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Zion Williamson still has options if he doesn’t want to play for the Pelicans

For The Win logo For The Win 4 days ago Andrew Joseph


Zion Williamson likely went into Tuesday's NBA Draft lottery with the expectation that he would end up somewhere like New York, Phoenix, Chicago or maybe even Atlanta. These were big-market teams with double-digit odds of landing the top pick.

But, of course, it didn't work out that way on Tuesday night.

The Pelicans' 6 percent chance of landing Williamson proved to be enough on this night. And just like that: Williamson's hopes of becoming a box-office hit in New York were dashed.

Instead of heading to the Big Apple, the former Duke star is - in all likelihood - off to the Big Easy. He will call the Smoothie King Center home and not Madison Square Garden.

But … what if Zion Williamson simply does not want to play for the Pelicans? He doesn't have to.

Sure, the notion is farfetched at this stage, and Williamson said all the right things leading up to the lottery. He wouldn't name a preferred destination. He said he would be happy with any team that drafted him.

Yet, you have to think that he said those remarks with, at worst, the Atlanta Hawks in mind - not New Orleans. He's supposed to be entering the league as the most marketable player since LeBron James, and going to the NBA's second smallest market doesn't serve his interests.

This is where Zion could leverage a move out of New Orleans. It would cause mayhem across the league and lead to some very angry calls into the Pelicans ticket office, but this is Zion's life. If New Orleans isn't where he wants to be, there are ways to bring about a change.

Let's break down the options.

Return to Duke

It's hilarious to think that when Williamson suffered a knee sprain thanks to an exploding Nike sneaker, there were calls for Williamson to leave Duke and prepare for the NBA. And now, we're starting to hear a complete reversal on that sentiment. ESPN's Brian Windhorst brought up the possibility during Wednesday's The Jump.

Under new NCAA rules, players are allowed to hire agents for the NBA Draft process and still return to school. And Williamson hasn't even gone that far. He remains without an agent, and his eligibility is intact.

Williamson would have until the June 10 deadline to remove his name from the draft. This would be the most shocking scenario. As much as playing in New Orleans might hurt Zion from a marketing standpoint, an extra year of unpaid basketball (albeit at Duke) would prove too risky and unlikely.

Williamson could use Duke - an experience that he considered the best year of his life - as leverage to force New Orleans to trade the pick. It would just be difficult to see Duke being used as anything other than a prop or a bluff.

The option is on the table, though. Coach K wouldn't say no.

Pull an Eli Manning

You may remember that back in the 2004 NFL Draft, Eli Manning made it known that he would not play for the then-San Diego Chargers. He demanded that the Chargers either trade the pick or pass on him. The Chargers opted to draft Manning, which led to an awkward draft-day photo, but ultimately traded him to the Giants.

Williamson could communicate a similar message to the Pelicans brass and work out a deal to a larger market. The Pelicans wouldn't have much reason to abide by such a request after the June 10 deadline, but they could certainly try to shop the pick for franchise-building value.

Withdraw from the draft

If Williamson doesn't want to play in New Orleans but also doesn't want to spend another year of unpaid basketball, he doesn't have to.

He can withdraw from the NBA Draft altogether before the June 10 deadline and dedicate the next year to training, playing for Team USA basketball or even explore options overseas.

Then, when the 2020 NBA Draft lottery arrives, he'll have another shot at landing with a desired franchise. Still, there's no guarantee that a more desirable city would land next year's No. 1 pick. It could be New Orleans again, which would be hilarious.

As interesting as the idea would be, it's not worth sacrificing a year of an NBA career for something so unknown. At the very least, this possibility could be used to leverage a trade - just that leverage disappears once the June 10 deadline passes.

Unless something absolutely absurd unfolds, Zion Williamson will be in New Orleans next season. Sorry, Knicks fans.

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