Pelicans have serious concerns about Zion’s weight and conditioning

As New Orleans Pelican Zion Williamson misses another season opener due to injury, league execs wonder what the future holds if he cannot remain healthy.

Zion Williamson was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft for a reason: he’s the kind of player who can change a franchise, even a troubled one like the New Orleans Pelicans.

But the biggest concern when the Blue Devil entered the NBA — how his weight would influence his production and likelihood of injury — has also followed him for the past three years.

Wednesday marks the second season opener that Williamson has missed due to injury, and reports of his weight gain during the offseason add tension to Williamson’s impending contract negotiations.

According to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, sources reported that Williamson had reached north of 300 pounds during the offseason. When Williamson joined the team for a preseason trip to Minnesota, personnel noticed that Williamson looked heavier than his listed playing weight of 284 pounds.

“I know Zion at 280, and he was not 280,” said one observer.

The reason that Williamson’s weight matters is that at a heavier stature, there is more pressure coming down on the power forward’s joints and extremities when he slams down baskets, increasing the risk of injury. On Pelicans Media Day, Williamson revealed that he broke his foot this summer during a workout because of “a chip he had on his shoulder for the upcoming season.” Before NBA Summer League started, Williamson had already undergone surgery to repair the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot.

Rather than dispel concerns this season, Williamson’s foot injury and weight gain have only invited them.

“These are the injuries you have to be the most concerned about, a foot injury for a guy with noted weight issues,” said one Western Conference executive.

Zion Williamson under scrutiny for injury concerns amid weight gain

Williamson’s future in New Orleans is being discussed now because he will be eligible for a maximum extension next summer, and the franchise needs an idea of whether they’ll be investing in an injury-prone player or a healthy one who can consistently avoid injury.

League execs are paying attention to Williamson’s status in NOLA because Williamson could choose to sign a qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent in 2024, but this is something no No. 1 overall pick has ever done.

A summer report revealed that Williamson and his family did not see “eye-to-eye” with the Pelicans front office because of a minutes restriction imposed on him after his rookie season. Through a meniscus tear in 2019 and a finger injury in 2021, Williamson has played 85 games over two years in New Orleans.

The weight conversation has been central not only to Williamson’s development, but it continues to influence superstar forwards like LeBron James. This summer, James reportedly “slimmed up” for the season, which not only affects his mobility and endurance up and down the court, but it also helps in preventing injury.

Williamson has long been aware that he needs to maintain a limber frame in order to stay injury-free and remain one of the best power forwards in the NBA. After his rookie season, Williamson spoke with Men’s Health about how he changed his diet and exercise regimen to improve flexibility.

“I do think there is another gear that I can reach regarding my weight and conditioning,” Williamson said this March. “But I think it’s like you said, it’s finding it. Because I don’t want to get to a spot where I’m like, ‘Yeah I lost a lot of weight, but I don’t feel strong. I can’t do certain things I would do before.’ I think it’s just finding it. I do think there is another gear I can reach regarding both weight and conditioning.”

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