Why Pelicans Could Trade Zion Williamson This Offseason

Zion Williamson

Getty Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans reacts to an officials call during a game on January 27, 2024

To shed their mounting luxury-tax bill for the 2024-25 season, the New Orleans Pelicans could reportedly be forced to trade either Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram this offseason.

According to Howard Beck of The Ringer, the Pelicans — with three players making north of $30 million on their payroll — could become one of the first small-market teams to fall causality to the new CBA that places severe restrictions on teams going overboard with their spending.

“New Orleans has to make a decision between Zion [Williamson] and [Brandon] Ingram,” an Eastern Conference exec told Beck. “I think that happens this summer.”

Although the Pelicans are currently not projected to be in the second apron above the luxury tax level, they have several young players due for contract extensions and other veterans, such as Jonas Valanciunas and Naji Marshall, who are on expiring deals. If the Pelicans pay those players their market worth, they could creep up closer to the second apron, which was set at $17.5 million above the luxury tax line of $162 million in 2023-24. That figure will rise at the same rate next year.

For a small market team that hasn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2018, the Pelicans ownership would probably be justified to go the cost-cutting route.

This Postseason Could Seal Their Fate

The Pelicans entered the All-Star break with a 33-22 record in the competitive Western Conference, sitting just three games behind the Nuggets for the fourth seed. If the Pelicans finish the season with 50-plus wins, they’d have done so for the first time since Chris Paul led them to 56 wins in 2007-08.

That’s precisely why the upcoming postseason could be a make-or-break scenario. If the Pels make a deep postseason run, the ownership owes it to the fanbase to bring back the core roster next year. However, if they flame out of the first round, the likelihood of Williamson or Ingram getting shipped out increases.

As cut and dried as that scenario sounds, there’s reason to be optimistic if you’re a Pelicans fan. Williamson — plagued by recurring injuries in his young NBA career — is healthy for the first time in years, playing in 44 of the Pelicans’ 55 games before the NBA All-Star break. Ingram, too, has dealt with several injuries in the last few years but is healthy again.

Healthy Pelicans Pose a Legitimate Threat

Consider that Williamson and Ingram missed a combined 90 games last season. This year, they have collectively missed only 15 games. The outcome? A winning ball club.

Last year, too, the Pelicans were a top-3 seed in the West before Williamson suffered a season-ending injury. Williams understands what’s at stake this year.

“I haven’t been available for this part of the season since my second year. Just to be available, I’m blessed for that,” Williamson said on February 18, via NOLA.com. “I love hooping. Like I’ve said in a lot of interviews, I love competitive hooping. If we do what we’ve got to do to make it to the playoffs, I’m going to be really excited about it.”

If a healthy Pelicans march into the playoffs, Charles Barkley has predicted Zion & Co. to upset the apple cart. For the sake of Pelicans fans, that would be the ideal outcome, one that could keep Williamson and Ingram together for the foreseeable future.

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