Buoyed by the New Orleans Pelicans’ gallant stand against the Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns, Williamson is now upbeat about the future with the small-market team.
“Of course, I couldn’t sign it fast enough,” Williamson said, referring to a rookie contract extension with the Pelicans.
Williamson is eligible to sign a five-year, $181 million rookie max extension this summer.
The Williamson-to-the-Knicks rumors can now rest after they reached fever pitch last year when the former top overall pick stirred the pot after a game in New York.
“New York is the mecca of basketball,” Williamson said in April last year. “I love playing here. I played here in college. This is my first time playing in the pros. I mean, this atmosphere — whether they’re cheering for you, whether they’re booing for you, it’s amazing. Honestly, I think, outside of New Orleans, obviously, I think this might be my favorite place to play. Outside of New Orleans. I can’t even lie to you. I can’t lie to you.”
After an injury-riddled third season and rehabbing away from the team, Williamson’s future with the Pelicans was a big question mark as his contract extension looms. But the Pelicans’ trade deadline gamble on CJ McCollum paid off with their first playoff appearance since 2018.
McCollum’s veteran leadership helped steady the ship and with rookie coach Willie Green pushing all the right buttons, the Pelicans have been a revelation in the Western Conference. Brandon Ingram elevated his game to another level in his playoff debut. Their supporting cast of veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas and their rookie trio — Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy III — have been solid.
Watching them in the playoffs has made up Williamson’s mind to stay in New Orleans past his rookie contract.
“Being around the guys, being in Smoothie King [Center], 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.”
The Pelicans have a solid core that Williamson can elevate to a sustainable playoff contention when healthy. The Knicks have a lot to catch up to become a perennial playoff contender in a loaded Eastern Conference. Focusing on developing their young talents should be a good start.
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