Every All-Star break, the discourse around the NBA explodes in
one way or another without League Pass to fill the void — NBA 75
debates (please, we need to chill about Tony Parker), dunk-contest disappointment,
pretty much anything related to Lakers
drama, and eventually settling in on Zion Williamson and the
New Orleans Pelicans.
CJ McCollum's interview with TNT's Inside the NBA crew absolutely blew up, as it came
out that he and Williamson had yet to speak (they have spoken since) after New Orleans
traded for McCollum ahead of the trade deadline to bolster its
There's a lot to unpack here in a multitude of layers.
To me, this comes down to transparency from every party
The Pelicans' front office has been... uhhh... lacking in
transparency since the start of the season. Here's the thing,
though: What else are they supposed to say?
Yeah, we're not that tight with Zion, and he's rehabbing
away from the team. We'll let you know when we find out
It doesn't work like that. Say something publicly like that, and
you risk further alienating your star player.
This consistent approach to injuries has become rather
commonplace. For example, the Indiana Pacers have routinely stated
that T.J. Warren was hopefully "weeks not months" away from return
due to a foot injury, a message they've been giving since media
day, and Warren has yet to suit up for a game.
I don't care about the injury report from a betting perspective
(although that's becoming a growing topic of intrigue/concern). I
just want guys to be healthy. Selfishly, I want to know where a
player is at physically so I can properly evaluate a team and have
some sort of timetable for a return.
Williamson is rehabbing away from the team in Portland. From a
professional standpoint, I get the frustration that he hadn't
reached out to McCollum. However, that's part of what's odd to me.
He's rehabbing and getting right from a significant injury. He
hasn't been around the team and what they're doing day-in and
day-out. You can call that bad leadership (not wrong), but at the
same time, it's just wonky because... What is he supposed
I would do it differently in the same spot, but I'm not in the
same spot. I don't know everything behind the scenes. I don't
intend to excuse his lack of reaching out. I think we're past the
point of questioning Zion's commitment to the organization, as he's
made it pretty clear without stating the obvious in any medium. If
Zion were fully committed to this team and their direction, then
yes, I'd be entirely perplexed at his not having spoken to McCollum
This speaks to the larger issue on transparency all around. I
don't intend to come off as though I know Williamson's every waking
thought, but the rumors and whispers have been out there for some
time about his interest in New Orleans. His actions, or lack
thereof, have all but solidified the merit to them.
Perhaps I'm being naive to the way that things work, but I just
wish we could be more concrete. Much akin to the situation with
James Harden wanting to leave Brooklyn, we'd known for a while that
The Beard wanted out. The silence was absolutely deafening. Would a
direct quote saying, "I don't want to be here anymore," help? I
don't know man, but I'd like to think the fallout would've been
better without absurd build-up.
Social media and immediate reactions to small chunks of
information often foregoing the entirety of the story is a very
real factor. An aggregated quote is still something one said, but
shedding so much of the nuance and context. In the era of mass
communication, actually communicating has somehow become more
difficult, and I think we see that on a micro-scale with free
agency and trades in the league.
I can't speak on how well Pelicans executive vice president of
basketball operations David Griffin has or hasn't connected with
Zion, or attempted to. I think some have been a bit too quick to
throw the organization under the bus. I haven't abided by every
move Griffin has made, but this team is on an upward
Read anything from Will Guillory, Christian Clark or Andrew
Lopez (three fantastic NOLA beat reporters), and it's so apparent
the impact that head coach Willie Green has had on this team. After
a disastrous 3-16 start — in part due to missing Zion and one of
the hardest early season schedules — New Orleans has gone
The turnaround has been drastic. Brandon Ingram has adapted his game, improved
as a passer and is now impacting winning at the highest level he
ever has. Starting a second-round pick in Herb Jones has paid
dividends for this squad, and was an ambitious move early in the
year. My only real gripe remains with Garrett Temple's
Look no further than Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Josh Hart
sticking around after being traded to watch one last Pelicans game
from the sideline; that just doesn't happen. It sounds cliche, but
Green is building something real in New Orleans and impacting the
culture in a way that's been palpable much of the year if you've
That's my main frustration with this whole situation. This team
has a real foundation and footing. I've constantly said to myself
"Man, when Zion comes back," while watching this team play.
Selfishly, I just want to see it, or at least know if he is or
isn't coming back. That's unfortunately overshadowed the really fun
and intriguing developments the team has made throughout the year
on a national scale.
Building relationships is arguably the most important part of
running an organization, but if the star player you drafted with
the first overall pick isn't that interested in being there, what
are you supposed to do? Yes, it's on Griffin to sell the team to
anyone he brings in, but again, he can only do and say so much. At
some point, you're just shouting at someone with headphones on.
No, Zion hasn't put the city on his back or fully embraced New
Orleans, and in many ways he's done the opposite of what Ja Morant
has done in Memphis. That's not to pit them against one another,
but when comparing the two situations of small-market teams taking
franchise-altering stars back-to-back in the same draft, it's worth
Can we just admit how crazy it is that we're asking someone to
come in at 19 years old and be the face of a multi-million dollar
franchise? Zion is not wired like Michael Jordan or LeBron James,
but that is such a wild standard to set that sheds so much nuance.
He gets paid a ridiculous amount of money, but that's not the
pressure-release valve we like to paint it as.
This is where one of my larger issues pops up as well. If I were
Zion, I'd like to say that I'd go to bat for New Orleans and want
to lead the organization that drafted me, but he quite seemingly
doesn't want to. I guess I can't entirely fault him for that as a
person and his want to be somewhere else.
The everlasting "abolish the draft" calls have come out in
force, and I get it. I think we need to transition sports in the
United States to a different model, but the point remains that
we're not there yet (but please, we can still brainstorm even if we
don't have an answer). I don't know a way to allow players to
choose wherever they want to go without totally damaging league
balance and small markets, but this is another tally on the docket
that the draft is inherently flawed. I'd really love to see a shift
towards the European soccer model, with a prioritization on youth development and
professional organizations down to the grassroots, but again, that
would take years to move towards. Talking about it is a start.
Zion Williamson is deserving of some heat for how he's gone
about his tenure in New Orleans, as does the front office to a
lesser degree. Hopefully, both sides can find a way to to come to
terms one way or another and bring at least a modicum of