ZionWatch: Finally Spoke To New Teammate
5:24 PM EST on February 22, 2022
The New Orleans Pelicans acquired C.J. McCollum from the Portland Trail Blazers in a Deal Zone deal back on February 8. McCollum has since played five games for the Pelicans, averaging an extremely respectable 28 points per game against a very tough stretch of opponents. It's the kind of encouraging introduction that should endear McCollum to fans, coaches, and teammates as he orients himself to playing for a new organization for the first time since he was drafted by the Blazers way back in 2013.
So it was maybe a little bit weird to learn recently that McCollum had not yet heard from new teammate Zion Williamson, who despite missing all of this season is still very much the centerpiece of the ongoing Pelicans rebuild. McCollum told the TNT crew during Saturday's All-Star festivities that he hadn't yet "had conversations with [Williamson] directly" but had "spoken to some people close to him" and "looked forward to sitting down with him sooner than later."
On its own this would probably not be a very big deal, except that Williamson's relationship with the Pelicans these days is already the subject of so much fascination: His bosses haven't seemed to have much of a handle on his injury or recovery stretching back to the end of last season; Williamson has reportedly been unhappy with the way he's been handled by the Pelicans front office; and it has never seemed all that much like he's particularly wanted to play for New Orleans. The Pelicans recently sent out a renewal email to season ticket holders that mentions McCollum, Brandon Ingram, and Jonas Valenciunas, but not Williamson, who is the jewel of their basketball operation. Seems like things are weirder than ever.
There are healthy and normal ways of talking about this—it is, after all, of interest to fans of the New Orleans Pelicans—and there are also deranged ways of talking about it. As usual, the place to look for derangement is a television program, where a person is paid handsomely to shout about trivial sports things. Retired guard and former Williamson teammate J.J. Redick, who is now a sports shouter on ESPN's First Take, sees in Zion's apparent disengagement from Pelicans business a violation of "a general decorum of behavior" and a lack of "a basic level of humanity as a teammate." Redick is super mad about this:
I have been unable to decide if my favorite moment in there is Redick waiting for one pregnant beat after saying "I wasn't the best player on any team I was on," or when his voice cracks when describing C.J. McCollum as "one of the 50 best players in the league," or when his disgust climaxes with the verbal typo, "bar minimum."
But Redick's painful freakout aside, it probably does mean something about Zion's level of investment in the Pelicans that he did not bother to reach out to a new teammate while that guy was already out there playing games for their team. Williamson is now most of the way through his third NBA season, and he has played a grand total of 85 games with the Pelicans. Even if he'd given no signs of unhappiness in New Orleans, Pelicans fans would still have to worry about Zion entering restricted free agency at the end of next season. With Williamson ignoring new teammates, with the Pelicans seemingly in the dark for most of the past six months about his injury, and with the team conspicuously declining to mention him in marketing material, I think if I were a Pelicans fan I would be freaking out. Sorry to all Pelicans fans!
I don't even know if this counts as good news, but: Redick's scolding seems to have resolved the dumbest of these many issues. Soon after Redick's First Take rant hit the airwaves, McCollum reached out to ESPN to alert the whole ass public that he has, in fact, spoken with teammate Zion Williamson, in what I am sure was not at all a brutally awkward conversation:
Great job, everyone! Nothing to see here.