Wow. As I sit here writing this article recapping the NBA Draft Lottery, I still struggle to find the appropriate words that sum up the unhinged madness that we witnessed. The combination of gravity and clicking and clacking exchanged by the spinning of a ping pong ball machine may have ended up deciding the league's fate for a decade-plus to come.
Teams who people assumed were going to pick within a certain range were just unabashedly SLAMMED by the hands of fate, while a couple of lucky winners rose above all.
To quickly recap: the Suns fell from #2 to #6, the Bulls dropped from #4 to #7, the Cavs fell from #3 to #5, and the Hawks fell from #5 to #8. The greatest surprise of the night was the Los Angeles Lakers, who jumped from the #11 spot all the way up to #4! LA had one of the greatest jumps of the night, but the Memphis Grizzlies were the unsung winners of the evening with a sizable leap from the #8 position to the second pick in the entire draft.
Once we witnessed NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum unveil the Griz with the #2 pick, only one team was left on the board. That just so happened to be the New Orleans Pelicans, winners of the #1 pick, aka the Unofficial Zion Williamson sweepstakes. The boisterous New York Knicks, who many in the boroughs and beyond were yearning to see emerge from the rubble were served an unsatisfying, but objectively not bad #3 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
2019's NBA Draft Lottery was the first time the league rolled out the new format with flattened odds, which were put in place to disincentivize tanking. Instead of giving the team with the worst record a 25% chance at the landing the #1 pick, the three worst records were each given a 14% chance at landing the top slot. Those teams, the Knicks, Cavaliers, and Suns, all fell harder than expected in the inaugural year of the new system. Will this result truly inspire a turn away from the tanking mindset? I personally don't think it will, but we are going to end up seeing a lot more unhappy franchises who put way too much stock in a 14% chance at the #1 pick.
The victory for New Orleans is as shocking as it is groundbreaking for the state of the league. If Zion went to a team like the Hawks, Knicks (with no star free agents), Cavs, or Suns, he'd be joining a team that would need at least a couple of years to figure itself out. Zion and his teammates would've been left to their own devices, poking and prodding at figuring out the intricacies of NBA success. Now that Zion is heading to the Anthony Davis-led Pelicans, the greatest potential trade chip in any Davis trade has now landed squarely on the team that would've been seeking it. A team like the Knicks can't use Zion as leverage any longer - the Pels already have him!
With tonight's results, there is actually an argument for the disgruntled star to play out the remaining year of his contract. Shams Charania of the Athletic reported that Davis' trade demand away from the bayou is still his stance. If I'm Anthony Davis, I at least THINK about the possibility of playing next to a once-in-a-generation talent like Zion, but if his mind is made up then c'est la vie.
The Pelicans will now take trade offers from teams like the Lakers and Knicks who sport the #3 and #4 picks respectively. New NOLA General Manager David Griffin may be privy to the idea of pairing Zion with another top four pick on the board. Davis leaving on top of that would truly usher in a Pelicans rebuilding era with a level of promise that we haven't seen in a long time.
Matter of fact, the NBA itself feels like it's hitting new heights every few months. Events like the Anthony Davis trade deadline bombshell overtaking Super Bowl Week comes to mind when gauging the media power that the league now has.
The hysteria this on this night in Chicago didn't overtake any major sporting events, but it did feel like a potential glimpse of history. Even with the league embracing for LeBron's eventual exit, guys like Zion, Giannis, and Anthony Davis all seem up to the task of carrying on the bar set high by their NBA forefathers. At the end of the day, what we witnessed on Tuesday in Chicago could've been the marking point of the NBA's new era.
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