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2019 lottery karma police, part 1: Which lottery teams most deserve Zion Williamson?

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Not including the Knicks. They won’t get him.

UCF v Duke Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tuesday night the NBA holds its draft lottery, a.k.a the Knicks’ playoffs. Though New York finished with the worst record, which used to mean something, this lottery ain’t your daddy’s: per Forbes’ Tommy Beer, “Due to the reformated [sic] lottery, there is a far greater chance (59.9%) that the Knicks draft fourth or fifth overall, than land in the top three (40.1%).”

But don’t let the bastards get you down. You got plans that night? You should. Regardless of where the Knicks end up, whichever team is celebrated for winning the right to pay Zion Williamson far below his worth for five years will also be the vehicle by which the basketball gods impart a lesson unto us. Depending which non-Knick team wins, that lesson may be experienced as a blessing, a shoulder shrug, a gnawing anxiety or a full-blown spiritual crisis. Let me be your spiritual sherpa as we ascend the levels of lottery karma pain, from mildest to wildest. Today we’ll cover levels one and two.

Level 1: “Cool wit it”

SACRAMENTO KINGS

Sacramento loyalists may be the only fan base in the NBA saddled with a worse front office than Knicks fans (though there are newfound contenders for the throne). They’ve missed the playoffs 13 years running. In that time, these were their lottery picks:

  • Spencer Hawes (spent three seasons in Sacramento)
  • Jason Thompson (spent seven seasons there, unfortunately all of them as Jason Thompson)
  • Tyreke Evans (spent four seasons there, then traded in a three-team deal that involved Robin Lopez and Malcom Brogdon, but the Kings added Greivis Vasquez and that’s about it)
  • DeMarcus Cousins (6+ seasons of talent and turmoil yielded Buddy Hield)
  • Bismack Biyombo (traded in a three-team deal that involved Tobias Harris and Shaun Livingston; Sacramento ended up with Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons)
  • Thomas Robinson (lasted 51 games, then traded for Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas [OAKAAKUYOAK])
  • Ben McLemore (spent four seasons there, then signed with Memphis before being traded back to Sacramento last summer; he’s like the Kings’ Tim Hardaway Jr., only if THJ couldn’t shoot)
  • Nik Stauskas (lasted one year, than packaged in trade with Philadelphia that let the 76ers swap the fifth pick for the third)
  • Willie Cauley-Stein (spent four years there; no word yet if the team will extend a qualifying offer)
  • Marquese Chriss (traded draft night to Phoenix for Bogdan Bogdanovic, Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis)
  • De’Aaron Fox (he’s really good!)
  • Zach Collins (he is, too! But he was traded draft night for Harry Giles and Justin Jackson)
  • Marvin Bagley (so far, so good)

Imagine if the Knicks had their first-round pick every year but mostly sucked at drafting. Imagine if as soon as the Knicks hired David Fizdale, the team and the league announced a joint investigation into him being accused of sexual assault. Imagine Jared Dudley publicly campaigning to join your team. Even though the Kings seem to be turning the corner, would you be more surprised if two years from now they’re a 50-win team or that they’re trending down and Fox is gone or angling to be gone?

Sacramento could have the most loyal fan base in the league; even when they sucked in the ‘90s, they sold out most nights and enjoyed a legit homecourt advantage. The great Kings teams of the 2000s were the greatest passing team I’ve ever seen.

They wear pretty colors. They’ll never attract an elite free agent. I’m cool with them landing Zion. If for no other reason than to stick it to the Lakers for a while.

ATLANTA HAWKS

After falling from 60 wins in 2015 to 48, then 43, then 24, Atlanta rebounded last season behind Trae Young, the non-Slovenian Rookie Of the Year. Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter and a rejuvenated Alex Len give the Hawks four players between 20 and 25 to build around. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a point guard, a two-guard, a power forward and a center. If Zion can succeed in the pros as a small forward, the Hawks would be instantly intriguing. If his eventual home is the four, then Collins (20 and 10 and tripled his three-point makes) or Len (20, 10 and 1.5 blocks per 36; 6 for 25 from deep before last year, 74 threes at a 36% clip last season) can take their talents to provide depth off the bench or take a cab to the airport as pieces another team would value enough to seek in a trade.

The Hawks never mess with the Knicks. In 1999 they were kind enough to get swept in the second round. Their organist is dope. The NBA is a better place when there’s an Atlanta heartbeat kicking. We’d need an entirely new internet to house all the Trae/Zion highlights. Plus Dallas would have to get over itself in a hurry acting like the Luke Dončić trade was some kind of Louisiana Purchase.

Level 2: Meh...

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Even after employing Joakim Noah, a more overhyped NYC addition than Amazon’s H2 boondoogle, I can’t really work up any feelings about the Grizzlies one way or another. Seriously. They’re a Western Conference team in an Eastern Conference state who will always belong in Vancouver to me. They just don’t move the needle. I see Mike Conley’s name and I think “Seems like a good dude.” Jaren Jackson Jr.? I see his dad.

I comb my memory for any striking Knicks/Grizzlies moments. Only one comes to mind.

Sigh. We’ll always have FedExForum, Emmanuel.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

You know that book Jacob Have I Loved? It’s about a girl who spends her life struggling to escape the shadow of her twin sister. The title comes from the book of Romans: “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Again with the sibling rivalry.

John Wall have I loved, ever since Kentucky. As his star has tarnished the past few years, Bradley Beal emerged as the smilier alternative to Wall’s dimming light. But the Wizards failing to ever put themselves on the map has less to do with Wall and more to do with years of WTF front office hi-jinx. Maybe now that Ernie Grunfeld has finally been rooted out, the team is ready to renaissance. Seriously: when Grunfeld’s reign began, The Wire was in its second season; the man nearly outlasted Game of Thrones. This is an organization in need of a clear B.C./A.D. demarcation.

That’d do it.

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

This was a tricky one to figure out. I don’t want the Pelicans to end up with Zion because then Anthony Davis might stay there, and that’d just be lazy-ass plotting by the basketball gods and I’m getting enough of that Sunday nights at 9 p.m. I don’t want a Pelicans ownership that failed to build a worthy team around a generational talent to fall ass-backwards into another generational talent they can profit from and then scapegoat for their failures when he decides he’s had enough.

I’ve always loved the city of New Orleans. It’s given us Anne Rice, gumbo and a musical scene like no other. When I finished my first grad school I had a choice between moving there or Wilmington, North Carolina. I chose Wilmington, which was a disaster. Then again, a month later Hurricane Katrina struck. “Disaster” is a relative term.

Surely the fans deserve something for their troubles, don’t they? Do they? Doesn’t karma by definition require some kind of continuous identity to relate to, even if that identity recurs over several lifetimes? What started as the New Orleans Hornets (in the Eastern conference) morphed into the Oklahoma City Hornets post-Katrina, then reverted back to the N.O. Hornets (now in the Western conference) before finally settling on the Pelicans. Sadly, in all that time their only continuity is losing — the franchise in all its forms has only finished above .500 six out of 17 seasons. I’d be happy for their fans if they could transition from A.D. to Zion. But I don’t know if there really are such things as Pelican fans, and if so I don’t know if they really deserve anything stable. Maybe not “deserve” so much as “need.” I suppose I feel they’re so used to instability that’s become their stability.

That’s all for part one. These are the teams I can stomach losing to Tuesday night. Stay tuned for part two and the worst of the worst. Bring some Tums.