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Zion wants long-term stay with Pelicans after NBA playoff run

Injury-nagged Zion Williamson, who missed the entire 2021-22 NBA season with a broken right foot, wants a long-term deal with the New Orleans Pelicans after watching their playoff run.

The 21-year-old American forward, who has played only 85 games since being made the top choice of the 2019 NBA Draft, is eligible to sign a long-term deal this summer.

Williamson sees the young Pelicans team that pushed overall top seed Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs as one he would like to join on the court next season.

“I wouldn’t be able to sign it fast enough,” Williamson said Friday of a contract extension. “Anybody that knows me knows I want to be here.”

There were doubters after the Pelicans went 36-46 in the regular season, but two play-in game wins and two wins over Phoenix before dropping their best-of-seven series helped show the potential on the club’s roster.

“My first two years, it was a good locker room. This year, with us making the playoffs, it was more together,” Williamson said. “Guys are already excited about coming together this off season.”

The Pelicans were eliminated by the Suns on Thursday and Williamson was merely a spectator, as he has been since September foot surgery.

“It sucks watching from the sidelines. I just want to be out there,” Williamson said.

“Seeing the potential, we’ve got a lot of great pieces and I’m excited to get on the court with those guys.

“From a physical standpoint, I definitely could have played. But me and my team and the front office we decided longevity was better than trying to rush back.”

Williamson suffered a knee injury in the pre-season of his NBA rookie campaign and played only 24 games. He played 61 games in the 2020-21 campaign and averaged 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists a game, exciting fans with dominating play and leaping slam dunks.

Williamson said he could contribute to team success and have plenty of chance to capture individual awards as a member of the Pelicans.

“The more your team wins, the more the individual awards will come,” he said. “We’re a special group. I feel like a lot of great things will happen.”

Won’t sneak up on foes

Pelicans coach Willie Green was confident about the future after the playoff run.

“I believe this is the start of something special,” Green said. “We are excited about what we were able to do but we’ve got some work to do and we look forward to that.

“My message to our team is there will be expectations. You won’t sneak up on anybody.”

A young but talented New Orleans squad was able to challenge the reigning Western Conference champions, a veteran-laden lineup.

“They’ve all grown up right before our eyes,” Green said. “That experience will help us in the future. They felt what the playoffs is like. They know how hard they have to play.”

Green noted he won’t have any final decision regarding contracts and Williamson, but was happy to hear he wants to be part of what Green is building.

“Him wanting to be here and the basketball part is what I focus on, that he wants to be here and in the gym, get healthy and working toward being the best player he can be.”

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