May 19th is, for Knick fans, a blind date/arranged marriage/Judgment Day turducken. No one knows what pick the team will land in this year's NBA draft lottery - the Knicks could end up anywhere from first through sixth - but once we do, finality and future begin to merge and all the debates over tanking will finally have a face to praise or damn...even if that face doesn't appear for another five weeks.
But time...faces...turduckens...these are the things of man. And the things of man matter not to the basketball gods. What matters to them is karma. Draft lotteries may appear to unfold as random, benign events. But beneath that facade, hidden patterns reveal an intelligent design at work.
Some years, the gods are pretty market-driven, either establishing or revitalizing franchises. In 1993, a year after winning the rights to Shaquille O'Neal and then winning 41 games, the Magic improbably won the lottery again. This cemented Orlando on the NBA map and ushered in the Shaq/Penny era, which began with talk of Magic & Kareem and ended ringless, its defining moment courtesy of Nick Anderson. Lebron to Cleveland in 2003 was straight out of central casting. A month after Tom Benson bought the now-Pelicans from the NBA, New Orleans won the rights to Anthony Davis. A year after Phil and MJ left Chicago, the Bulls won the rights to Elton Brand.
Whatever sin Cleveland committed eons ago was clearly forgiven after Lebron left for South Beach, because the Cavs have won pretty much everything besides the White House since, winning the lottery in 2011, 2013, and 2014. Even after all that, and parlaying it into pairing Kyrie Irving with Lebron and Kevin Love, it took the midseason acquisitions of Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert to gets the Cavs going (#KNICKSMODEL?).
The gods clearly frown upon shameless losers winning. They also smile upon winners who've fallen on hard times. The 1997 Spurs suffered injuries to David Robinson and Sean Elliot, rendering an annual contender a catastrophe. That same season, the Boston Celtics conducted an 82-game walk of shame toward what they imagined were the rights to the number one pick, only to find Wake Forest's Tim Duncan's not walking through that door.
So, taking history and karma into account, a look, in ascending order of spiritual odds, the 2015 lottery hopefuls (teams lottery odds in parentheses):
THREAT LEVEL: LOL, nah
Sacramento Kings (6th)
History says: Sacramento sits sixth. Say that five times fast. Seriously. It feels good. Like lip yoga. Sixth seeds have made some big moves recently, jumping to second in 2009 and 2010. Those drafts saw Blake Griffin and John Wall go no. 1 and Hasheem Thabeet and Evan Turner go second. Sometimes two is really, really far from one.
Karma says: The Kings didn't win the lottery in 2010, but they won the next-biggest prize: the spot after the Timberwolves. Bound by the curse of a troglodytic gnome from time immemorial, Minnesota, as always, took the wrong guy (sometimes they take the wrong guy twice!), leaving the Kings free to take DeMarcus Cousins. Sacramento recently pulled a franchise-sized Lazarus after it looked like the team was headed to Seattle. Their owner is the divine manifestation of chaos made flesh.
Judgment: Methinks the gods think the Kings have had enough divine intervention for a while.
Detroit Pistons (8th)
History says: In 2011, the Clippers jumped from eighth to first on lottery night. But their pick belonged to the Cavs. Los Angeles got 74 games from Mo Williams. Cleveland got Kyrie Irving. At least Detroit has its pick.
Karma says: If David Stern were commissioner, there's a snowball's chance in Hell curmudgeonly Stan Van Agitating gets anywhere near the top pick. Van Gundy was a frequent bee in Stern's bonnet. If Adam Silver's the sweetheart he's projected so far, the Pistons can dream.
Utah Jazz (11th)
History says: The 11th team won the lottery once, in 1993. Orlando drafted Chris Webber and traded his rights to Golden State for Anfernee Hardaway and three first-round picks. Say the Knicks win the lottery and Philadelphia finishes third, then offers NY the #3 pick and two future firsts for #1 this year. Would you do it?
Karma says: Imagine you're the father of a fourteen-year-old girl. You think the boy next door, also 14, has a thing for your daughter, but she doesn't take him seriously, and you're not scared either. He's a nice kid, never gets in trouble, pretty clean-cut, 100% trustworthy, but too square to take seriously. That was the Jazz before Rudy Gobert. Utah's upside and blueprints need re-calculating in light of Gobert's' advancements. You know how that fourteen-year-old invisible boy turns into a fifteen-year-old poor man's PacSun model toute suite? That's the Jazz post-Rudy.
Phoenix Suns (13th)
History says: The 13th-worst record advanced once: in 1999, Charlotte moved up to no. 3 and took Baron Davis.
Karma says: Maybe it's the logo - the whole sun-thing - but I feel like Phoenix is kind of a smiled-upon franchise. Like, I just feel like the Suns are one of those franchises who get good breaks way more than bad. The Spurs, too. It makes sense. The basketball gods are old. Phoenix, while hot, is a dry heat. You can golf year-round. The basketball gods smile upon Phoenix.
Judgement: Jahlil Okafor would look nice in that lineup...
Indiana Pacers (12th)
History says: The 12th seed has never advanced to the top three.
Karma says: The Pacers have a '97 Spurs thing happening - contending team devastated by injury, one-year dip in form...and Indiana has played hard and stayed in the playoff hunt all year. Blessed are the scrapping injury-depleted, for theirs is the awww of the gods. Plus Indiana is sacred basketball soil.
Judgement: 30 years ago, the Knicks and Pacers finished 1-2 in the draft - Patrick Ewing and Rik Smits. Will karma demand balance by flipping that order this year? Isn't that totally such a dick-Pacer thing to do?
NEXT TIME: PART 2!