Predictability wasn’t exactly the calling card of the National Basketball Association yesterday. True, the Warriors proved true to form and ran roughshod over the Blazers. Having had to endure a quick turnaround from a semifinal-round-series do-or-die affair to Game One of the conference finals, the latter looked too physically and emotionally drained to compete with consistency against the defending champions. Then again, perhaps some semblance of order was, well, in order following a draft lottery that shook probabilities and had oddsmakers scrambling in reaction.
Indeed, the NBA’s rules changes to prevent tanking wound up dropping the Knicks, erstwhile mathematical favorites to land the top pick in the rookie draft next month, to third. Suddenly, all the planning that had them partnering presumptive pick Zion Williamson with projected free-agent pickups Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving fell by the wayside. Such is the drop in incoming talent two spots down that, for the blue and orange, prognoses of a fifth appearance in the playoffs over 19 years, and the first since 2013, suddenly became murky.
In stark contrast, the Pelicans found their future much brighter after somehow catapulting from seventh to first in the draft. They already had Lady Luck smile on them last month in moving a spot ahead of the Mavericks, who likewise held the seventh-worst regular-season record, and the double jump had pundits speculating if resident star Anthony Davis would consider staying to fortify their status as contenders. Coincidentally, the Lakers likewise benefited from the way the ping-pong balls bounced, catapulting to fourth from 11th in the draft order and leading general manager Rob Pelinka to acknowledge the possibility of using it as a tool to pair another marquee name with LeBron James.
How the lottery shockers will impact the league landscape remains to be seen. The fact that there are too many moving parts to make a definitive assessment at this stage figures to fuel speculation. Will Durant think twice about heading to New York? Will Irving want to go to Brooklyn instead? Will Davis no longer pine to leave given Williamson’s presence? Or will a desired union with James come closer to fruition in light of the Lakers’ trade chip? All these, and much more, will dominate discussion off the court even as the action on it waxes and wanes. There are the games, and there are the games around games. No wonder the NBA is fan-tastic.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.