The New Orleans Pelicans won the NBA Draft lottery last night. Their sales staff was exultant, and why shouldn’t they be? Whether Zion Williamson or Ja Morant winds up being a better basketball player will be played out on the court but — for at least the time being — the former is going to be gangbusters at the box office.
But let’s put on our reckless speculation hats for just a second: What if Zion Williamson does not want to play for the Pelicans?
We’ve seen the scenario play out before in the NFL — Eli Manning did not want to go to the Chargers, and John Elway refused to play for the Baltimore Colts — but I can’t recall it happening in the NBA before.
While Zion has given no outward indication that he would refuse to play for New Orleans, it was reported last night that the Knicks were his preference:
What recourse does he even have, though, you ask. Well, as unlikely as it may seem, he could go back to Duke. As former NBA agent and current head of the NBA retired players association Scott Rochelle noted:
On Tuesday, USA Today summarized Zion’s current situation as far as hiring an agent is concerned, and it is accurate that he does not yet have one.
Yes, Zion would be forgoing millions for a year. The NBA rookie wage scale this past season paid the first overall pick $5.9 million, and it escalates in the three years after that. From there, he’d be able to sign a much bigger contract extension, and the real tangible effect of not going to the NBA right now would be the deferral of that money as opposed to the rookie wage money. There is also inherent injury risk to be concerned with.
Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating scenario to think about. The Pelicans hired a well-respected executive in David Griffin to run their front office, but prior to that they’d been mismanaged for years and Anthony Davis reportedly still wants out.
Would Williamson ever try to leverage his way out of New Orleans before he even gets there? There are no indications yet that he would, but the possibility is very interesting to discuss.