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Zion Williamson said he loves playing in New York and is glad to talk about how much likes it.
The NBA world immediately started drawing connections to Williamson and the Knicks.
Williamson is at least three years removed from being able to force his way to the Knicks.
New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson on Sunday made an eyebrow-raising comment that has piqued the interest of the NBA world.
After a 122-112 overtime loss to the New York Knicks, Williamson was asked what it was like playing his first NBA game at Madison Square Garden.
"I'm glad you asked that,'' Williamson said. "New York is the mecca of basketball. I love playing here. I played here in college [at Duke]. This is my first time playing in the pros. This atmosphere, whether they're cheering for you or booing you, it's amazing. Outside of New Orleans, obviously, this might be my favorite place to play. I can't lie to you.''
Williamson's sentiment isn't entirely a new one - NBA superstars have said for years that they enjoy the bright lights of MSG.
Williamson's excitement to answer the question, however, did catch some eyes. The Knicks, after all, had the best chance of landing Williamson in the 2019 draft but fell to the third pick (and selected Williamson's college teammate R.J. Barrett, who is having a terrific second season in his own right).
Immediately, the gears of the NBA world started turning. Some people noted that Williamson is repped by Creative Artists Agency (CAA), an agency with deep ties to the Knicks - Knicks GM Leon Rose used to run the agency, while Tom Thibodeau is a client.
Furthermore, former Pelicans guard JJ Redick is also repped by CAA and recently criticized the Pelicans front office as being untrustworthy after he felt they misled him with his trade request.
On Monday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA's foremost insider, said it's "something to watch down the road."
"If you've followed Zion Williamson closely, he doesn't just talk to talk," Wojnarowski get on "Get Up." "And he's pretty particular in what he says, and when he says it ... I don't think it was completely by accident ... It was clear he was waiting for that question."
ESPN's Bomani Jones noted on his podcast, "The Right Time," that Williamson is unlikely to leave the Pelicans for at least seven years, as most star players sign a second contract with their original teams.
But Jones also advocated for Williamson to join the Knicks, saying the increased exposure for Williamson and the boost to the Knicks would be good for the league.
"We're just not [paying attention to] him this year, even though he made the All-Star team at 20 years old, and he's been cold as hell," Jones said. "We're just not doing it. But if he did all this and he played for the Knicks? It would be the biggest story in the league ... We gotta get Zion to the Knicks, baby."
Williamson's ability to choose a team is so far down the road it's laughable
That there is any discussion at all about whether Williamson is interested in the Knicks is going too far down the road.
Williamson is in his second season. He has two more seasons left on his contract. He'll have a chance to sign an extension after next season, which - if he stays healthy - would be a max extension likely worth over $150 million.
If Williamson turns that down, he would also have to turn down a contract in restricted free agency in 2023 to take his qualifying offer, worth $17 million, in 2023-24 just to hit unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2024. It's a move few players have ever made because of the risk.
Williamson could demand a trade, but he has no leverage to do so, at least for several years. And the Pelicans would likely dare Williamson, who missed most of last season with a knee injury and carries some injury concerns because of his size and explosive game, to gamble on himself by turning down nine-figure deals.
Williamson is at least three years away from having any say in where he can go. Lest anyone undersell what can change in three years in the NBA, three years ago, LeBron James was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kawhi Leonard was with the San Antonio Spurs, Kevin Durant was with the Golden State Warriors, Kyrie Irving was with the Boston Celtics, and Russell Westbrook was with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
If the rumor mill is serious, the NBA may have an issue on its hands
Granted, Williamson hasn't done anything to truly suggest he wants out of New Orleans. Some of the speculation about his future has been tongue-in-cheek. But Wojnarowski also lent credence to it by calling it "something to watch."
In recent years, NBA teams have grappled with the idea of "pre-agency" - players using the threat of their impending free agency to get traded to a new team.
Anthony Davis' trade request from the Pelicans a year-and-a-half before his contract expired rankled some members of the league itself and the media. James Harden's trade request from the Houston Rockets two years before his free agency unsettled people further.
That the rumor mill is already swirling about Williamson before he's played a full 82 games - the typical length of a regular-season - is sure to drive small-market GMs crazy. Some NBA executives already believe the league doesn't do enough to protect small markets from losing their best players to bigger markets.
One NBA GM told Insider that the speculation about players signing the "supermax" with teams can hurt team chemistry and put unwanted pressure on locker rooms. That speculation doesn't begin until a player has played at least seven seasons with a team.
If the rumor mill is going to start churning this quickly about a player's future, the NBA may have an issue to sort out.
Read the original article on Insider