When the Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday night, Zion Williamson was as shocked as the rest of us. You could see it on his face on the ESPN broadcast. You could watch the fan cell phone footage of Zion and RJ. You can even watch it in our own Live Reaction video below. Everyone was stunned when the Pelicans cashed in on their 6% chance of franchise saving good fortune.
And so a media narrative quickly formed. Was Zion so upset that he would forgo the NBA for a year in order to avoid spending the beginning of his career in New Orleans? Would he return to Duke, where he could continue to be exploited by the college system? He loved Duke SO much after all (eye roll). Of course all of this conjecture, was just that...conjecture. Zion is going to play in the NBA next year and he’s going to be doing it for the New Orleans Pelicans. And I’m going to lay out the case for why New Orleans was the best case scenario for him.
First let’s just talk about how New Orleans is an awesome city. It’s especially awesome for a single kid about to enter his twenties getting paid a multi-million dollar contract. The food is excellent, the culture is great, the nightlife is sick. Zion Williamson is going to have a lot of fun living in NoLa.
Oh, and his brand is going to be just fine playing in New Orleans. Let’s throw the small market argument out the window. The internet has changed everything. Zion has been famous since he was sixteen years old because we got to watch him on Instagram and YouTube. He’s going to be on Sports Center and House of Highlights nearly every night whether he plays in New Orleans or at his local LA Fitness. He’s the most exciting and marketable prospect we’ve had since Lebron. Zion is going to sign like a $100 million dollar shoe deal out the gate. His brand would be just fine playing absolutely anywhere.
As far as the basketball situation goes, the Pels having landed the right to select Zion, are now in a better position than any team in the league as long term future goes. The Pelicans just hired David Griffin, who was the executive who was able to put a championship team around Lebron in Cleveland. He knows how to grow a positive relationship with a superstar and he understands the weight of having a superstar on your roster. Griffin will have to figure out the Anthony Davis situation, but it’s kind of a no lose decision for him. He’ll either trade AD for a huge haul in the off season or keep Davis until the deadline in hopes of convincing him that he should stay together long term with Zion. If Griffin fulfills Davis’ trade request to go play in New York; Griffin will have the opportunity to reunite Zion with his college roommate and best friend in RJ Barrett whilst picking up young pieces like Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and future picks along with him. He can then look to move Jrue Holiday for even more assets to add to the treasure trove. And as long as no long term money is picked up along the way, the Pels will be on the books for like $30 million in the 2021 off season with a stacked free agent class. So the Pels will have the league’s best young assets to go along with a bajillion dollars in cap space. If Griffin convinces AD to stay in New Orleans, he keeps Holiday, gets to create the leagues most exciting front court, and then use the Pelicans’ cap space to sign veterans who compliment their stars and will help push them into the title picture. Personally I’d like to see him start from scratch and build the team with a clean slate. I want the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of the rebuild, not the rushed DC version.
So can we please stop with the “Zion shouldn’t be happy he’s going to small market New Orleans” nonsense. He’s in a great situation for both basketball and lifestyle reasons, he’s going to get to save basketball long term in New Orleans while coming in as the hero to AD’s villain, and we don’t have to hate him for playing on the Knicks or Lakers. Sounds like a win to me.