What does the future hold for Zion Williamson and the Pelicans?

Sep 27, 2021; New Orleans, LA, USA; Zion Williamson during a press conference at the New Orleans Pelicans Media Day. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans have struggled to put their young star, Zion Williamson, in a prime position to win games. Though they drafted him only two years ago, there remains reason to have doubts about the organization. This is all based on their efforts to build around him thus far.

In the 2019 offseason, the Pelicans were in the middle of a dire situation with their former superstar Anthony Davis. The star big man demanded a trade and made his intentions of joining the Los Angeles Lakers clear. Despite their hands being tied in the scenario, New Orleans still came away with a pretty good return at the time. They acquired Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, and three first-round picks for the Lakers in the trade. New Orleans won the 2019 draft lottery to top everything else, which gifted them the draft rights to Zion Williamson.

With a new core put in place over one offseason, the front office seemingly had their work wrapped up. However, the new talent couldn’t take the franchise out of the basement in the Western Conference. Fast forward to today, New Orleans remains stuck in place as a middleman in the NBA. All of this and more has brought some to question how the team trends in the coming years. In this article, we take a closer look at the current situation in New Orleans and try to conclude what the future holds for Zion Williamson and the Pelicans.

Zion Williamson’s NBA career

Jun 20, 2019; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Zion Williamson (Duke) greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number one overall pick to the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Thus far, Zion Williamson has produced as expected. He averages 25.7 points and 7.0 rebounds a game in only two seasons on over 60 percent shooting. The downside comes when you consider his health. Williamson has already dealt with multiple injuries in those two years, and they have even carried over into his third as another foot injury has sidelined the young star again.

Rumors have suggested that Williamson himself has grown weary of the team’s overbearing caution about him. Others have hinted at a growing disconnect between the young star and the organization. Some have even reported that people in Zion’s camp that want him out of New Orleans already. Whether true or not, the cloud of doubt and mistrust circling the Pelicans has most to do with their underachievement since adding Williamson.

The current situation for the Pelicans

Mar 21, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) reacts with guard Josh Hart (3) and forward Zion Williamson (1) in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of sheer talent, you could make the argument that New Orleans quietly ranks among the upper half of the NBA. Alongside Zion Williamson, they boast another all-star caliber forward in Brandon Ingram. They also have solid complementary pieces in Jonas Valanciunas, Josh Hart, Devonte Graham, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Tomas Satoransky, and more. They also brought in Willie Green, an assistant on the Phoenix Suns last year, to take over as head coach.

This season, the Pelicans aim to qualify, at least, for the play-in tournament. It will require them to finish no lower than the 10th seed. Failure to do so will have dire consequences for the organization moving forward. You have to consider how their star power forward may survey the situation before him. And the season hasn’t gone as planned thus far.

New Orleans stands at the bottom of the NBA standings at the moment. Having won only one of their first ten games, they seem to be trending toward another wayward campaign. What makes it even worse is that Zion has yet to play and may not do so until January. This leaves the team vulnerable to continued decline. Though the new season is still young, the first showings haven’t yielded much promise, and time does not currently favor the organization.

Timing is key

Jan 10, 2020; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard RJ Barrett (9) and New Orleans Pelicans small forward Zion Williamson (1) talk after a game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

You could say that it’s still early in Zion Williamson’s career, and we should assume patience with his situation. However, you ought to consider where Zion stands in comparison to his contemporaries. Williamson went first overall in 2019. Though he’d shone promise in his first two seasons, it hasn’t yielded great success for his team. Meanwhile, each of the following three players taken in that draft has already played in the postseason. All the while, they have become vital contributors to their respective teams.

Ja Morant has shone brightly as the Grizzlies quickly rose up the standings. RJ Barrett has played a pivotal role in reviving the Knicks franchise. Both DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish have grown into dependable options for the Hawks and aided Atlanta to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Two other draftees in Tyler Herro and Cameron Johnson have even played in the NBA Finals. Then there’s Zion Williamson and the Pelicans, who haven’t even qualified for the play-in tournament.

Even with other young stars across the league, Zion has fallen behind. Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, and others have already succeeded with their respective organizations.

So what does the future hold?

Apr 24, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) brings the ball upcourt against the San Antonio Spurs during the second quarter at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

While there remains an opportunity for things to turn themselves around, time continues to run short on New Orleans. With their slow start, members of the Pelicans’ front office will likely soon lose their jobs should their losing ways continue. As for the roster, few would expect this bad of a start even without their best player. The team should seek options on the trading market to, at the very least, alleviate the cap and revamp their rebuilding efforts.

Their superstar, Zion Williamson, will be eligible for a rookie-max extension after this season. But given what the team has shown on the court combined with the apparent internal turmoil, it leaves to question if Zion would forego that route and fast-track his way to free agency. Brandon Ingram, though under contract until 2025, will likely be on the move even sooner should the team continue to struggle this year.

The Pelicans have to figure out a way to make this thing work. Otherwise, it’ll go down as another wasted opportunity for this organization to assert itself in the league. After losing out on both Chris Paul and Anthony Davis, for the sake of Pelicans fans, let’s hope that doesn’t become the case here with Zion Williamson.

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