With his unique blend of aerial acrobatics, elite athleticism and untraditional physical proportions, Zion Williamson has dazzled crowds since he was a high school student in South Carolina.
This trend continued as he headed to the NBA as the New Orleans Pelicans. first pick in the 2019 draft and became an instant superstar upon his arrival, averaging over 25 points per game in his first two seasons.
This type of origin story usually leads to fame and sporting immortality, but in Williamson’s case, his future with the Pelicans is all but certain.
Availability and dedication issues
This season marks the third of Williamson’s career, and so far the 21-year-old has played just 85 games for the Pelicans, an appallingly low number for a player who was expected to turn the tide.
Williamson has a slew of injuries to his name in his brief NBA career, and has struggled with his weight since entering the league. Heading into this year, the 6’6 Williamson would have registered at 330 poundswhich is a concerning number for a multitude of reasons, the main one being his future health.
The Pelicans are yet to see Williamson play in the 2021-22 campaign, and the further into the season they go, the less likely the chance of a return. Since they should miss the playoffsit is fair to say that the situation is quickly becoming precarious.
As if his physical issues weren’t bad enough, there’s also the matter of Williamson’s dedication to the team, or lack thereof. The former All-Star has yet to contact newcomer CJ McCollum, who was recently traded through the Portland Trail Blazers.
This is not normal behavior. Williamson’s former teammate JJ Redick taken from ESPN to lay out the situation, detailing Williamson’s detached nature in the locker room, a concern Redick himself expressed to the youngster when they were teammates.
For Redick, expressing those thoughts on national television is eye-opening. Not only does he have a great reputation as a teammate from his playing days, he and Williamson even attended the same school, Duke University. For a former player to openly criticize not only a former teammate, but also another former, means things are bad.
It could turn out to be even worse if Williamson and his team are indeed plan an exit strategyas has been widely speculated essentially since his arrival.
Of course, every situation has multiple perspectives, and we don’t need to overlook anything crucial for Williamson’s lack of enthusiasm. Chances are he never wanted to play in New Orleans to begin with.
The unbalanced nature of the project
When the Pelicans won the toss in 2019, it might not have gone down well with Williamson, who was widely considered the best player in the draft.
While players keep their politically correct quotes during the pre-draft process, it stands to reason that most have preferences as to where they land. Most grew up watching NBA basketball, so it would be illogical to expect players to not have favorite teams or players, which drives their dreams towards a specific jersey.
Yet for some reason, teams, pundits, fans, and even executives expect even top players to be happy with the privilege of playing for any NBA team, at a fraction the salary they would receive. the free market.
Yes, playing in the NBA is a privilege. But let’s also remember that these players end up in the league for a reason. They are the best players on the planet, and the league needs them as much as it needs them. The league’s optics of being the great white whale, with players reduced to the role of Captain Ahab, is at best flawed and at worst an institutional failure to balance power relations.
If Williamson entered the NBA as an unrestricted free agent immediately out of college, not only would he be able to pick the team, but his pay grade would be, at a bare minimum, double what he currently earns.
(The team Williamson wants to join would be dropping players like flies to clear him a major spot, because that’s what you do for a superstar.)
This is not to argue that the league needs to overhaul its entire draft process, but it does need to deal with very real consequences of the limitations built into the current formula.
The league is at the service of the teams, which of course means they want to give those teams the power to hang on to the players for as long as possible. At first glance, there is logic in the concept of a long-term partnership. A player can create an entire brand by playing for the same team for almost a decade, which gives him the opportunity to transform especially smaller market teams during those years.
But forgotten in this equation is the human aspect. Players, like everyone else, sometimes need to want to change jobs. No one bats an eyelid if an accountant quits their job, to take the exact same job at another company. But for gamers, is it somehow inconceivable?
The trade market makes things even more complicated, where teams are often encouraged by fanbases to trade players. But if a player wants out, does that trigger red flags?
And the icing on the cake of this unbalanced power sundae is the ultimate goal of the league: To make money.
Ultimately, the NBA is a business that operates under the umbrella of entertainment. If the fans are not interested, the big contracts disappear. For everyone. If players and teams want to keep making more money than they know what to do with, they need to make sure they’re meeting the consumer’s need.
If you think all of the above represents a lot of perspectives to consider, you’re absolutely right. This is by no means a simple situation.
This brings us back to Williamson.
It’s one thing to be potentially disappointed with where you land as a player, and quite another to walk away from your employer completely while demanding roster improvements. These opposites don’t follow, and it’s at Williamson’s feet and his family.
Showing up out of shape and disinterested doesn’t help Williamson’s own cause either. Teams are certainly following this situation intensely, and there are sure to be clubs who will come away with a toned down view of Williamson’s professionalism.
And yes, whether the balance of power is skewed or not, it remains the responsibility of the employee, in this case Williamson, to do the job. he’s paid $10.7 million to do.
So how are the Pelicans and Williamson moving forward?
It starts with having an honest dialogue with each other. Assuming Williamson actually wants to leave the Pelicans for, say, New York Knicks, the two parties should come together to work out an exchange that sends him there. Finding common ground serves several purposes.
– Williamson gets where he wants to go in order to build the career he envisions for himself.
– The Pelicans will in return receive a tremendous trade package to drive them forward.
– The Pelicans will be noticed in agent circles as an organization that has done well by one player, which may lead future players to look upon them favorably.
Identify the learning story
The biggest lesson to be learned from this situation is the need for a change in the pre-project process. Players shouldn’t feel pressured to act like they don’t have favorite destinations and only dare to share their list behind closed doors.
Make them public and normalize that players have a vested interest in knowing where they end up. They are allowed to have opinions about where to live and where to work.
Ultimately, this should help save franchises time. As it turns out, the Pelicans would have been better off drafting Ja Morant instead, as he completely embraced the game in a small market like Memphis.
Also, for teams with the #1 pick in hand and a player who doesn’t want to play it, you can easily argue that whether or not a player is interested in playing it is crucial to their approach to the game. repechage.
If a team picks a reluctant player anyway, it’s on them not to read the play or do their research. If they instead trade to pick someone else who wants to be there, chances are they’re avoiding the endless media circus and theories we see in New Orleans these days.
Is this a perfect solution? No, but nothing from the league or the players association will. There are 450 players in the NBA, not counting two-way contracts. Some will always disagree with the way things are done.
The best realistic outcome is to bridge that gap as closely as possible and work to implement new ideas as new challenges arise.
A challenge has now been presented through the young career of Zion Williamson. Now is the time to learn the lessons.