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Report: Zion Williamson’s Contract Is Not Guaranteed For The Last Three Years

Zion Williamson stands still during a pause in the action
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

When Zion Williamson signed his five-year rookie max extension in July 2022, having sat out the entirety of the previous season with a foot injury, it was initially announced as a $193 million contract. Further reporting from Christian Clark at NOLA.com indicated that this sum could go either up or down: The deal could be worth as much as $231 million if Williamson picked up All-NBA, MVP, or Defensive Player of the Year honors, and, unusually, it could be worth less if Williamson did not meet certain conditioning standards. "The sum of his weight and body fat percentage must be below 295. If it is not, the amount of guaranteed money in Williamson’s contract can be reduced." Just how severely it could be reduced was laid out in a hefty scoop from Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic on Thursday: Whole years of Williamson's contract can be chipped away. The last three years of his deal are no longer guaranteed, due to his limited availability last season.

Williamson started last season strong and then bowed out after a January hamstring injury, missing 29 regular-season contests. According to The Athletic, which said it reviewed the contract, that absence triggered a clause in his deal: Missing more than 22 games converted the salary he was owed in the 2025–26, 2026–27, and 2027–28 seasons into non-guaranteed money. Additionally, falling short of availability or conditioning standards in this current season could even endanger Williamson's guaranteed money for next year. That said, there are also ways for him to re-guarantee the money in future seasons if he meets certain availability and conditioning standards. It's an incredibly weird contract.

Contracts for other young players with injury history—Michael Porter Jr. and Joel Embiid, for example—have had clauses that would let teams stiff their players in cases of injury. Williamson's contract has that feature—it's pegged to the specific foot injury that shelved him for the entire 2021–22 season—but there are also these additional layers that cause guarantees to appear and disappear and would even allow the team to waive him in dire circumstances. "For a contract to become non-guaranteed at some points and then re-guaranteed at others, and for guarantees in the later years to be contingent on events from several seasons earlier … I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that, and I spent seven years in the Memphis front office eyeballing every single contract that came through the NBA’s system," wrote John Hollinger at The Athletic.

Given the uncertainty at time of signing—Williamson had played in just 85 games in his first three seasons—it's not hard to see why the Pelicans constructed this deal, or why he took it. The Schrödinger's guarantees are nasty work, but venturing into free agency with that injury history could've been an eight-figure risk. As far as the Pelicans are concerned, they formally declined to comment on The Athletic story ... but I also wonder if this revelation increases Williamson's trade value. A suitor whispering "I can fix him" wouldn't necessarily be on the hook through 2028 if they can't.

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