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Less than a year after inking Zion Williamson to a five-year, $193 million contract extension, the New Orleans Pelicans may be questioning their commitment to their All-Star forward.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said teams around the NBA are wondering whether the Pelicans will make Williamson available for trade ahead of next week’s draft.
“I don’t know if anything’s truly going to develop there, but I think it’s fair to say, based on my conversations, there’s an eye being kept toward whether the Pelicans would make Zion Williamson available,” Windhorst said.
It’s worth noting Windhorst did not say the Pelicans have or plan to make Williamson available, just that other teams view it as a possibility. New Orleans is among the teams being aggressive in looking to trade up in the draft, with Scoot Henderson being the target, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. Williamson is the best player on the roster when healthy, so there’s natural speculation—and potentially hope—from other teams he could be involved.
That said, the fact this rumor hasn’t been scoffed at is evidence of how far Williamson’s star has fallen due to injuries.
Here’s a look at potential destinations should the Pelicans decide to make a blockbuster.
This is the obvious answer. If the Pelicans are so high on Henderson they’re willing to make Williamson the centerpiece of a trade package, there’s only one way to do it: Make a deal with the Hornets and land the No. 2 pick.
Charlotte would send Gordon Hayward and the No. 2 pick to New Orleans for Williamson in a heartbeat. Hayward would mostly be used for salary-matching purposes, but he’s also a quality role player, albeit a wildly overpaid one.
From a basketball perspective, this would pair one of the game’s most explosive leapers in Williamson with one of the sport’s most creative and best passers in LaMelo Ball. The alley-oops alone would make the Lob City Clippers look like the 1950s Boston Celtics.
Injury issues are a massive concern for both Ball and Williamson, but the games they’re healthy and on the floor together would shatter social media.
Williamson is also a good basketball fit for the Hornets’ general need for a scoring big man who can defend multiple positions.
Aside from the basketball side, there are also business benefits to acquiring Williamson. Charlotte is the only Jordan-branded NBA team, thanks to its governor being one Michael Jeffrey Jordan, and Williamson is a Jordan Brand athlete. In fact, Jordan’s seven-year, $75 million deal with Williamson was the largest shoe contract given out to a rookie since LeBron James in 2003.
Getting him on the floor and playing with a Jordan logo on his chest every night is a marketing dream come true.
Portland Trail Blazers
This one is a pretty obvious fit as well but would require waiting until draft night to ensure the Hornets don’t select Henderson.
The Blazers have been seeking a star-caliber player to pair with Damian Lillard, and Williamson more than fits the bill. He’s a higher-upside option than Pascal Siakam, who could be a trade target if the Toronto Raptors opt for a rebuild, and may cost less than Karl-Anthony Towns, who should be Portland’s top priority if he’s made available.
The main benefit to trading for Williamson over Siakam and Towns is the potential to build around him should Lillard decide he wants out. Lillard turns 33 in a month and knows the time remaining in his prime is finite. He’s been open about wanting to remain in Portland but also wants to compete—and has been clear he has no patience for a rebuild.
If the Blazers were able to acquire Williamson, they could try out the pairing next season and then pivot to a Zion-centric rebuild if it doesn’t work out. Lillard would only be 34 next summer and still command the type of star-level trade package that could shift the long-term outlook of the franchise.
Having a building block like Williamson is a great start—even with Portland’s unfortunate history with oft-injured (but talented) big men.
New York Knicks
This is the one where we throw all rumors out the window and have some fun. The Knicks are desperate for a superstar, have a boatload of future first-round picks at their disposal and have an All-Star forward in Julius Randle who has fallen out of favor with fans.
Randle and Williamson work as a one-for-one match in terms of salary, and the Knicks could throw in a couple future first-round picks without emptying their asset coffers. That would give them the flexibility to turn around and make a second trade to revamp the roster.
A trade to New York would pair Williamson with his college teammate, RJ Barrett, and allow him to play in a high-profile market.
The Knicks would be making a sizable bet on Williamson staying healthy and realizing his potential. While he’s far from a perfect star, Randle has been the Knicks’ best player since Carmelo Anthony’s prime and helped take them to the second round of the playoffs this year.
New York is the unlikeliest of the three destinations discussed, but it would make the biggest headlines.