On Wednesday, we looked at the backstories and energies and mojos of five of the 14 lottery hopefuls. Today we do the same for the Knicks and the hateful eight. The number after the team is how many lottery balls they have out of the 1,000. The teams are in ascending order of their threat level to the Knicks.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (53)
History: In 2004, the Timberwolves reached the Western Conference Finals. They lost in six to the Lakers, in a series involving Phil Jackson (current Knick boss; ex-genius), Derek Fisher (ex-Knick pseudo-boss), Luke Walton (ex-rumored Knick pseudo-boss), Kobe Bryant (ex-rumored past-his-prime-and-thus-the-perfect-Knick free agent target), Kevin Garnett (ex-Knick arch-villain), Latrell Sprewell (former James Dolan arch villain/now Dolan BFF not at all ‘cuz he needs money to feed his family or whatevs), Wally Szczerbiak (current MSG network foot soldier), Sam Cassell (ex-Knick heartbreaker), and Mark Madsen (the only NBAer with a greater statistical whiteness than Cole Aldrich or Marshall Plumlee).
Since ‘04, the Wolves have one winning season (in ‘05) and zero playoff appearances. In all those lost years, only thrice has Minnesota drafted in the top three: in 2008 they took O.J. Mayo third, in 2011 they took Derrick Williams second, and proving the third time’s the charm, two years ago they took Karl-Anthony Towns first. As bad as they’ve been, historically, the only other time the Wolves picked in the top three was 1992, when they had the worst record in the league. That was the year Shaquille O’Neal went first overall. Alonzo Mourning went second. Minnesota’s haul?
Karma: The Wolves traded Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins, who went number one to Cleveland in 2014. Last season they hired Tom Thibodeau to harness all their young promise into tangible progress and possibly threaten for a playoff spot. Instead, they ended up back in the lottery. It’s a sink or swim league and Minnesota has floaties up the ass. They really don’t deserve any more breaks, especially after their epic late-season tank jobs in 2015 and this past year. That is precisely why they scare me.
Judgment: Wherever the Wolves end up picking, it’ll be better than the Knicks.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (119)
History: 2011: Lost in the first round. 2012: Lost in the second. 2013: Bad. 2014: Blasphemy. 2015: Abomination. 2016: Blasphemous abomination. 2017: Bad with a twist.
Karma: Year after year of unwatchable suckitude produced a horde of young big men in Philadelphia. Joel Embiid could be a legendary player if he stays healthy, or he could be Greg Oden. Jahlil Okafor, whose game is about 20 years late, doesn’t fit there at all, but between teams knowing that and Okafor sitting on the bench, not developing, his trade value depreciates. Dario Saric is going to garner a lot of votes for Rookie Of The Year. If last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Ben Simmons, stays healthy and lives up to the potential he flashed in the preseason, Philadelphia can probably move one or two guys for backcourt help. They had a plan. It could work like gangbusters. Or Embiid and Simmons could keep getting hurt and the plan falls apart like a house of cards. All these years after beginning The Process, we still don’t know what to make of it.
Judgment: The 76ers don’t even need to win the lottery to get what they need. Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox could both potentially be available when they pick, and the 76ers, after many years, are finally no longer the league’s biggest threat to draft a big man when they already have big men (that job is taken). So stop being gluttons and stay outta the top three, Sixers. Of course, if the Lakers fall out of the top three, their pick goes to Philly, which could end with them nabbing Fox and Monk. What do we root for if L.A. agony is contingent on Philly gluttony?
PHOENX SUNS (199)
History: Phoenix joined the NBA in 1968. Half a century later, they’ve only had two top-three picks. If you know who, you’re either Rain Man, The Schwab, or Neal Walk or Armen Gilliam, who went #2 in 1968 (Florida) and 1987 (UNLV), respectively.
Karma: Late last March, Suns’ guard Devin Booker scored 70 points against the Celtics.
Boston blew Phoenix out in the first half and maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second. Despite the loss, the Suns, their season having lost all meaning long ago, were not surprisingly happy for their boy.
The Celtics, who are like the Great Salt Lake of Salty Bitterness despite having done nothing to warrant such uppityness, were pretty salty after. Jae Crowder, vaunted Beantown defender, apparently hadn’t had enough of Booker’s cooking on the court, so he went on Devin’s Instagram page and wrote “NEVER SEEN SO MANY GUYS HAPPY AFTER AN ‘L.’“ To this, Booker replied, “You can’t guard me.” Crowder capitulated.
A few thoughts:
- Tyson Chandler’s last year as a Knick was 1,662 minutes of thousand-yard stares and prisoner-of-war vibes. He was brought in in part for his leadership, supposedly, but once things began to go south Chandler looked like he mentally migrated, too. So it was refreshing seeing him pumped after he “verified” Booker’s response to Crowder. It was nice seeing him pumped in the locker room pic. It was cool seeing him pumped on the bench when Booker hit the shot to break the prior Phoenix franchise record of 60 points in a game, set by Tom Chambers, quiet owner of arguably the greatest in-game dunk in human history.
- The greatest team athlete I’ve ever watched, in any sport, is Wayne Gretzky. Never - not even Michael Jordan - have I seen one person dominate their peers for as long a period and to such an extent as The Great One dominated the NHL in the 1980’s. Seeing someone that great never betray a single moment of ego or arrogance doesn’t inhibit me from being able to enjoy cocksure showmen.
But my conditioning as a kid means I get a particular frisson when greatness keeps its cool, stays chill, stays ascendant, doesn’t stoop to to the level of the lowly peasants it just overran. Booker just slays with “You can’t guard me.” Karma smiles upon such elegant savagery.
