Zion: New York ‘might be my favorite place to play outside of New Orleans’
And now we know the NBA topic every over-the-top talking head sports morning show will pick up on Monday morning...
Zion Williamson scored 33 and continued his All-NBA level of play the second half of the season Sunday in Madison Square Garden, it just wasn’t enough to get his Pelicans a win. After the game, he was asked about playing in Madison Square Garden and — intentionally or not — threw fuel on the fire of Knicks exceptionalism and the belief they will be in the mix for the next available superstar.
“Outside of New Orleans, New York may be my favorite place to play.”
Let’s unpack all of this:
• There is something special about games at Madison Square Garden. Players feel it, or just attend a game there, and you feel it. It is an event in the grand sense. Staples Center for a Lakers’ game is the only comparable feeling in the NBA, it’s just different than other home courts around the league. Zion clearly gets it and loves that spotlight.
• The Knicks, under Leon Rose as president and Tom Thibodeau as coach, are on the ascendancy. For the first time in a long time, this is a disciplined team on the court headed to the postseason. It also has been a disciplined front office making wise (or at least defendable) moves off of it. This looks and feels like a competent organization with the ship headed in the right direction, when was the last time we could say that?
• The Knicks will be in the mix for the next superstar looking to jump teams.
• That will almost certainly not be Zion Williamson. Zion is in just the second year of his rookie contract and in the summer of 2022, when he is first eligible, the Pelicans will offer him a max extension to his rookie contract — and he will almost certainly sign it. Players do not pass up that max rookie contract extension because the team they are with can offer more money, and this is the first huge contract. This is the deal that takes them from rich to generational wealth — their children and grandchildren can be financially set. Zion isn’t leaving that money on the table (the only way the Knicks or any other team could offer as much is to trade for him while he is on his rookie contract, and the Pelicans are not going to play that game).
• Look at it this way: Anthony Davis was unhappy with the Pelicans, frustrated with the organization and eventually forced his way out, but it was after seven seasons. Zion is five years from that timeline, and it’s impossible to predict where he or the franchise will be that far down the line.
• Zion may play a part of his career in New York. Anything is possible in today’s NBA. But as much as Spike Lee and other Knicks fans may dream of Zion in blue and orange, it is years away from happening. At best.