From the Basement | Pelicans keep Zion accountable with Unique Contract Extension

Jeremy Rosen, Sports Editor

Matthew Tate

Pelicans star Zion Williamson celebrated his 22nd birthday with a five-year, $193 million-max rookie extension to keep him rooted in New Orleans for the next six seasons. Once his extension kicks in next season, his annual salary will soar upwards of $33 million, just shy of teammates CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram. 

After a broken foot kept Williamson sidelined for the entire 2021-22 NBA season and he chose to rehab away from the team, media rumors swarmed about an alleged divide between him and the team. He restated his commitment to the team and city once he returned, appearing eager to sign a new contract with the team.

Williamson’s contract had the typical escalators for players of his caliber, such as bonuses, if he achieves All-NBA First Team or wins MVP before his extension kicks in. However, his contract also has unusual de-escalators that caught the eye of sports media when the details were made public. The contract extension required him to have periodic check-ins with team staff, and that the sum of his weight and body fat percentage remain less than 295

While contract clauses like this are unusual, there have been past cases of this with other players with weight concerns. The most notable case was with former Celtic Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who had the chance to earn an additional $500 thousand for reaching specific weight goals throughout the 2009-10 season.

It’s no secret that Williamson’s weight has been a concern throughout his short career. His barrage of knee and foot injuries since he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2019 draft have kept him from staying on the court, as he only played in a total of 85 games in three seasons. His unique blend of size and athleticism makes him one of the most exciting players to watch in the league, but it also makes him vulnerable to severe lower body injuries if he is not careful with his conditioning.

The closest comparison to this unique situation is the Philadelphia 76ers and Joel Embiid with his rookie extension. He was drafted third overall in 2014, but missed his first two seasons with a foot injury and only played 31 games in his third season. In the few games that he did play, he showed tremendous potential to become their franchise player, and the 76ers gave Embiid a max rookie extension

As an added insurance policy, his extension had reduced guaranteed money if he suffered a severe injury and missed a large number of games. In the years since, Embiid has blossomed into an elite player and a consistent MVP candidate. Williamson could reach a similar position in the league if he is able to maintain his health.

There’s no question that Williamson is worth the max money when he is fully healthy. In just his second season, he averaged 27 points and seven rebounds per game while becoming an All Star. If he didn’t have such a lengthy injury history there would be no questioning his new contract extension. This arrangement seems like the best compromise between Williamson and the organization to keep both sides happy and accountable moving forward.

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