Pelicans experiencing inconvenient reality of NBA player power

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Zion Williamson
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

As the debate continues as to whether Zion Williamson should have played in the Pelicans’ play-in loss to the Thunder continues, here’s a fact check.

NBA players will play when they want. It is their league.

The NBA is the world of guaranteed contracts and player empowerment. The league of “max” deals, like the one Zion signed that kicks in next season, means max power to choose for those player.

It pays him $231 million over five years.

That’s no knock on Zion. That’s hoops economics. NBA players get played a lot of money, whether they play in many regular season games or not.

And it is not going to change.

Why? Because players not playing has not affected the NBA’s business model. Recently, before the start of the playoffs, the NBA released on social media the “record” numbers for the league.

The NBA says more than 22 million fans attended games, while 791 were sellouts and 18,077 was a record average attendance

The post also said during regular season games, its arenas were filled to 97 percent capacity.

So, they aren’t concerned if a star player or players coming to your town do not play.

The only time they will react to players sitting is when the tanking becomes so obvious it can’t be ignored.

The league fined the Dallas Mavericks $750,000 for tanking a game against the Chicago Bulls. Kyrie Irving and Tim Hardaway Jr. did not play in a loss that guaranteed the Mavericks would hold onto a first round pick it would have owed from a past trade, even though it did sink any play-in hopes the club might have had.

Luka Doncic, in a three point loss, played a total of 12:35.

Again, that is stuff you can’t ignore.

Neither can you ignore the greatness of one Michael Jordan.

Not only was he the game’s greatest, winning six titles in eight years, but His Airness was also the most dependable.

In 15 NBA seasons, Michael Jordan played 82 regular season games nine times.

In 2002-2003 season, when Jordan turned 40 years old, he played in all 82 games while starting 67.

Can you imagine Jordan yucking it up on the bench during a time out? Or sitting out when not seriously injured?

Nope, he was Jordan for a reason. He would never, ever, ever not give his best.

However, that player in the NBA is probably gone forever.

So, what does that mean for the Pelicans in the future? It will mean more press releases like the following:

(Player) is making progress after (insert injury). He will be re-evaluated in three weeks.

That is life in the NBA.

For what it is worth, I have no issue with David Griffin saying that Williamson, who in a WGNO video was shown dunking in a pre-game work out Wednesday night, “wasn’t ready for five on five basketball.”

New Orleans’ basketball boss is protecting his $231 million investment.

Zion Williamson is a generational talent, one that the Pelicans are not going to trade. With him, New Orleans can be a threat to win the West.

Without him, they are a .500 club hovering around the play-in every year.

Who do you think has the leverage?

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Ed Daniels

WGNO Sports Director/106.1 FM

Ed is a New Orleans native, born at Baptist Hospital. He graduated Rummel High School, class of 1975, and subsequently graduated from Loyola University. Ed started in TV in 1977 as first sports intern at WVUE Channel 8. He became Sports Director at KPLC TV Channel 7 in Lake Charles in 1980. In 1982 he was hired as sports reporter…

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