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Knicks’ misery is a bit of solace for Wizards fans

May 16, 2019

Tuesday was a bad night for Knicks fans.

Which makes it no different than most other nights since 1973.

Fans went to bed Monday with visions of Zion Williamson dancing through their head. But those images evaporated less than 24 hours later, disappearing in a flash, like the misplaced hope that arose when Phil Jackson was named Knicks president.

Yes, there are long-suffering franchises with no championship banners (Phoenix) or lengthier championship droughts (Milwaukee). But New York is the only perpetual also-ran that’s also an NBA cornerstone playing in its city of inception. It’s also the only one that hosts visiting teams in the so-called “Mecca of Basketball.”

Tuesday was supposed to represent the start of a new era, a three-step reset after losing a league-high 65 games. 1) Win the lottery and select Williamson. 2) Sign Kevin Durant after the Golden State star notches another NBA Finals MVP. 3) Add disgruntled Boston guard Kyrie Irving (though I’d prefer a different NYC point guard Charlotte’s Kemba Walker who offers slightly less as a baller and much less as a drama king).

But the ping-pong balls went awry Tuesday, making Knicks fans long for the days of (alleged) frozen envelopes and Patrick Ewing. The Georgetown legend represented New York onstage at the draft, but the magic that made him No. 1 in 1985 shifted to New Orleans, where the Pelicans are celebrating a shot at Williamson and a renewed shot at keeping Anthony Davis.

If Davis is intent on leaving, despite the option of playing alongside Williamson, New Orleans can package him in a deal that might include the third (Knicks) or fourth (Lakers) pick this year. David Griffin will try to convince Davis to stay but the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations enjoys a no-lose position with Williamson secured.

“It’s just an incredible blessing for our organization,” Griffin told reporters.

The Knicks did win a nice consolation prize, the No. 3 pick, in a draft where Williamson, Ja Morant and R.J. Barrett have separated from the pack. Meanwhile, the Wizards managed to drop from No. 6 to No. 9, their next-to-worst possible outcome.

But folks in Phoenix, Cleveland and Chicago received the rawer deals. The Suns and Cavaliers joined the Knicks as teams with the best odds (14%) at the No. 1 pick. The Bulls were next at 12.5%. They all fell, Chicago to seventh, Phoenix to sixth and Cleveland to fifth.

Conspiracy theorists were out in full force beforehand, predicting that Williamson would land in New York. When the Lakers were alive for a Top 4 pick, it seemed clear that his launchpad would be either Hollywood or the Big Apple, media markets befitting the most-hyped prospect since LeBron James.

Turns out that the real conspiracy was giving New Orleans a boost and increasing Memphis’ valuation.

All in all, the revised lottery process was a smashing success. The goal was to slow teams’ race to the bottom. Tanking proved to be less fruitful than in the last four years, when the team with the worst record snared the top prize. Under the new-and-improved format, being the biggest loser merely puts you on equal footing with two other sorry squads, and even middling lottery picks have increased in potential value.

The change won’t totally prevent noncontending teams from putting non-competitive lineups on the floor. That strategy still gives them the best odds for landing transformative talent at the draft’s top. And being stuck in the middle of the lottery still creates a long-shot, even though a couple came through Tuesday.

Washington should take notes and prepare for next year. Even with Williamson, the Wizards would likely make a second consecutive lottery appearance.

Armed with only the ninth pick, the final destination is a virtual lock.

Considering such, the next general manager would be wise to consider trading down if another team seeks to move up. The Wizards’ onerous salary cap situation and paucity of desirable assets not named Bradley Beal combined with the draft’s glut of undistinguished prospects expected to be available at No. 9 could make standing pat an unaffordable luxury.

Time is the only luxury that awaits Washington’s next roster architect.

It’s been 41 years since the franchise won a championship, so another four are nothing. Things could be worse. By then, my Knicks could mark their dry spell’s golden anniversary.

Take the over.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays.