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Stakes Are Huge for Knicks, Lakers, Zion, Kyrie, AD in 2019 NBA Draft Lottery

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 11, 2019

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA - MARCH 22:  Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after scoring a basket and drawing a foul against the North Dakota State Bison in the second half during the first round of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Colonial Life Arena on March 22, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The NBA draft lottery's ripple effects will extend beyond their normal range this year, stretching deeper into free agency and the trade market than usual.

The lottery always matters to the 14 non-playoff teams involved, but there's a real potential for league-altering repercussions this time around. Several marquee organizations, many with no realistic chance to pick high in the draft, will be watching—waiting to see how the outcome might affect the pursuit of superstars or the construction of superteams.

We have more than a month before the May 14 lottery takes place, but it's never too early to get a grip on what's hanging in the balance.

   

Holy Mount Zion

LAHAINA, HI - NOVEMBER 21: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils clinches his fist and lets out a yell after funking the ball during the second half of the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Lahaina Civic Center on November 21, 2018 in Lahaina,
Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Even if this year's lottery has implications beyond the draft itself, it'd still be ridiculous to discuss stakes without first highlighting Zion Williamson.

The Duke product is 2019's unquestioned draft gem, a physical marvel with a modern center's bulk and a guard's open-floor instincts. Even in an age when the most absurd hot take gets a measure of credence when shouted loudly enough, you can't find a blustery talking head willing to say anyone else should go first in this draft.

This year's flattened odds mean the New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers are tied for the best shot at Williamson. Whoever wins the lottery will have the option to get the only consensus cornerstone in the field...or, depending on that team's larger aims, a chip valuable enough to trade for one of the veteran variety.

This is where the Knicks' undisguised free-agent ambition comes in.

If New York wins the lottery, it could pair Williamson with two max-level signees—with many tabbing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as the most likely free agents to fill those slots. If the Knicks would rather skip the developmental phase, they could put their top selection on the block and see how interested the New Orleans Pelicans might be in swapping the right to draft Williamson for Anthony Davis.

Davis' 2020 free agency makes his acquisition a risk, but the Knicks would certainly gauge his willingness to re-sign before swinging a deal. And if AD wants superstar teammates, it'd be hard to top Durant and Irving, both of whom are firmly in their primes. From New Orleans' perspective, Williamson would represent the most valuable asset any team could offer: a potential superstar on a rookie-scale deal.

If the Knicks reach free agency with Williamson or Davis on the roster, and if Durant and Irving sign, you'd have to imagine ring-chasing veterans would line up for the chance to play on the first relevant Knicks team in years.

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 5: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics and Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the game on March 5, 2019 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

The fallout would be less league-altering if the Suns or Cavs won the lottery, though it'd be tough to tamp down the excitement in Phoenix with a Williamson-Devin Booker-Deandre Ayton core in place.

Imagine, though, if an unlikely late-lottery team bucked the odds and wound up with the chance to draft Williamson.

Zion and Trae Young in Atlanta, anyone?

What about Williamson, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis together for the next decade in Dallas?

Or Williamson giving Karl-Anthony Towns and the Wolves the kind of one-two punch Andrew Wiggins never did?

The Lakers have a 2 percent chance at the top pick. Williamson and LeBron James would be fun. But don't forget the Pelicans, another long shot for the No. 1 selection. If Williamson were on the way, might Davis rethink his desire to leave? Probably not, but at least the Pels could then move Davis knowing they had another transformative star on deck.

It's hard to overstate the rarity of a can't-miss prospect like Williamson potentially being traded. Usually, draftees of his ilk, insofar as there are any, are untouchable. But usually, there's not a Davis-level star dangling out there on the market.

   

Swap Meet Repercussions

MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 03:  Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics in action against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on April 03, 2019 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Several picks could change hands based on the lottery results, which adds an extra element of uncertainty to this year's proceedings.

Dallas will convey its first-rounder to the Hawks if it falls outside the top five. The Kings owe their first-rounder to the Sixers if it winds up first overall, but the Celtics get it otherwise. If Memphis has to send its top-eight protected pick to Boston, things get could get particularly interesting.

Let's say Boston, which already has the Clippers' first-rounder coming, also winds up with the Memphis and Sacramento picks. In that scenario, the Celtics' potential trade assets increase substantially, facilitating a massive offer for Davis.

If Irving opts out and leaves Boston in free agency, the Celtics' chances to land Davis probably diminish. But with a heap of first-rounders to trade, the Celtics could pivot to a youth-focused rebuild, adding pieces around the remaining core of Al Horford (who also has a player option), Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Depending on how the Celtics' picks shake out, they could be positioned well to make a competitive offer for Davis or, in the alternative, recover from Irving's departure.

   

Free-Agency Fallout

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 21: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers talks to Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans at the Wells Fargo Center on November 21, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and ag
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Procedurally, free agency is the last step in the offseason. But the tampering, back-channel communications and wink-wink agreements that pervade the regular season mean most teams will move forward from the lottery with a good idea of their options in July.

The Lakers are long shots to land the top pick, but just try to imagine the chaos that would ensue in free agency if LeBron James' team had that asset in the chamber. Last time James was in that situation, it resulted in Andrew Wiggins heading to Minnesota for Kevin Love. If the Lakers swapped the right to take Williamson for Davis or some other veteran, they'd immediately look better to potential free agents who might not be completely sold on teaming up with an aging James alone.

If the Kings buck the odds and win the lottery, the No. 1 overall pick would go to the Sixers, creating incalculable (and welcome) chaos for a team that has to navigate free-agent summers for Jimmy Butler (player option), Tobias Harris and JJ Redick. Engage with this hypothetical, and you can see Philadelphia's future changing immensely.

With Williamson on the way, the Sixers would have to consider trading Ben Simmons, a player with somewhat duplicative skills who also happens to be eligible for a five-year max extension in July. Williamson could step into the NBA and be a better player than Simmons immediately, to say nothing of the discrepancy in cost.

What if the Sixers offered Simmons, who attended LSU, to the Pelicans in a package for Davis?

The Sixers could go forward with a trio of Embiid, AD and Williamson, figuring out what to do with the rest of their free agents later. With that core, Philadelphia would surely have its pick of role-fillers on the market.

We're getting deep into the weeds now, but these are possibilities. And they all tie directly to how the lottery unfolds.

   

It's All Connected

The lottery used to seem uncomplicated: The worst teams finished at the top of it, and they drafted young talent so they could build a roster good enough to avoid being in that same situation again the following year.

Things could still play out that simply, but it's impossible to deny all the interconnected threads stretching from the lottery to free agency to the trade market to, well...just about everywhere. You need one of those A Beautiful Mind setups with diagrams and red string running all over the place to keep everything straight.

That high-profile organizations like the Knicks and Lakers are involved, and that the draft only represents the first phase of their massive plans, only expands the scope of the lottery's impact.

Typically, the lottery puts an end to uncertainty. It sets a clear draft order that lays out distinct paths for the teams it directly affects. This year, though, the lottery seems more likely to open up an even broader spectrum of potential outcomes.

It won't solidify anything so much as it'll create one of the least-predictable, most-fluid offseasons in memory.

       

Stats courtesy of Basketball ReferenceCleaning the Glass or NBA.com unless otherwise specified. Pick odds via Tankathon. Picks owed and incoming courtesy of Real GM. Accurate through games played Thursday, April 10.

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