Relationship status: complicated.
Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans just isn’t working out right now.
He’s one of the most talented players in the league, but a variety of on-going off-court indiscretions have the marriage on shaky ground. The main concerns revolve around his passion for the game – impacting his fitness and focus, along with maturity. Williamson is 23 years of age as of July 6, 2023.
It’s reaching the point where trade talk isn’t cooling down. It’ll only get louder now we’ve hit the off season.
Moving off of Zion is the last thing New Orleans wants; he’s undoubtedly ‘the one’ on this team – with All Star forward Brandon Ingram the ‘Robin’ – and the man they hope to build around. But when does hope begin fading, if it hasn’t already? At what point does the franchise accept that perhaps this situation just won’t get better?
At this point, maybe a fresh start is the thing the athlete needs the most. And if that’s the case, Zion’s gain will be New Orleans’ loss. But sometimes, there’s not much the franchise can do.
So if Williamson’s time in Louisiana is in fact expiring, which teams could come knocking?
Zion Williamson trade talk
There are reports the Pelicans have strong interest in moving up in the NBA Draft and homing in on promising guard prospect Scoot Henderson. It brings into focus the possibility that Zion could legitimately get moved before the key event. It’s currently Charlotte and Portland at picks two and three respectively — one of the slots where Henderson and most likely small forward Brandon Miller are selected, after Victor Wembanyama is taken by San Antonio at pick one.
Flipping Zion into Scoot – plus other stuff – resets New Orleans’ title timetable, with Williamson’s five-year, $193m extension only kicking in as of next season (he signed it last summer).
While averaging 26 points, seven rebounds last year, patience just has to run out at some point. He’s played only 114 games in his four years in the league; 29 last campaign, the most recent of those on January 2.
And of course, there will be league-wide interest. For many general managers, the concept of Zion still outweighs the reality of what he’s been so far, since being drafted first overall in 2019.
Potential trade suitors for Zion
The Hornets now boast the longest active Playoff drought in the NBA, after the Kings ended their 16-year absence last season. Surely desperation is starting to sink in.
Charlotte can somewhat act from a position of strength, though, after scoring the second overall pick out of the Draft Lottery — an asset many teams, including the Pelicans, would love to get their hands on. The Hornets isn’t an ideal landing spot for Scoot Henderson, given it’s LaMelo Ball’s side.
It leaves Charlotte most likely looking at Alabama’s Brandon Miller, or getting on the blower to GM Trajan Langdon.
Now this one’s fascinating. While you can almost see any Charlotte-Williamson trade eventually falling flat on its face, there’s a possible outcome where the Blazers figure out how to get something close to the best out of Zion.
And given Portland’s the other side that has a top three selection in the 2023 Draft, there are links to the Pelicans.
The prospect of Damian Lillard playing somewhere other than Portland has never been more real, so this franchise could be the headline act of the off-season, as far as player movement goes.
With Dame, exciting 20-year-old Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons and pick three, the Trailblazers have plenty of ammunition to re-route and re-launch.
New York Knicks
Well here’s a fun one.
Zion in New York City would, frankly, be an absolute circus. And we’re here for that kind of drama.
On a serious note, with focus and maturity being the primary concerns connected to Williamson, NYC might be the last kind of environment he needs to immerse himself into. But then again, New Orleans is a small market team and that hasn’t exactly worked.
RJ Barrett and Julius Randle would be on the trade table if the two teams talk, after the pair failed to lift the Knicks past a soft exit in the Eastern Conference Semis.
The Rockets are also in the picture, according to betting markets.
Houston looms as a team that may rival Portland as far as off-season headlines are concerned, with the prospect of a James Harden homecoming growing serious legs.
The Rockets could end up with Harden for nothing, meaning the franchise’s generous stockpile of picks and enticing young prospects will be more than enough to figure something out with New Orleans.