By BRETT MARTEL – AP Sportswriter
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Zion Williamson’s lost season to injury and an unusual absence from the New Orleans Pelicans during his recovery hasn’t stopped the club from betting big on their long-term future. term together.
The star forward agreed to a five-year, $193 million extension with New Orleans on Saturday that could be worth up to $231 million, Williamson’s agent Austin Brown told The Associated Press.
Classified as a maximum rookie extension under the NBA’s labor agreement, the deal paves the way for the 6-foot-6, 280-pound power forward to boost All-Star caliber to a team that recently proved they could make the playoffs without him.
ESPN first reported the deal, also citing information provided by Brown, who is CAA Sports‘ basketball division co-director. The Pelicans have yet to announce the extension, which under NBA rules cannot be signed until July 6.
The move means Duke’s 2019 No. 1 draft pick wants to see how much his return could help a team that improved dramatically late last season and made a surprisingly competitive playoff run.
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It’s also a show of confidence from the Pelicans in injury-plagued Williamson, who played a total of 85 games in his first three NBA seasons – and missed all of last season with a back injury. foot.
This spring, the Pelicans won two Western Conference playoff games before leading top-seeded Phoenix to six games in the first round of the 2022 playoffs. They did it with a team led by the winger Brandon Ingram, veteran guard CJ McCollum, center Jonas Valanciunas and a supporting cast of young players who flourished under the first NBA head coach Willie Green.
A season earlier, Williamson averaged a team-high 27 points and became an All-Star for the first time in his only NBA campaign that wasn’t largely or entirely wiped out by injuries. .
Williamson played just 24 games as a rookie due to a preseason right knee (lateral meniscus) injury.
He played 61 of 72 games in his second season. But he injured his foot in the 2021 offseason while performing basketball drills with his stepfather, whom he had previously entrusted his offseason training to.
The Pelicans didn’t reveal the injury until the first day of training camp in September, saying they hoped he would be ready to play for the regular season opener on October 20. Williamson initially agreed with this timeline, which turned out to be extremely optimistic. . He missed the entire regular season and the playoffs.
Williamson also opted to spend a significant portion of the season away from New Orleans and the Pelicans. He chose to rehab in Oregon, where his shoe sponsor, Nike, is based.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans offered few updates on Williamson, any mention of which was subsequently conspicuously absent from Pelicans promotional materials regarding season ticket renewals for the 2022-23 season.
No NBA player has turned down a maximum rookie NBA contract extension, although the awkwardness between Williamson and the Pelicans has led to speculation that Williamson could be the first.
But Williamson joined the team in March and appeared emotionally invested in their run for the playoffs, regularly indulging in celebrations of triumphant moments near the bench.
And at the end of the season, Williamson said that if New Orleans offered a maximum extension, he “wouldn’t be able to sign her fast enough.”
“It felt different this year. You saw it on the court,” said Williamson, who had a different coach in each of his first three NBA seasons. “We have a special group. I really believe that.
In late May, several weeks after the Pelicans’ season ended, the club announced that Williamson had been cleared to engage in basketball activities without restrictions.
With Williamson on the sidelines and Green a rookie head coach, the Pelicans started 1-12 last season. But they steadily climbed in contention for a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
They had begun to improve even before acquiring McCollum from Portland two days before the NBA trade deadline. McCollum helped them rally to clinch a ninth seed and a home playoff.
The Pelicans beat 10th-seeded San Antonio. They then won a second playoff against the Clippers in Los Angeles to advance to the first round of the playoffs against top seed Phoenix.
New Orleans won twice in this series, which was tied at 2 games apiece before the Suns closed it with straight wins.
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