Why it’s time for New Orleans Pelicans to trade Zion Williamson; look at 4 landing spots

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson is injured once again. It comes at a bad time.

Zion Williamson
Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson dropped 40 points in their NBA Play-In Tournament game against the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night.

The former No. 1 pick from Duke was absolutely dominating the likes of LeBron James and Zion Williamson. This is what we saw from Williamson during his time with the Blue Devils. He was the men’s basketball version of Caitlin Clark. A unique talent. A generational prospect. Interest in college basketball was at an all-time high.

Fast forward five years, and Williamson and the Pelicans are at a breaking point.

After dropping those 40 points, the 23-year-old forward pulled up lame with just over three minutes remaining and the game tied at 95. Williamson was visibly frustrated as he made his way to the locker room. He did not return as New Orleans fell by the score of 110-106.

It’s now being noted that Williamson suffered a strained hamstring in the game. He’ll miss Friday’s do-or-die matchup with the Sacramento Kings for the eighth spot in the NBA Playoffs. In fact, Williamson won’t be evaluated again for two weeks.

For Williamson, this is yet another major injury setback in a still-somewhat young career that has been defined by them.

Prior to playing a career-high 70 games this past regular season, the 6-foot-6 forward had suited up in a combined 114 games through his first four years. That included missing the entire 2021-22 campaign with a foot injury.

There is an old adage around the sports world. It’s something to the akin of value being sustained through availaility. Williamson has been the complete antithesis of this.

Regardless of what happens between the Pelicans and Kings on Friday night or moving forward into the playoffs, it’s time for the Pelicans to end this Williamson experiment.

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Zion Williamson isn’t consistently available in tough Western Conference

New Orleans Pelicans, Zion Williamson
Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans won 49 games this past regular season. It was the team’s best performance since all the way back when Chris Paul was doing his thing in the Bayou in 2007-08. Despite this, the team was not able to avoid the NBA Play-In Tournament.

This just goes to show us how loaded the Western Conference is. Heck, the Golden State Warriors finished as the 10th seed with a 46-36 record. Back east, the Atlanta Hawks ended as the 10th seed despite winning 10 fewer games.

The grind of an 82-game season requires star players to be available more often than not. That’s magnified in a conference that saw seven teams win at least 49 games.

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Despite contract, Zion Williamson has trade value

Zion Williamson during NBA in-season tournament
Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

It was somewhat of a surprise when the Pelicans gave Williamson a five-year, $197.23 million contract extension back in July of 2022. This was coming off a 2021-22 campaign in which the forward did not play a single game.

The backdrop was Williamson’s otherworldly performance when he actually suited up in 85 games during his first two seasons. The mismatch waiting to happen averaged 25.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists on 60% shooting during those first two years. While he did not put up the same numbers this past season, Williamson was as effective as they get from the four spot.

  • Zion Williamson stats (2023-24): 22.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 57% shooting

In all, Williamson finished with the third-most points in the paint among NBA players. He’s an issue in the low-post. He’s a willing passer. Teams are going to be interested in that type of dynamic talent should New Orleans put the forward on the block.

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Teams that could be interested in a Zion Williamson trade

New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson
Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

There are several “contenders” around the NBA who are missing that type of low-post presence. In turn, New Orleans would be able to nab a couple potential core pieces to go with C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram. The team could also opt to go into full-scale rebuild mode given the difficulty of the Western Conference.

  • Atlanta Hawks: A lot has been made recently about Atlanta potentially trading Trae Young this coming summer. A Williamson-for-Young package would make sense for both sides. The Hawks get a big man to team up with Dejounte Murray while New Orleans finds itself a franchise cornerstone moving forward. Other parts would have to be involved. But this makes sense.
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: Imagine Chet Holmgren and Zion Williamson teaming up on the inside with NBA MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander doing his thing out on the perimeter. Already the No. 1 seeed in the Western Conference, this would make the Thunder a juggernaut. As for the Pelicans, they acquire a collection of young players and draft assets from an OKC team that’s ripe with them.

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  • Golden State Warriors: Golden State’s embarrassing NBA Play-In Tournament loss to the Sacramento Kings has this organization at a turning point. Less than two years removed from winning the Finals, we’re not sure where this team goes from here. What we do know is that Golden State is looking for win-now players to team up with Stephen Curry. The team could offer up Jonathan Kuminga and multiple first-round picks for Williamson while using Andrew Wiggins as a cap filler.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: Could a Williamson-for-Donovan Mitchell trade be in the cards? We know that Cleveland might be forced to move Mitchell this summer before a likely contract year in 2024-25. Adding Williamson to team up with star guard Darius Garland would make some sense. Though, New Orleans would likely have to sweeten the pot here. Whether the team wants to do that in any Williamson trade remains to be seen.
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