Zion Williamson’s comments about loving Madison Square Garden are nothing more than a soundbite for radio and television fodder.
The NBA loves a good long-term storyline. Will (insert player here) eventually want to leave (insert team here). The latest example of this free-agent buzzworthy story surrounds Zion Williamson and the New York Knicks. Here are the comments that lit social media aflame:
*throws Molotov cocktail onto the timeline* pic.twitter.com/8pIeG2x4G5
— Kazeem Famuyide (@Kazeem) April 18, 2021
“I’m glad you asked that actually,” Zion said with an ear-to-ear smile. “New York is the Mecca of basketball. I love playing (in Madison Square Garden). I played here in college. This is my first time playing here in the pros and this atmosphere, whether they’re cheering for you or booing you, it’s amazing.”
But that wasn’t the end of Williamson’s comments. He put the cherry on top by declaring MSG his favorite place to play, outside of New Orleans, of course.
Zion becomes the millionth NBA star to say they love coming to play in Madison Square Garden. He even threw in a reference to New York as “The Mecca” for your Knicks free agency bingo cards.
How Realistic is Zion to the Knicks?
As much fun as it might be to imagine Williamson in a Knicks jersey with Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, let’s pump the brakes here. Unfortunately, this isn’t a realistic possibility for a very, very long time.
Zion is going to be up for the rookie max extension after the 2022-23 season. Obviously, the Pelicans are going to offer him that extension if he’s healthy. He could turn that deal down and take a qualifying offer instead, becoming an unrestricted free agent after the 2023-24 season.
In theory, Zion could follow this path to get to New York by 2024. However, no player in NBA history has ever turned down that contract offer and we don’t think Williamson will be the first.
The more likely scenario for Zion to the Knicks would be the route that Anthony Davis took to the Lakers. He signed the rookie max extension and tried to make it work for a few years before forcing his way to Los Angeles. If Williamson follows the same path as Davis, he still will play in New Orleans through the 2025-26 season.
So yeah, even though there is a precedent for a superstar asking out of New Orleans to go to a big market team, this isn’t a realistic possibility for the Knicks for a long time.
Don’t Be Distracted
Listen, I get it. This is the way the NBA media cycle works. There is always going to be a consistent stream of trade rumors and free-agent buzz. and every time a big star is locked up, the world turns its attention to the next big fish.
Zion Williamson to the Knicks is a sexy story. He would conceivably be reuniting with his former teammate RJ Barrett and coming to the team that narrowly missed him in the NBA Draft Lottery.
But there’s no need for Knicks fans to be distracted by this right now. They have watched this story unfold a few times before. It’s like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.
The media plays up the idea of a player going to the Knicks in free agency or via the draft. When the rumors don’t come to fruition or the ping pong balls don’t bounce the Knicks’ way, the media and opposing fanbases ridicule Knicks fans for buying into it.
For reference, this was one reaction to the Knicks missing out on Zion in the 2019 Draft Lottery. This sentiment is a common reaction to the Knicks whiffing in free agency or the draft.
This was @Sedano's reaction to the Knicks dropping to 3 in the Zion lotto. @alanhahn you want us to pretend like all criticism has been rational? None of it was personal, gratuitous, celebratory to the point of reveling in Knicks fans' misery? Nah.pic.twitter.com/5weUyvxYOO
— ShwinnyPooh (@shwinnypooh) March 10, 2021
Tom Thibodeau has the Knicks playing inspired basketball and Julius Randle is a legitimate All-NBA candidate. They are about to go to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and this team deserves the attention, not photoshops of Zion Williamson in a Knicks jersey.
This story might have legs in a few years, but for now, enjoy the fantastic product that the Knicks are putting out on the floor each and every night.