The first edition of the NBA Draft under the revised rules was a blockbuster that cleared a lot of doubt about its impact on team’s tanking-losing on purpose to increase odds of landing a very high pick in the Draft-for many years to come.
In the foreseeable future, teams will limit the extent they go to lose games and gather high draft assets. New York Knicks were the worst team in the league this past season but ended up with the third overall pick. Back in the day, the Knicks would have known for sure its chances of landing the top pick stood at 25% and virtually a lock to draft first overall.
However, the changes prevented this from happening as the Knicks 14% odds coupled with the combination of lottery numbers had them third behind surprise draft winners New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies. New York’s position makes it hard to envisage they landing consensus first pick Zion Williamson to re-energize its success starved fan base.
It is likely the Knicks will land Shooting Guard/ Small Forward RJ Barrett who was Williamson’s teammate at Duke University with its pick. Getting the chance to pick Zion represents a big opportunity to convince Anthony Davis to stay since Williamson’s presence will make the Pelicans a more desirable free agent destination than it is.
Williamson’s presence also gives New Orleans management a solid foundation to build on from Davis the way Davis replaced Chris Paul as the team’s center piece.
Prior to Williamson’s explosion at Duke, Barrett was the lead man after leading Canada to clinch the 2017 FIBA Under 19 World Cup. Picking him as the franchise cornerstone fits perfectly with the Knicks master plan to end another long losing run. Knicks desire to sign unrestricted top tier free agents Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant is well known as the team’s first option to make the playoffs.
With his rare combination of athleticism, size and a developing three point stroke already, Zion is certainly straight out of the box the top attraction in this draft next season and fans are waiting anxiously to see him hit an NBA arena. Fans want to be entertained, winning comes later for Knicks fans who haven’t had such a player since Patrick Ewing Jnr.
Barrett won’t get fans clamoring for tickets in his early years in the league but he will get his side to win a lot of games. Comparing him to Houston Rockets Guard James Harden is an apt description of a player who slices up defenses methodologically. Judging by his reaction, Williamson wasn’t too pleased with New Orleans getting the first overall pick. The Pelicans are also in dire need of a star to replace Davis who per reports, isn’t interested in playing out the final year of his contract with the Pelicans irrespective of the Pelicans draft pick. This makes it the right situation to pull off a three team mega trade on Draft Night or in the immediate days after it.
A plausible trade deal could have Zion and Davis traded to the Knicks for Barrett, a future first round high pick, Mitchell Robinson and Michael Porter Jnr. from Denver Nuggets. Denver on the other hand, would get in return Julius Randle and Solomon Hill’s expiring contracts to give themselves enough cap space to accommodate a long rookie contract extension for Jamal Murray.
Randle’s $9 million deal is a player option he is likely to activate since his chances of landing a similar or better contract are slim and Hill’s $11 million is the last paycheck on his contract with Pelicans. Paul Millsap is owed $30 million next season but that is up to the team to pick it up fully or renegotiate for a cheaper deal for the 34 year old. Should negotiations go south, Randle can fill in admirably for Millsap at Power Forward and Hill will deepen the Small Forward position in Denver.
Nuggets are in win now mode and its young nucleus of Murray, Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris contracts could prize them out of the small market hence the need to deepen its post season run as soon as possible. Porter Jnr. was a highly regarded player but injuries prevented him from playing a lot of games in College and in his first season with Nuggets but his upside could be used to get veteran guys who will contribute right away.
For New Orleans, getting such a trade done gives them foundational pieces in several positions to fast track the rebuild. Barrett should hold down the Shooting Guard position with Porter Jnr. at Small Forward and the lengthy Robinson at Center for many years to come. Veteran Guard Jrue Holiday-has two more years left on his contract-should ease Barrett and Porter’s transition to the league before he gets shipped out after next season for a young long term replacement at the point.
For New York, such a trade gets fans longing to see the Knicks play with athletic marvels Williamson and Davis on display. Even if Davis leaves after next season, Zion’s play will get Coach David Fizdale and the club’s hierarchy the chance to build around him. It didn’t happen the first time but the biggest basketball prospect could still end up in the biggest market of all.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter