I admit it. At 8 p.m. Tuesday, I was thinking, “This is the night Atlanta’s luck changes.” Fifty minutes later, my mood was a bit darker. “New Orleans? Are you KIDDING me? They got the last truly great No. 1 pick, and he wants out! They deserve Zion?”
It’s now 8:57. I’ve calmed down a bit. And now I’m willing to make like Will Munny in Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” and concede: Deserve’s got nothing to do with it. This was the lottery. The lottery comes down to chance.
Especially now. This was the first anti-tank NBA lottery, and we saw the difference. The Lakers, who entered with a 9.4 percent chance of landing a top-four pick, landed the No. 4 pick. Memphis, which had a 26.3 percent chance of a top-four pick, hooked the No. 2 pick, which will surely be RJ Barrett or Ja Morant. The Pelicans, who had a 6 percent chance of lucking into the No. 1 pick, lucked into Zion Williamson.
And the Hawks, forever unlucky in both love and lotteries? They had a 10.5 percent chance of snatching Zion, nearly twice as good as New Orleans’ odds. Didn’t matter. They had a 42.1 percent chance of a top-four pick; they got skunked there, too.
The Hawks wound up with the No. 8 and No. 10 picks, which wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Had Dallas cracked the top five, the Mavericks would have kept the pick they were prepared to sacrifice for the rights to Luka Doncic last June. But the Mavs weren’t lucky, which means the Hawks weren’t totally unlucky Tuesday night.
Still, the Nos. 8 and 10 weren’t what the Hawks had in mind. But the flattening of odds — after the NBA’s modifications, the team with the third-worst record had the same numerical chance to pick No. 1 as the team that had the worst record — had the desired effect. Will anybody tank as hard next year after none of the teams that finished second-, third- or fourth-worst was awarded a pick in the top four?
We all knew that Zion would be a landscape-changer wherever he went, but him heading to NOLA could change the second-biggest story of the NBA summer. Anthony Davis allowed his agent to render the best Pelican ever – it’s a short list, I know — persona non grata in New Orleans. Does the Brow see Zion and say, “You know, I wouldn’t mind playing with him”? If so, would the Pelicans be willing to forgive the way Davis’ trade demand wrecked last season? If not, how much could the team get for him in trade to build around Zion?
Because it involved Zion, 2019 was among the biggest lotteries ever. A living reminder of the first lottery was present on the stage, representing the team that finished with the league’s worst record. It was widely (if not credibly) claimed that the NBA somehow rigged the 1985 pingpong balls so that the big-city Knicks could land Patrick Ewing. If the Knicks had won the rights to Zion with Ewing onstage, conspiracy theories would have broken Reddit. The same would have happened had Zion fallen to the Lakers and LeBron. But he didn’t.
He’s going to New Orleans, which is as far off the NBA’s beaten path as it gets if you don’t count Sacramento, and there’s a part of me that believes this is a deferred payment to Gayle Benson, who owns both the Saints and the Pelicans, for the uncalled pass interference in January.
But where-oh-where, I ask, is the karma for Cliff Levingston’s running lefty hook, for that rat Jim Leyritz, for 28-3? When does Atlanta get its break? When has Atlanta ever gotten a break?
I’m sorry. I usually try to keep my sulks to myself. But I’d allowed myself to get a little excited about Zion, who’s an exciting guy. Should have known better. We’re Atlanta. Our luck never changes.