Brian Allee-Walsh

Sean Payton was joking, but Zion Williamson has options other than the Pelicans

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton tweeted what many Black and Gold fans might have been thinking when the Pelicans defied huge odds and won a chance to select basketball’s teenage phenom with the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

“Had a thought ...’‘ read Payton’s tweet that accompanied a photo-shopped picture of Zion Williamson in a Saints uniform bearing No. 1.

His full name is Zion Lateef Williamson.

But these days most knowledgeable sports fans simply refer to the 18-year-old by his given name. That’s right. Zion doesn’t turn 19 until July 6, 16 days after his likely selection by the Pelicans on the night of June 20 from The Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York.

I say likely because Williamson is not property of the Pels yet. In fact, Zion could pull his name from the NBA draft by the June 10 deadline and return to Duke for his sophomore season since he hasn’t hired an agent/representative. Zion’s stepfather dismisses that notion, saying his son has no intention of returning to college.

Or, Zion simply could say he has no intention of playing for New Orleans and possibly leverage a trade.

And why would Zion take either path? Because New Orleans is a small market city and Zion stands to make millions more in say the world’s media mecca, New York City, or some other larger NBA market.

Or, Zion simply could take a year off — travel the world, play basketball in Europe or train with the U,S. national team — and re-enter the 2020 NBA draft and take his chances.

I’ll leave the speculation of Zion’s future to other pundits, bloggers and talking heads. I’d like to focus on Payton’s provocative tweet, if for no other reason than wishful thinking on behalf of Who Dat Nation.

I have no doubt Zion could play in the NFL, maybe not right away but in time. He last played football as a youth quarterback in South Carolina more than 10 years ago. Zion did not play high school football, but that didn’t keep LSU tight ends coach Eric Mateos from offering a football scholarship midway through Williamson’s prep career.

And with good cause. At 6-7, 285, Zion is a generational athlete with abilities far beyond his years. With his size, hands and hops, his potential is endless. Imagine him as a red zone target for quarterback Drew Brees. I’m sure that’s what spawned Payton’s thought-filled tweet.

But, the likelihood of Zion ever playing for the Saints is a pipe dream. Heck, Pelicans Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin still has to get Z-Man under contract, and that’s not a given. But I like Griffin’s chances of going from A to Z when all is said and done.

Teaming Zion with Anthony Davis next season and beyond is a different story.

Any thoughts, Sean?

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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