of the foot injury at Nike’s Oregon facility didn’t quell those rumors. Neither did reports that Williamson’s family wanted to leave New Orleans or your forced communication with his new teammate CJ McCollum.

All the time, Williamson insisted“Anyone who knows me … knows I love New Orleans,” “I want to be here” and, when asked about the possibility of an extension, “I couldn’t sign him fast enough.”

The Pelicans’ success without Williamson last season helped sell Williamson on the team’s leadership. Brandon Ingram continued to act at a star level. Second-round pick Herbert Jones was a revelation. Trades for Jonas Valanciunas and McCollum brought veteran stability to an otherwise inexperienced roster.

Together, they pushed the Pelicans from a 3–16 start to a play-in tournament spot and the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The 64-win Phoenix Suns needed an all-time great playoff performance from Paul to avoid a Game 7 in the first round against an upstart from New Orleans. Adding Williamson to that series could have made a difference, or at least that’s the theory behind paying him to be that player.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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