- The Celtics moaning about Booker’s cardinal sin of brings to mind a 1996 game in Boston between the C’s and the Knicks. Dana Barros had hit a three-pointer in a then-record 89 straight games, and late in the Knicks’ blowout win, Celtic coach M.L. Carr was drawing up plays late for the sole purpose of helping Barros keep his streak alive. That led Don Nelson to his one inspired moment as New York’s coach, calling for triple-teams to prevent Barros from getting a clean look. That led Carr to call three timeouts in the last eight seconds of the game. That led Nelson to stick Anthony Mason on Barros for the last shot of the night, which he missed, natch. That led Carr, after the final horn, to THROW THE GAME BALL AT DON NELSON’S HEAD. I have never been able to find a tape of this game. If anyone can get their hands on this, I will find you where you live and take you out for dinner. The nice kind.
Judgment: The Suns winning the lottery is like the Yellowstone Super Volcano erupting: it hasn’t happened yet, but it can’t not, and the sooner it does, the more we’re all fucked.
DENVER NUGGETS (6)
History says: Denver was the first eight-seed to knock off a one-seed, in 1994 (you know the second team to do this). They lost the first two games in the best-of-5 series (Dear Adam Silver, please bring back best-of-5s) before winning the last three.
Often forgotten: in the next round, Denver fell behind the Utah Jazz 3-0 before coming back to win games four, five, and six, finally falling in game seven. One reason people outside Colorado probably don’t remember that is that the Nuggets’ history has been astonishingly unaccomplished ever since. Since the Seattle upset, the Nuggets have made 11 playoffs and been knocked out in the first round 10 times. The lone exception was the 2009 team that reached the conference finals. In less than two years, that roster was blown up.
Denver’s had three top-three picks: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in 1990, Carmelo in 2003, and Bum-Ass Raef LaFrentz in 1998.
Karma says: Ever since the 2011 Carmelo Anthony trade, the Nuggets and Knicks have shared symmetrical fates. Each team lost in the first round the season of the trade, then lost in the first round the next season. In 2013, Denver won 57 games, New York 54. The next year, Denver won 36, New York 37; two years later, Denver 33, New York 32. If these trends continue, Knick and Nugget fans should be hoping the other team has success in 2018.
Judgment: You heard it here first: if Denver or New York jump into the top three, the other will, too.
ORLANDO MAGIC (88)
History: Everybody knows evil men committing atrocities makes our worlds and world go round. Evil men wanted the expansion Magic to put down roots in the north Florida economy, and that’s why the Magic won the top pick in 1992 and 1993. A few years later it would take the criminality of Mickey Arison and Pat The Rat to ensure the other Sunshine State’s franchise made their lasting impression. Everybody knows this.
Karma: Having the #2 pick in 2013 and ending up with Victor Oladipo is the first lottery karma payback in what by all rights should be decades of draft day disappointments for Orlando.
Judgment: Maybe I have early ‘90s lottery PTSD, but I always fear the Magic. Always. Can’t you envision a P&T comment section in 2020 about whether you do or don’t trust George Karl to get a good return from trading Kristaps Porzingis away, and meanwhile Orlando, led by Markelle Fultz, is a title contender?
BOSTON CELTICS via BROOOOOOOOOO-KLYN (250)
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (156)
History: From 1958-2013, the Lakers missed the playoffs just four times. They’ve since missed four years in a row and seem a lock to make it five...unless 29 other fan bases’ worst nightmare goes down and L.A. strikes lottery gold. Take a moment to swallow the hot vomit that just shot up your throat.
Karma: Maybe every life we live is an atonement for the sins of our past lives. Maybe all we need to gain atonement is to seek it; maybe transcendence is best known, or only known, in an instant. The Lakers have had so much good fortune they could spend the rest of all of our lifetimes paying for it. Or they could win the lottery, and Lonzo Ball is Jason Kidd with Steve Nash’s jump shot, and kids who haven’t been born yet will be bugging over/bugging for the first mass-produced $1,000 sneaker.
Judgment: It’s top-three or bust for the Lakers; anything lower, their pick goes to the 76ers and the future’s a lot less glittering.
MIAMI HEAT (5)
History says: The Heat under Pat Riley have only had a top-three pick once, in 2008. King Midas passed on Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love to take Michael Beasley.
Karma says: Miami doesn’t deserve to move up more than any other team, but they’re as big a threat as anybody. Riley doesn’t usually repeat disappointing seasons; last year was -- furious near-playoffs charge notwithstanding, which [HUBIE BROWN VOICE] now this is what you like to see if you’re karma — a step back for a team that one year prior was a win away from the conference finals. He’s 72 in human years. He isn’t waiting for better days ahead.
Judgment: I could not endure this life without optimism. Stay in your lane, Heat.
NEW YORK KNICKS (53)
History: 1985 is the only year the Knicks have ever moved up in the draft. Doesn’t that seem wrong? That means if, after the Knicks took Patrick Ewing that year, the NBA had instituted the “draft wheel” system — where “each of the 30 teams would...simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle.” — the Knicks would have had two more top-three picks than they’ve had in reality. Doesn’t that seem wrong? The Cavaliers have won FIVE lotteries! DOESN’T THAT SEEM WRONG?!?
Judgment: I’m not asking to win the lottery. I’m not asking for someone who’ll be the best player on the next Knicks’ championship team. I’m not asking for a Hall-of-Famer. I’m asking you, Universe. Begging. Can we please, for once, in this lifetime, draft a legit backcourt man? Can we get some quality guard play in here? Please?