“Zion: Feelin’ Like a Kalashnikov Out Here”

Associated Press

At a time reported to be 7:30 pm Eastern but which will probably be sometime shortly thereafter, the 2019 NBA Draft will begin tonight. That means that, for the devoted, a tweet, or text of a tweet, from Adrian Wojnarowski will pop across their phone screens, sometime between 7:28 and 7:30, informing the masses what we’ve all known since before the Anthony Davis trade, before the All-Star Game, before Christmas: that Zion Williamson of Duke will be the #1 overall pick.

That he is presumably going to New Orleans is the karmic injustice befitting a team that wasted Davis’ first seven years in the league[1] but which new general manager David Griffin is already turning toward the future. If Zion happens to be the key to open that particular sarcophagus, alongside the newly-acquired Lakers tweens, then the Pelicans will be raising hurricanes, toasting the next decade of success.

If he’s caught in the right place at the wrong time, however, then the draft gods will have proven infallible once again. That’s the beauty and sorrow of any professional sports draft, but this year, and this one, feels especially momentous.

This is obligatory, but: abolish the NBA Draft. Its raison d’être is antiquated, and its utility only serves team owners in the spirit of future assets, which become people, who get drafted to a city against their will and then traded to another one if they fail to produce, or if something better knocks at the door. This can go on for the first seven years of a player’s career, with the drafting team gaining power in correlation to a player’s performance. Oh, you’re a three-time All-NBA selection[2]? Congratulations, here’s an extension to stay with a team that has done nothing to help you. If you turn it down, you risk losing upward of $80 million.

Being that things are the way they are, though, this is the system for now. With the Pelicans’ trade of Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans has put itself in position to have a sparkling young core of lottery talent. Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart have collectively and individually received the “underperforming” label at various times in their nascent careers, but they now have a chance to hit the reset button in Louisiana.

The Lakers, of course, now have Davis – whom they reportedly, inexplicably did not ask to waive his trade kicker. They are now in a position of great desperation, trying to get New Orleans to delay making the trade official until the end of July so that they can have more cap space in order to pursue another max-level free agent. To some degree, the Lakers are back. To another degree, the Lakers are reeling.

Meanwhile, Davis’ other preferred franchise, the New York Knicks, are reeling[3] in after a recent bout with Murphy’s Law and the accompanying extenuating circumstances, all of which have affected their future plans: first, they fell to #3 in the draft lottery after tanking for the worst record in the league. Then, presumptive free agent signee Kevin Durant went down with an Achilles tear in the NBA Finals. Then, the *other* presumptive free agent signee, Kyrie Irving, became infatuated with the idea of replacing D’Angelo Russell in Brooklyn. Finally, they’re the Knicks, a fate not wished upon anyone’s worst enemy[4].

The Houston Rockets, who stand to take the throne in the Western Conference as currently constructed, are imploding more quickly than you can reel off your best Tom Hanks-as-Jim Lovell impression. James Harden and Chris Paul have an apparent distaste for one another, which is a problem anyway but which the aging Paul’s massive contract amplifies.

At the center of all of this, at least for today, is Zion Williamson, the most hyped NBA prospect since LeBron James and a man with such powerful legs that he blew through his own shoe. He will get to the Pelicans, and then he will change the course of the league and of basketball itself, or he won’t. Either way, it begins tonight. The raging earthquake that is the 24/7, 365-day NBA calendar, already jolting pictures off the mantle, is about to have many new faces thrown into its gumbo.

*     *     *

[1] The jury is out on whether Charlotte, the team that had the best odds at the #1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery before it fell to the then league-owned Pelicans, would’ve done the same; Relatedly, Kemba Walker is up for a supermax extension this summer.

[2] Something journalists determine; the notion of determining a person’s future earning potential has made more than one voter nauseous, with good reason

[3] Eternally

[4] I hate my favorite NBA team, the New York Knicks

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