NBA: Zion Williamson makes it clear he wants to play for Pelicans

Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans looks on during the game against the Phoenix Suns at Smoothie King Center on April 28, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Chris Graythen/Getty Images/AFP

Zion Williamson is putting last season behind him and focusing on remaining with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Williamson missed the entire 2021-22 season due to a broken right foot, and speculation persisted that he might prefer to play elsewhere.

But while speaking to reporters at a local YMCA basketball camp he was holding, Williamson was all-in on playing for the Pelicans.

“I do want to be here. That’s no secret. I feel like I’ve stood on that when I spoke,” Williamson said Saturday. “Currently, this does not really have anything to do with that. This is just me wanting to be a pillar in my community.”

Williamson, who turns 22 in July, was fully cleared physically by the team on May 26 and has been working out in New Orleans with some of his teammates.

“It was a long year for me on rehab and mental battles,” Williamson said. “I’m fine now. I’m ready to get to work.”

Since being the No. 1 pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, Williamson has played just 85 games (all starts) for the Pelicans. He missed the first three months of the 2019-20 season due to a knee injury.

Williamson was an All-Star in the 2020-21 season, when he averaged 27.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in 61 contests. He has career averages of 25.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

Williamson could be in line for a five-year, $186 million extension from the Pelicans. Speculation has New Orleans seeking protections in the deal due to Williamson’s injury history.

As for getting an extension, Williamson smiled and said, “You have to ask the Pels, baby.”

Williamson is slated to make $13.5 million in base salary next season.

Even with Williamson sidelined, New Orleans advanced through the play-in format to make the playoffs this season and lost in six games against the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

An in-season trade for CJ McCollum bolstered the club while star Brandon Ingram had another big season. In addition, some of the team’s emerging role players excited Williamson as he ticked off the names of Jose Alvarado, Trey Murphy III, Herbert Jones and Jaxson Hayes.

“That’s all I needed to see to really be excited to get back out there,” Williamson said.

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