Zion Williamson seems to be basketball’s next big star, and the NBA may be trying to maximize his exposure.
Speaking Thursday on “The Hoop Collective,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said that some around the league believe the NBA’s proposed plan for an expanded postseason is designed to get Williamson and his New Orleans Pelicans in.
“I’ve already heard people in this league say this is an elaborate game to get Zion Williamson into this bubble,” said Windorst, per Real GM. “I’ll tell you one thing: that scenario gets Zion Williamson in. Look, I’ve just heard.
“I’m not saying the NBA is going this route, I’m just saying I’ve already heard this scenario that no matter what happens, the cutoff line will be the Pelicans,” Windhorst added. “They’ll be in. It will be the first time in the history of the NBA that the league kicked the ball into the fairway for New Orleans.”
Recent reports suggested that the NBA was considering a World Cup-style group stage format for the playoffs (which you can read more about here). ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski also reported that such a format would include the 16 playoff teams, plus those on the cusp such as Williamson’s Pelicans.
Story includes continued conversations about a return-to-play that includes the 16-playoff teams — plus the four Western Conference teams on playoff bubble: Blazers, Kings, Pelicans and Spurs. https://t.co/jNGtRvVUFJ
The Pelicans were tenth in the West and 18th in the league overall at 28-36 before the season was suspended. New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said earlier this month that Williamson may have certain restrictions if play does resume, but having the No. 1 overall pick present in any way would obviously increase the buzz surrounding the playoffs even further.
Zion Williamson’s attorneys have filed a motion to try blocking a legal inquiry into the former Duke star’s college eligibility.
Williamson is involved in a lawsuit with his former marketing agent. Williamson originally signed with Gina Ford’s Prime Sports Marketing but allegedly breached that deal to sign with Creative Artists Agency. She is suing him for breaking the deal.
Ford is fighting back by accusing Williamson of taking illegal benefits while at Duke. She is trying to prove Williamson was ineligible for the NCAA and therefore he is not protected by North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act, which is the grounds his legal team is claiming for breaking the contract with her.
Williamson’s team has now filed a protective order to try blocking an inquiry into Zion’s college eligibility.
BREAKING: Zion Williamson files for protective order against ‘invasive' and 'irrelevant' discovery requests, seeks court order to block Gina Ford’s inquiry into past eligibility at Duke and whether he received any improper economic benefits. pic.twitter.com/7GM4Hppyp7
Not only would such a legal probe reflect poorly upon Zion in the eyes of some, but it could also expose some illegal behavior by the Duke program. CAA and Williamson should be motivated to settle this lawsuit to protect damaging information from becoming public.
Zion Williamson probably would have run away with the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award if he didn’t miss the first three months of the season, but his knee injury has seemingly opened the door for Ja Morant to run away with the hardware. While there may be some people who still want Williamson to win it, Morant is giving the nod to himself.
In an appearance on “Take it There with Taylor Rooks” this week, Morant said he doesn’t think the Rookie of the Year race is close. You can see his remarks at around the 1:28 mark below.
“I feel like I’ve done enough. I deserve it,” Morant said. “I feel like my play this year proved all that. I’ve had a great season so far. You know, (the virus) stopped that short a little bit.”
Williamson’s stats are better than Morant’s, but the body of work is nowhere near as complete. Morant is averaging 17.6 points, 6.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 59 games, while Williamson has posted 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2. assists in just 19 games. The sample size simply isn’t large enough.
“Take my boy out the situation and see how much buzz you get,” Ball said, via Jose Martinez of Complex. “He’d probably still be out for the season. … I don’t care how fast you can run and jump, if you ain’t got nobody to get you that ball, guess what you going to be doing? Running and jumping out there for nothing.”
Yeah, no. Williamson was one of the biggest stars in the sport at Duke and one of the most hyped top draft picks in recent memory. Lonzo Ball had nothing to do with any of that.
