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New Orleans Pelicans owner Gayle Benson greets Jania Meshell and baby Icelynn Murray, 1, next to new Pelicans player Dejounte Murray at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center in Metairie, La., Tuesday, July 9, 2024. (Photo by Sophia Germer, The Times-Picayune)

Zion Williamson normally keeps a low profile during the offseason. When the chaotic NBA schedule isn’t ruling his life, he is usually not seen or heard from.

On Tuesday, Williamson made an appearance at the New Orleans Pelicans’ practice facility in Metairie. He was seated in the first row to watch new teammate Dejounte Murray meet the media.

Murray, a one-time All-Star whom the Pelicans traded for in June to be their starting point guard, took questions for half an hour. Then, Murray and Williamson hugged — the start of a partnership both players are optimistic can produce postseason success.

“That’s our superstar,” Murray said about Williamson. “I’m excited to push him. I told him, ‘I’m going to push him.' "

That’s positive because while Williamson has scored at will since he played his first NBA game at 19 years old, he has needed to be pushed. Last season, Williamson admitted he didn’t report to training camp in tiptop shape and that he needed to work his way into better condition as the season progressed.

Williamson appeared in 70 regular-season games, the most of any season in his career, and was on the verge of getting his first playoff experience before a hamstring tweak in the play-in tournament ended his year in heartbreaking fashion.

Murray said he and Williamson exchanged phone numbers years ago. They had developed a strong relationship long before becoming teammates.

“It was already love,” Murray said. “It was natural, genuine love from Day One. Just knowing what he did to get here. How hard he worked to get here. What he’s dealt with. The light that’s been on him — that’s not easy. I’m a fan of him.”

The Pelicans attempted to acquire Murray before the trade deadline in February. They were unsuccessful then, but they engaged the Atlanta Hawks again this summer because Murray fit on so many different levels.

A 6-foot-5 steals machine, Murray is capable of providing the point-of-attack defense and competitive fire coach Willie Green values. Murray is also not shy about taking over in important moments. He was tied for ninth among all NBA players in “clutch” scoring last season.

Additionally, Murray wanted to be a part of what the Pelicans are building. Murray expressed through his agent, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, that he would be happy to join New Orleans’ roster, should the team trade for him.

“One of the things Rich said to us was, ‘You really need to go try to get Dejounte Murray,' " Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin said. “We sort of laughed. We said, ‘We tried to do that at the trade deadline. We weren’t able to make something happen that made sense for both sides.’ But when he shared for us the excitement Dejounte had for our situation, it was really an eye-opening thing. It was meaningful to us.”

Griffin said he expects Murray to be a “two-way closer.” Murray and Williamson are locks to be on the floor in crunch time. The other three players in the Pelicans’ closing lineups could vary.

The way the Pelicans are currently constructed, two of Herb Jones, Trey Murphy and CJ McCollum will have to come off the bench next season. The Pelicans have explored Brandon Ingram’s trade market over the past few weeks but have not dealt him.

Ingram has one year remaining on his contract. Across the NBA, there is little appetite to pay Ingram the $208 million, four-year extension he is seeking. In May, The Times-Picayune reported the Pelicans would like to extend Ingram’s contract but not at that number.

The Pelicans will be stocked with talent, regardless of whether Ingram is wearing a Pelicans uniform in 2024-25 or not. Jones is an all-world defender, and McCollum and Murphy are two of the game’s better 3-point shooters. Williamson, a two-time All-Star at 24 years old, is one of the league's most efficient high-volume scorers.

And the way Murray sees it, Williamson just started scratching the surface of what he can do.

“I’m excited to push him to the next level,” Murray said. “Because he has a bunch of levels he can reach.”

Email Christian Clark at cclark@theadvocate.com.

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