Shockingly, it wasn’t actually worth it in the end.
In a vacuum, No. 3 isn’t bad. The New York Knicks beat the expected value of their pick by a smidge, and they did not plummet like the Cavs or Suns. But that third envelope was not opened in vacuum. It was opened in a universe where the first and fourth envelope contained hideous symbols. With Zion Williamson out of the picture, New York’s focus shifts to luring in Anthony Davis to round out whichever two players they pick up in free agency. But the Lakers’ and Pelicans’ lottery leaps threatened that AD pipe dream, too.
The most egregious layer is that the Pelicans snagged the top pick, with a six percent chance of doing so. They now have the most compelling trade chip for Anthony Davis ready to suit up next to Anthony Davis. This puts into question their plans to trade the center, though, bless his soul, Davis’s desire to escape New Orleans seems to have survived the night. Player protest can override the best-laid plans of any GM, even one who lucked out the way David Griffin did last night. Davis-Pelicans relations seemed grotesquely dysfunctional by the end of the season. So in spite of last night’s Zion-sized wrinkle, the trade whispers will likely continue.
The additionally frustrating layer is that no AD trade package beat expectations more than that of the Lakers. With a 2.8 percent shot, Los Angeles leapt up to the fourth pick. That should sweeten a bundle of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart. In this draft, the gap between the No. 3 and No. 4 pick does not compensate for the gap between those flawed-but-interesting Lakers kids and this slurry: Frank Ntilikina (I’ll happily die on this hill, but come on), Kevin Knox (still only 19, and they were tanking, but an atrocious rookie season), Dennis Smith Jr. (a bouncy non-shooter with a defense problem), Mitchell Robinson (a fantastic player on an affordable contract), plus some of the six other Knicks first-round picks across the next five drafts (which may not be too hot after firing Anthony Davis into cavernous cap space). The Pelicans have seen that Lakers package already, and they might have clowned them for the sheer fun of it, but they probably still take it over anything the Knicks can put on the table.
Now, it’s not only up to doofuses in suits. Davis still holds the power of preference. Any trade partner will need assurance that he plans to stick around in his new city after his current contract ends next summer. Sure, both these franchises are rock-stupid, but no team would gut itself for a one-year rental. The Celtics would be able to put together an enticing offer, but Davis (and his dad) don’t seem to want to be there in the long term.
Perhaps the Knicks’ best remaining hope is that the Pelicans have soured relations with Davis beyond all repair, and decide to let him free and slow down their rebuild—for example, by pairing their new king with his Duke buddy, warming his welcome. Here’s hoping that R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson’s friendship is strong enough to alter the course of the NBA, I guess? It’s far from the stupidest thing I’ve rooted for as a Knicks fan.