National Basketball Association

Could Zion Williamson's flirtation with the New York Knicks go anywhere?

April 19

There's some big noise surrounding a big star in the Big Easy.

In just his second NBA season ⁠— and his first full one ⁠— Zion Williamson is establishing himself as a dominant force with the New Orleans Pelicans.

While his 26.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game are more than enough to keep fans interested, Williamson has also developed a knack for creating headlines with his words.

Following New Orleans' 122-112 overtime loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, in which Williamson dropped a cool 34 points, the 20-year-old phenom offered some effusive love for The Big Apple.

"I mean, New York is the mecca of basketball," Williamson said. "I love playing here. I played here in college. This is my first time playing in the pros. I mean, this atmosphere — whether they're cheering for you, whether they're booing for you — it's amazing. Honestly, I think, outside of New Orleans obviously, I think this might be my favorite place to play. Outside of New Orleans. I can't even lie to you. I can't lie to you."

Well, that's probably something Pelicans fans aren't super jazzed to hear.

Conversely, Williamson's show of love must have been music to the ears of Knicks fans, who are desperate to see their franchise finish above .500 for the first time since 2012-13.

Granted, those comments about playing at MSG could have been dismissed as youthful exuberance following an outstanding game, albeit in a loss, but ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said there might be something there.

"He was pretty animated with it," Wojnarowski said. "It's certainly something, I think, down the road for people to keep their eye on. But right now, you know, he's in New Orleans. He's going to be in New Orleans, and they have a window here with the young core that they have to improve, get better and make him want to stay there."

Of course, Williamson is three years away ⁠— at least ⁠— from being able to pull off a move to New York, barring an absolutely monumental trade.

From a contract standpoint, his rookie deal runs through 2022-23, after which he'd become a restricted free agent. Unrestricted free agency wouldn't be coming his way until after the 2023-24 season, and even that seems unlikely.

That's because he'd have to forego signing a long-term extension under his rookie contract, which would guarantee him a boatload of money for five years.

For context, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo and De'Aaron Fox all agreed to extensions with their respective teams, with values projected at a base of $163.0 million and up to $195.6 million, per HoopsRumors.com.

As Nick Wright pointed out on "First Things First," it's difficult to imagine Williamson being available any earlier than 2026.

"Zion would be the first player ever to turn down the rookie max extension. ... 2026 is the earliest this could happen," Wright said. "And what that means is he signs the max extension and then forces his way out with a year left on the deal."

Chris Broussard also threw some cold water on the Zion-to-NYC discussion, saying this is a story the NBA has seen time and time again with the Knicks.

Both LeBron James in 2008 and Kevin Durant in 2019 were connected with the Knicks, and neither dream came true.

Plus, it would certainly seem that the Pelicans would do everything in their power to make sure their young superstar is happy. That leads us to Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy, who took his team to task after allowing the Knicks to force overtime in the closing seconds of regulation Sunday.

While Van Gundy's ire seemed to be directed at Eric Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball in that instance, his overall demeanor might not be a fit for the young Pelicans, in Skip Bayless' estimation.

The "Undisputed" host offered his reaction to Van Gundy's comments.

"I believe they are quitting on this coach," Bayless said. "It's just fingernails on a chalkboard for these younger players. ... He is not pushing the right psychological buttons. They are not motivated by what he says and, I think, to the point where he talks so much in the sideline huddles ⁠— you've had coaches like this ⁠— where you just tune it out after a while."

Hear what Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe have to say about Van Gundy's comments about the Pelicans.

There hasn't been any indication that Williamson sees Van Gundy as a reason to look for greener pastures outside New Orleans.

However, we know Williamson isn't afraid to plant those kinds of seeds, whether he's content with coaching or otherwise.

Especially if it's for the "mecca of basketball."

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