When he came into the NBA as a generational talent in 2019, Zion Williamson was thought to be New Orleans’ basketball savior, the player to make The Big Easy one of the marquee stops in the league’s rotation. Now, continued talk about his investment in the Pelicans has hit a climax, with possibly the harshest criticism on the topic coming Tuesday from former teammate and current ESPN analyst JJ Redick.
This morning, Redick ripped his fellow Duke alumnus for not speaking with his new teammate CJ McCollum, who was traded from the Trail Blazers to New Orleans on Feb. 8. Redick went as far to call Williamson a “detached teammate.” On Tuesday, ESPN’s Malika Andrews reported that since McCollum’s remarks on TNT during All-Star Weekend, the two have indeed talked.
“This is a little bit insane to me,” Redick said on First Take of Zion. “There’s a general sort of decorum of behavior that you should apply as a teammate. Look, I wasn’t the best player on any team I was on. But if there was a buyout possibility, if there was a trade possibility, I would always reach out to teammates. I called Ersan Ilyasova. I called Marco (Belinelli). I called Wes Matthews, trying to get him to come to Philly. This just shows a complete lack of investment in your team, in the organization, in the city.
“I get that he’s hurt and away from the team. But you just traded for one of the 50 best players in the league, a guy that’s supposed to be paired with you. Reach out and say hello. This is a pattern of behavior with Zion, that we are seeing again and again … This is basic, basic level of humanity, being a teammate. Send a text to a guy when he gets traded to your team. That is just normal behavior. That’s the bar minimum that you have to do. And the Pelicans yesterday sent out an email for season tickets for next year. Guess who wasn’t in the email? Zion! What the heck is going on in New Orleans?”
Redick spent the 2019-21 seasons as Williamson’s teammate and admitted to previously addressing these concerns to the former No. 1 overall draft pick in front of the team. Williamson has missed all of the current season with a foot injury. He originally was expected back around this time, but will be out again long-term after needing a second surgery. McCollum’s remarks, made to TNT during All-Star Weekend, have only reignited rumors about Williamson’s discontent in New Orleans and the possibility of demanding a trade to another team.
Williamson has only played in 85 career games for New Orleans, barely more than a regular NBA season. His pro potential has been showcased when healthy, averaging 25.7 points for the Pelicans throughout his short career. His 2020-21 season, where he played in 64 games, saw him improve his scoring touch with 27 points per game as well as 7.2 rebounds per game. All that production and he waited nearly two weeks to call a new teammate who should help him be productive moving forward?
New Orleans’ professional basketball teams have won one division title in history, in 2008, and the turnaround expected with Williamson hasn’t come to fruition yet, especially with trading Anthony Davis away to make room for the Pelicans new superstar. McCollum isn’t a frontcourt switch. He’s a complementary piece and could draw back to Williamson’s days at Duke with RJ Barrett. This duo should work. Yet there’s already adversity about how they can mesh together that will only be solved by winning, as Williamson has yet to outrun his reputation of being unhappy near Bourbon Street.
“I said ‘pattern of behavior’ earlier. And this is now another incident, another example of that pattern of behavior,” Redick continued on Tuesday. “Yes, he’s never publicly come out and said ‘I don’t want to be in New Orleans.’ But as we know … where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And you didn’t hear rumors about Giannis (Antetokounmpo) being unhappy in Milwaukee. No, you didn’t hear that. With Zion, you’ve heard that now for the last three years.
“… This is going back to his rookie year. There’s a responsibility that you have as an athlete, when you play a team sport, to be fully invested. You’re fully invested in your body. You’re fully invested in your work and you’re fully invested in your teammates. That is your responsibility. And we have not seen that from Zion. Yes, he’s been amazing when he’s been on the court, 100 percent. He’s amazing to watch. There’s no one that can do what he does on a basketball court. There isn’t. The sheer level of force and athleticism and skill, it’s amazing, 100 percent. But as a teammate, there is a pattern of behavior. As a fully invested individual in New Orleans, there is a pattern of behavior. … New Orleans is going to have to make some sort of decision here. We’ve seen this now for three years.”