2023 has been a strange year for New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson. Zion missed all but one of the Pelicans' final 45 games last season after the New Year. Then, in the off-season, he was involved in an embarrassing controversy, distracting from a pivotal 2023–24 season.
Thus far, Zion has managed to stay relatively healthy, missing only five of the Pelicans first 28 games. However, he has received criticism for both his play and his diet. He's had weight issues throughout his NBA career and it appears to be catching up with him.
Why Zion Williamson has millions of reasons to play well going forward.
When Zion signed a 5-year contract extension with the Pelicans back in 2022, the Pelicans included a games played and weight requirement in order to guarantee the final three seasons of his contract.
However, after missing significant time over the last two seasons—possibly as a byproduct of his conditioning—Zion has fallen short of the required number of games and could potentially miss out on millions as a result. Of course, the Pelicans aren't going to cut Zion after failing to hold up to a part of his max contract but it could finally light a fire underneath him.
Had Zion reached his target weight of 285 pounds, 20% of his salary—$7.9 million—would have been guaranteed for the 2025–26 salary. He could still receive all of the $126 million owed to him over the final three years of his contract but with his injury history and seeming unwillingness to take his conditioning seriously, that is not a certainty.
While some of the injuries that he suffered weren't neccessarily his fault, by not staying in shape, he risks millions and limits his own potential as a player. Even though he hasn't quite been the same elite player he was during the 2020–21 season, he has still been very productive, averaging 22 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.6 assists.
Despite that, we know how well he can play when both healthy and in-shape and this isn't it. Zion at 75% of his peak is better than nothing but for the Pelicans to break out in an up-for-grabs West, they'll need him to start taking his conditioning more seriously.
With millions at risk, he has all the incentive in the world to minimize his risk of injury by staying in shape and maximizing his already elite athleticism and talent.