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Zion Williamson on New Orleans: “Anybody who knows me knows I want to be here”

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Six

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - APRIL 28: 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. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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The rumors have been flying around almost since the day the New Orleans Pelicans drafted Zion Williamson: He wants out of New Orleans.

Whether fueled by people close to Zion, hopeful Knicks fans (and staff), Zion’s own comments, or his actions looking disinterested, the talk around the league has been about him wanting out more than his rehab from offseason foot surgery. The NBA rumor mill abhors a vacuum and Zion hadn’t spoken publicly about his situation since training camp; in that absence rumors about him had filled the gap.

Saturday, Zion tried to quiet those rumors by talking about how much he loves New Orleans and wants to play for the team that rejuvenated itself in the season’s final months. Via Rod Walker at the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

“I can’t control rumors and how people feel about certain things,” Williams said. “I said this in my interview with (Pelicans TV) Antonio (Daniels). Anybody who knows me, knows I want to be here. If they feel otherwise, I can’t help that. But if you know me, you know I want to be here...

“Being around the guys, being in Smoothie King, seeing that playoff environment,” Williamson said. “And the locker room. We have a special locker room. My first two years, it was a good locker room. But this year — I guess maybe it was the playoffs — it was more together. Being real, it sucks watching from the sideline. I just want to be out there. Just seeing the potential. We have a lot of great pieces. I’m excited to get out on the court with those guys.”

Zion has said something similar before, but that has not stopped the speculation. About the only thing that might is his
signing an extension to stay with the team and then return to the court — actions, not words. His actions this season — being away from the team during much of his rehab, not contacting CJ McCollum after he was traded to New Orleans — suggested disinterest. It’s on Zion to change that narrative.

The Pelicans are expected to offer Zion a max extension, although possibly with some Joel Embiid-like health clauses in the contract. Zion said he couldn’t sign it fast enough. That would be a big step.

But the biggest step the Pelicans need from Zion is him to step on the court. New Orleans enters next season with real potential, but also questions — Zion, McCollum, and Brandon Ingram all are players who work best with the ball in their hands, how is that balanced? — but it all starts with Zion showing up to training camp in shape, motivated, and willing to work.

Do that, match his words to his actions, and the speculation will slow (but never entirely stop, welcome to the modern NBA).