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New Orleans Pelicans unwilling to offer Zion Williamson guaranteed five-year max contract

Andrew Buller-Russ

When the New Orleans Pelicans were faced with the decision to trade their superstar Anthony Davis, the bad vibes were quickly smoothed over by landing Zion Williamson with the first selection in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Now after their new face of the franchise has played just 85 games since being drafted, team ownership isn’t as committed to the new superstar in town. Or at least not convinced in his long-term health.

NBA insider suggests Pelicans ownership won’t offer Zion the max

According to Brian Windhorst in his appearance on ESPN’s Get Up on Friday morning, despite Zion Williamson recently being cleared to resume basketball activities without any restrictions, the team still isn’t sold on offering their 21-year-old star a max contract.

Instead the Gayle Benson ownership group prefers to take a “football approach” to contract negotiations with Williamson.

Oftentimes basketball stars receive fully-guaranteed contracts that are paid out no matter what, whereas in football there are a few more loopholes, such as a player getting hurt, allowing a team to dump their contract by the wayside.

This appears to be the biggest fear that will prevent the Pelicans from offering Williamson the fully guaranteed five-year, $186 million max contract extension he’s eligible for according to Windhorst’s sources.

That doesn’t mean the Pelicans won’t still offer an enticing contract for Williamson, it just won’t be the maximum amount he’s eligible to earn.

How Williamson responds to the offer could be a different story as there have been some rumors that he may just prefer to be in a new organization once all this is done. If Williamson is 100% healthy and ready to go, teams are fully expected to inquire about his availability this offseason, which sets the Pelicans up with an incredibly tough decision.

Related: 3 reasons why New Orleans Pelicans should trade Zion Williamson

Is it a mistake to avoid the max for Zion?

If Windhorst’s report is true, would the Pelicans be making a massive mistake by not offering Williamson a max contract?

Many would argue that when healthy, Williamson has the potential to be a top-20 player in the NBA.

Of course there’s no guarantee Williamson will remain healthy. Many have questions about the added stress Williamson puts on his lower joints by carrying a bit of extra weight while being such an explosive player.

The recent injury history surely doesn’t help matters. We’ve seen other players like Joel Embiid experience similar struggles early in his career only to blossom into an annual MVP candidate.

Who’s to suggest Williamson can’t follow a similar path?

Yet it should also be noted, the 76ers didn’t offer Embiid a fully-guaranteed max either when faced with a similar hurdle, and they structured the deal to include several games played salary escalators. This could be the blueprint for what Williamson can expect in his next deal too.

There’s always the chance Williamson doesn’t buy the bluff and would rather bet on himself by not signing whatever the Pelicans are prepared to offer him.

If it were me, I’d pay Williamson whatever he wants, yet if they already have an understanding that he’s willing to take less, absolutely, sign the deal. Whatever it takes to keep Williamson as a member of the Pelicans.

As they’ve seen, superstars don’t grow on trees and seeing him flourish elsewhere would hurt much worse than being tied to his bloated salary should more injuries occur in the future. For now, he’s healthy, let’s roll with that and see where things go in the 2022-23 season.

Related: 3 ideal Zion Williamson trade scenarios from New Orleans Pelicans