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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Zion Williamson agreed to a five-year, $193 million extension Saturday that has the potential to be worth as much as $231 million, two people familiar with the situation said.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because NBA rules do not allow the extension to become official until July 6.

The deal sets the stage for the 6-foot-6, 280-pound, high-scoring forward to give an All-Star caliber boost to a squad that recently proved it could make the playoffs without him.

ESPN first reported the agreement, citing information provided by Williamson’s agent, Austin Brown.

The move signifies a desire by the 2019 No. 1 overall draft choice out of Duke to see how much his return could help a squad that improved dramatically late last season and made a surprisingly competitive playoff showing.

It is also a show of faith by the Pelicans in the injury-plagued Williamson, who has played a grand total of 85 games in his first three NBA seasons — and missed all of last season with a foot injury.

This spring, New Orleans won two Western Conference play-in games before taking top-seeded Phoenix to six games in the first round of the 2022 playoffs. They did so with a squad led by high-scoring wing Brandon Ingram, veteran guard CJ McCollum, center Jonas Valanciunas and a supporting cast of young, hungry players who blossomed under first-time NBA head coach Willie Green.

One season earlier, Williamson averaged a team-high 27 points and became a first-time All-Star during what was his lone NBA campaign that was not mostly or entirely wiped out by injuries.

Williamson played in just 24 games as a rookie because of a preseason right knee injury (lateral meniscus).

He played in 61 of 72 games in his second season. But he hurt his foot during the 2021 offseason while performing basketball drills with his stepfather, with whom he had previously entrusted his offseason training.

The Pelicans didn’t reveal the injury until the first day of training camp in September, saying they hoped he’d be ready to play by the regular-season opener on Oct. 20. Williamson initially agreed with that timeline, which proved exceedingly optimistic. He wound up missing the entire regular season and playoffs.

Williamson also chose to spend a significant portion of the season away from New Orleans and the Pelicans. He chose to rehabilitate in Oregon, where his shoe sponsor, Nike, is based.

During that time, the Pelicans offered few updates on Williamson, any mention of whom was later conspicuously absent from Pelicans promotional material regarding season ticket renewals for the 2022-23 season.

When the season ended, Williamson said if New Orleans offered a maximum extension, he “wouldn’t be able to sign it fast enough.”

He also was recently cleared to engage in basketball activities without restrictions.

Without Williamson, the Pelicans started 1-12 last season but steadily climbed into contention for a Western Conference playoff berth.

They had begun improving even before acquiring McCollum from Portland two days before the NBA trade deadline. McCollum helped them rally to clinch a ninth overall seed and a home play-in game.

The Pelicans defeated 10th-seeded San Antonio. They then won a second play-in game over the Clippers in Los Angeles to advance to the first round of the playoffs against top-seeded Phoenix

New Orleans won twice in that series before falling in six games.

___

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Ronald Acuñas slide of the year went against Brian Snitkers early-season advice

Whatever dimension Ronald Acuña Jr. is from, it is not ours. The Braves outfielder made the slide of the season on Tuesday night.

Sliding into home plate is no easy task.

While catchers are no longer allowed to block the plate, thus giving opposing baserunners an easy path to score, collisions and injuries are a very real risk to any player bolting towards home plate in these uncertain times.

Acuña Jr., who is seemingly putting himself in harm’s way on a daily basis, did so again on Tuesday night. While he surely gave Brian Snitker a heart attack in the process, Acuña added yet another moment to his 2022 highlight reel.

Ronald Acuña Jr. is unreal ????

Watch this. pic.twitter.com/pAyBNaAbid

— Bally Sports: Braves (@BravesOnBally) August 10, 2022

Braves: Brian Snitker’s early-season advice rings hollow

Back in mid-May when Acuña made his comeback in the first place, Snitker warned that he may have to change the way he plays.

“Yeah, because he plays with his hair on fire. He plays the thing hard. He’s done a really good job managing the (comeback from a knee injury), too. He’s gotten hot, he’s on base a lot, he wants to run, making plays in the outfield. Probably as he gets older and matures, he’ll probably need to scale back some of that a little bit because of the wear and tear on his body. At his age, he doesn’t know anything but full speed ahead. But God bless him,” Snitker said, per The Athletic.

Acuña, obviously, did not love being told what to do — especially considering his flare and play-style is what makes him one of the more popular players in the game today, and so valuable to the team.

Plays like the one he made on Tuesday night, in which he bolted towards home without much of a plan in place, go against what Snitker preached.

And while the Braves manager surely has Acuña’s best interests in mind, it’s another example of why slowing a player like the three-time All-Star down is damn near impossible.

Acuña will do what he wants, and he will do so with grace.

Next: Atlanta Braves could have former All-Star closer for bullpen reinforcement

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