The rumor that the New Orleans Pelicans might be interested in trading for a Top 3 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft sent shockwaves through the league yesterday, particularly among Portland Trail Blazers fans. Neither the San Antonio Spurs nor the Charlotte Hornets are expected to trade their picks. That leaves Portland’s third-overall selection as the prize in question. And the Blazers have no such qualms about dangling it as trade bait.
As reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Pelicans are supposedly interested in generational point guard Scoot Henderson. NBA Analyst Marc Stein suggested in his substack that New Orleans might even go so far as to trade former first-overall pick Zion Williamson. That possibility got tongues wagging and caused several submissions like this to the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
You heard it, I heard it, we’ve all heard it. Zion for Scoot! Would you do it if the Pelicans will? I don’t think I could do it because of his injuries but I want to hear what you think because you’re always so level headed. Could this be the big championship deal?
You already know the arguments for making this move. It’s a huge swing. Williamson is one of those rare players who bends the game just by existing. He’s built like a tank with the agility of a sports car. Nobody in the league can handle him physically. He may not have been quite at the Victor Wembanyama level of hype when the Pelicans drafted him first overall in 2019, but he wasn’t far off. He’s a generational player with the potential to change the course of a franchise and win rings.
Williamson would also pair well with Damian Lillard and Portland’s veterans in the halfcourt game. He’s a hyper-efficient interior scorer, providing a wide target and bulk on the front line. Defensive speed would remain an issue. The offense probably wouldn’t get any faster. But that suits Lillard anyway.
You’ve already mentioned the major argument against: missing the entire 2021-22 season and playing only 29 games in 2022-23. The same size, cutting, and leaping ability that make him special also appear to be putting strain on his frame. 22-year-old players are supposed to be invulnerable, not incapacitated. This isn’t new either. In his four-year career, Williamson has played only 35% of of the games he’s been eligible for.
Williamson is signed through 2028. He reportedly has a weight and body fat clause in his contract, which is good. He’s maxed out contractually for his experience level otherwise. That’s going to make people itch, for good reason.
That said. the five-year extension which begins next season runs between $33.5 and $44.2 million per year. For perspective, Jerami Grant’s salary is expected to average $30 million, give or take. If Williamson can play at anywhere close to his normal level, he’d be worth the money even if he wasn’t available every game.
Whether he can or not is a HUGE question. If this scenario came true, the people who know him best and invested in him most—the Pelicans organization—would be forecasting a negative answer to that question. That should give any trade partner pause. When healthy, Williamson has kicked the socks off of fellow first-overall selection Deandre Ayton. Witness how the Phoenix Suns have held onto Ayton like Scrooge McDuck clinging to a gold piece. New Orleans bailing on Williamson for a third-overall pick is a red flag.
Age is the other obvious disconnect here. Lillard is a full decade older than Williamson. If Zion takes another year to get into shape, vibe with the team, and re-acclimate to the NBA, that wastes at least half of Lillard’s remaining prime.
We also have to account for the obvious fear of seeing Henderson blossom into an All-Star for the next decade while Williamson stops and starts, or just doesn’t play at all.
For those reasons, trading Lillard himself for Williamson and keeping the third pick might make more sense. That’s difficult to do financially, though.
Overall, I would pass on this deal if I were the Blazers. There’s just too much risk. If you could guarantee Williamson would come through, it’d certainly be worth it. If you could do that, though, New Orleans wouldn’t be looking to make the trade.
If the Blazers were to make the move, I would join everyone else in hoping Zion’s health returned. They will not find that kind of transformational player anywhere else for that price. We’d just need to concentrate on potential and ignore the pitfalls.
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