Pelicans' Williamson signing maximum rookie extension

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson is stopped by New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (4), forward Julius Randle (30) and center Taj Gibson as he goes to the basket in the second half of an NBA basketball game. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

NEW ORLEANS — Zion Williamson agreed to a five-year, $193 million extension Saturday that has the potential to be worth as much as $231 million, two people familiar with the situation said.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because NBA rules do not allow the extension to become official until July 6.

The deal sets the stage for the 6-foot-6, 280-pound, high-scoring forward to give an All-Star calibre boost to a squad that recently proved it could make the playoffs without him.

ESPN first reported the agreement, citing information provided by Williamson's agent, Austin Brown.

The move signifies a desire by the 2019 No. 1 overall draft choice out of Duke to see how much his return could help a squad that improved dramatically late last season and made a surprisingly competitive playoff showing.

It is also a show of faith by the Pelicans in the injury-plagued Williamson, who has played a grand total of 85 games in his first three NBA seasons — and missed all of last season with a foot injury.

This spring, New Orleans won two Western Conference play-in games before taking top-seeded Phoenix to six games in the first round of the 2022 playoffs. They did so with a squad led by high-scoring wing Brandon Ingram, veteran guard CJ McCollum, centre Jonas Valanciunas and a supporting cast of young, hungry players who blossomed under first-time NBA head coach Willie Green.

One season earlier, Williamson averaged a team-high 27 points and became a first-time All-Star during what was his lone NBA campaign that was not mostly or entirely wiped out by injuries.

Williamson played in just 24 games as a rookie because of a pre-season right knee injury (lateral meniscus).

He played in 61 of 72 games in his second season. But he hurt his foot during the 2021 off-season while performing basketball drills with his stepfather, with whom he had previously entrusted his off-season training.

The Pelicans didn’t reveal the injury until the first day of training camp in September, saying they hoped he’d be ready to play by the regular-season opener on Oct. 20. Williamson initially agreed with that timeline, which proved exceedingly optimistic. He wound up missing the entire regular season and playoffs.

Williamson also chose to spend a significant portion of the season away from New Orleans and the Pelicans. He chose to rehabilitate in Oregon, where his shoe sponsor, Nike, is based.

During that time, the Pelicans offered few updates on Williamson, any mention of whom was later conspicuously absent from Pelicans promotional material regarding season ticket renewals for the 2022-23 season.

When the season ended, Williamson said if New Orleans offered a maximum extension, he “wouldn’t be able to sign it fast enough.”

He also was recently cleared to engage in basketball activities without restrictions.

Without Williamson, the Pelicans started 1-12 last season but steadily climbed into contention for a Western Conference playoff berth.

They had begun improving even before acquiring McCollum from Portland two days before the NBA trade deadline. McCollum helped them rally to clinch a ninth overall seed and a home play-in game.

The Pelicans defeated 10th-seeded San Antonio. They then won a second play-in game over the Clippers in Los Angeles to advance to the first round of the playoffs against top-seeded Phoenix

New Orleans won twice in that series before falling in six games.

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