Entering the NBA as a generational talent in 2019, Zion Williamson was regarded as the basketball savior of New Orleans, the player who made The Big Easy one of the most significant stops in the league. Now, continue talking about his investment in the pelicans has reached a climax, with possibly the heaviest criticism of the topic coming Tuesday from former teammate and current ESPN analyst JJ Redick.
This morning, Redick mauled his fellow Duke alumnus for failing to speak to his new teammate CJ McCollum, who was traded from the Trail Blazers to New Orleans on Feb. 8. Redick went so far as to call Williamson a “detached teammate.” On Tuesday, ESPN’s Malika Andrews reported that since McCollum’s comments about TNT during All-Star Weekend, the two have indeed spoken.
“This is a bit insane for me,” Redick continued first take from Zion. “There is a general kind of decorum of behavior that you have to apply as a teammate. Look, I wasn’t the best player on a team I was on. But if there was a buyout opportunity, if there was a trading opportunity, I would always contact teammates. I called Ersan Ilyasova. I called Marco (Belinelli). I called Wes Matthews to persuade him to come to Philadelphia. This just shows a total lack of investment in your team, in the organization, in the city.
“I understand he is injured” and away from the team. But you just traded for one of the top 50 players in the league, a man who belongs to you. Reach out and say hello. This is a behavior pattern at Zion that we see over and over… This is the basic level of humanity, being a teammate. Text a man when he is traded to your team. That’s just normal behavior. That’s the bar minimum you should do. And the Pelicans sent an email yesterday for season tickets for next year. Guess who wasn’t in the email? Zion! What the hell is going on in New Orleans?’
Redick spent the 2019-21 seasons as Williamson’s teammate, admitting he had previously addressed these concerns to the former No. 1 overall design pick for the team. Williamson has missed all season with a foot injury. He was originally expected to return around this time, but will be out for a long time after a second operation. McCollum’s comments, made to TNT over All-Star Weekend, have only fueled rumors of Williamson’s discontent in New Orleans and the possibility of demanding a swap with another team.
Williamson has only played in 85 career games for New Orleans, barely more than a regular NBA season. His pro potential has been demonstrated when he was healthy, averaging 25.7 points for the Pelicans over his short career. In his 64-game 2020-21 season, he improved his scoring ability by 27 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. All that production and he waited almost two weeks to call a new teammate who should help him move forward?
New Orleans’ professional basketball teams won one division title in history in 2008, and the expected turnaround with Williamson has not yet come to fruition, especially after exchanging Anthony Davis to make way for new superstar Pelicans. McCollum is not a frontcourt attack. He is a complementary piece and can hark back to Williamson’s days at Duke with RJ Barrett. This duo should work. Yet there is already a setback as to how they can go together that can only be resolved by winning, as Williamson has yet to outrun his reputation of being unhappy near Bourbon Street.
“I said ‘behaviour pattern’ earlier. And this is now another incident, another example of that pattern of behaviour,” Redick continued on Tuesday. “Yeah, he’s never come out publicly and said, ‘I don’t want to be in New Orleans.’ But as we know… where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And you haven’t heard any rumors that Giannis (Antetokounmpo) would be unhappy in Milwaukee. No, you didn’t hear that. With Zion, you’ve heard that for the past three years.
“… This goes back to his rookie year. There is a responsibility that you have as an athlete, when you play a team sport, to be fully invested. You are fully invested in your body. You are fully invested in your work and you are fully invested in your teammates. That is your responsibility. And we have not seen that from Zion. Yes, he was great when he was on the field, 100 percent. He’s great to watch. There is no one who can do what he does on a basketball court. There isn’t. The sheer level of strength and athleticism and skill, it’s amazing, 100 percent. But as a teammate, there is a pattern of behavior. As a fully invested individual in New Orleans, there is a pattern of behavior. … New Orleans will have to make some sort of decision here. We’ve seen this now for three years.”