The reality is that Lonzo and Zion have had a mutually beneficial on-court relationship, and have made each other better. Ball is having his best NBA season in New Orleans. All of this is true, but LaVar doesn’t care to draw attention to that. He’d rather just make stupid comments like this one.
Zion Williamson has been wrapped up in a legal battle since last year with a marketing agency that used to represent him, and the latest filings are sure to call more attention to the case.
Miami-based company Prime Sports Marketing filed a lawsuit against Williamson last year alleging that the New Orleans Pelicans star backed out of an exclusive marketing agreement that he signed days after he declared for the NBA Draft. The firm is seeking at least $100 million in damages.
As Daniel Wallach of The Athletic pointed out on Sunday, Williamson’s former agent Gina Ford recently served requests for admission in the lawsuit asking Williamson to admit that he and his representatives received “money, benefits, favors or other things of value” to attend Duke University and wear Nike’s brand. Williamson is also accused of receiving improper benefits from Adidas prior to enrolling at Duke.
NEW: Zion Williamson’s former marketing agent has served requests for admission in their lawsuit asking him to admit that he received “money, benefits, favors or other things of value” to attend Duke University and to wear and/or use Nike and Adidas.
Wallach speculates that the requests are likely more of a “veiled threat” aimed at getting Williamson and his current marketing agency, CAA Sports, to settle the lawsuit. Though, there will now be pressure on the NCAA to pursue the claims.
This is not the first we have heard about improper activity between Nike and Williamson. Michael Avenatti, the former Stormy Daniels attorney who was arrested last year and charged by federal prosecutors for attempting to extort Nike, also claimed Nike approved thousands of dollars in payments to help steer Williamson to Duke.
The New Orleans Pelicans could be back to exercising caution with Zion Williamson if they are playing basketball again any time in the near future.
Speaking during a conference call with the media this week, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry hinted at the possibility of a minutes restriction for the No. 1 overall pick if the team’s season resumes.
“We’ll have those conversations,” said Gentry, per NBA.com. “Obviously, his health will be the number one priority, but the restriction was really off after his first 5-6 games. So, he was playing the minutes that he would normally play, considering with any situation really. But, it will be something that we talk about when we do resume and as far as how it looks for Zion from a minute standpoint, and we’ll do that really with some of the other players.
“This is unprecedented, really,” Gentry added. “You play in a basketball game, you play 60 games, then all of a sudden the season ends, then now it’s going to start back up. So, this is going to be something that is different for every single player that has ever played in the NBA or is playing in the NBA now.”
Williamson, 19, missed the first several months of the season with a meniscus tear and did have a moderate minutes restriction in place upon his initial return. In his 19 total games before play was suspended though, Williamson averaged a robust 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in 29.7 minutes per game.
At 28-36, the Pelicans were out of the playoffs, so there is no guarantee their season continues, even if the 2019-20 campaign does pick up again. Should New Orleans be back in action however, limiting Williamson’s playing time makes sense, despite that previously being unpopular with the team’s fans.
Zion Williamson was unable to overtake Ja Morant in the Rookie of the Year race, in part due to the early suspension of the season, but the New Orleans Pelicans star seems to be at peace with the situation.
In an interview Monday with Ernie Johnson that aired on the NBA’s official social media pages, Williamson spoke on his Memphis Grizzlies counterpart Morant likely winning Rookie of the Year honors.
“My goal was if I could rally my team to the playoffs, hopefully I could make a run for it,” said Williamson, per Christian Clark of the New Orleans Advocate. “But it’s God’s plan at this point. If Ja wins it, I’m going to be happy for Ja.”
Williamson missed the first three months of the season as he recovered from meniscus surgery, and the Pelicans fell behind in the Western Conference playoff picture in his absence. When he finally did make his debut, he only got 19 games to make an impact before play was suspended on March 11.
As for Morant, who was drafted No. 2 overall last year to Williamson’s No. 1, he was a big reason why the Grizzlies outperformed expectations this year. With 17.6 points and 6.9 assists per game, the former Murray State star had led Memphis to the No. 8 seed in the West when the season was suspended.