One of the league’s best young players may have his career slip away before our eyes.
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According to a report from The Athletic, Zion Williamson’s newly signed max contract is no longer guaranteed in its final three years. Williams signed a five-year, $197 million contract in July 2022. However, because Williamson missed more than 22 games last year, he triggered a clause in his contract that turns all guaranteed money in the 2025-2026, 2026-2027, and 2027-2028 seasons into non-guaranteed money.
The 2019 first-overall pick can now be waived as early as the end of the 2024-2025 season. This move would lose Williamson $126.5 million of his deal, according to Spotrac. The Athletic noted Williamson’s contract also has ways to earn back guarantees by playing enough games and hitting specific weigh-in checkpoints.
Williamson has had an up-and-down career since joining the NBA. He came into the NBA as one of the most hyped college prospects in recent memory but has missed significant chunks of time throughout his career. Williamson recently came under fire for a lackluster performance during the in-season tournament, with Shaquille O’Neal calling him out of shape:
“Does not run hard,” O’Neal said. “It’s not a diss. It’s going to be a lesson from one great big man to another guy that can be a great big. Does not run hard. I had the same problem. I thought I was running hard.”
O’Neal later went to bat for Williamson, arguing that he could be the best player in the league. The four-time NBA champion compared Williamson to an early-career version of himself.
“I was just like that. People used to pull me to the side… ‘Hey man, you had 24 points, but you are not working as hard as you need to be.’ I was like, ‘What, what are you talking about?’ Once he decides to get that killer and go for it, he’s going to be a dangerous man.”
In stretches, Williamson has played like one of the best in the league. In the 29 games Williamson was available last year, he averaged 26 points, seven rebounds, and 4.6 assists. Only five other players averaged those numbers last year, per Stathead: Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and reigning MVP Joel Embiid.
There is still time for Williamson to turn his career around. The Pelicans center has played 23 of 28 games this season, averaging 22 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game. He is on pace to play a career-high 67 games, barring any significant injury. According to Pelicans EVP of basketball operations David Griffin, this is the most seriously Williamson has ever taken professional basketball.
“This was the first summer where we’ve seen Zion really take his profession seriously like that and invest it off the court on his own in a way that I think is meaningful,” Griffin said in October, adding: “He found a level of commitment that was important.”