If NBA commissioner Adam Silver were forced to gulp truth serum and jot down a list of teams, in order, that he had wanted to win Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery and thus get the rights to Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, here’s a general guess of how it would go:
1. New York
2. Los Angeles Lakers
11. (tie) Charlotte/Sacramento/Rio Grande Valley Vipers
14. (tie) Memphis/New Orleans/Do we still have a team in Vancouver?
Yet the teams that finished Nos. 1-2 and will get, presumably, the two prospects that scouts are most raving about, and fans and sponsors are most drooling over?
The New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies.
The two smallest markets in the league. The two least valuable franchises. Two cities that the NBA could basically treat like seat fillers at the Oscars — you’re lucky you get a team, but you’re only here because we’ve got an 82-game schedule and someone has to be the Washington Generals, so shut up or we’ll trick some other municipality into building us a new stadium.
Bourbon and Beale, that’s who won, not Hollywood and Midtown.
Heck, the Pelicans are so dysfunctional that their last No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Davis, is trying to get the heck out. Yet now here comes Zion?
So, once and for all, can we please put to rest the ridiculous concept that the NBA is “fixing” or “rigging” anything, or even that the supposed opinion from the league office actually carries any weight about anything, especially the draft lottery?
Conspiracy theories are fun and NBA conspiracy theories, because they are of low stakes and don’t impact the real world, are particularly fun.
They just aren’t true.
Even the most conspiratorially minded among us would admit that Silver is, at the very least, a competent commissioner. Many would rate his intelligence, acumen on the job and ability to get things done as far higher than that, actually.
Well, then why, if he is so good at everything else, would he be so bad at cheating the draft lottery that he wound up with Zion in New Orleans and Ja in Memphis?
Look, if he wanted this done for the Knicks or the Lakers, it would have gotten done.
Mind you, doing so would risk trading in a glamorous dream job that pays tens of millions per year for decades in federal prison while going down in history as an all-time sporting scoundrel. But hey, if you really believe he was that obsessed with helping New York, then why wouldn’t he actually accomplish it?
Would the NBA love for the biggest markets to win? Sure, probably. It's a business after all. Yet we have a final four this year that features Portland, Milwaukee and Toronto. Why didn’t the supposedly under-league-control referees help out Philadelphia and Boston? The Sixers needed, literally, one more loose-ball foul and they win Game 7. One. Didn't happen.
And yes, Golden State plays in its big Bay Area market, but how did the league fix it so the Warriors would build a dynasty? The three key players in their initial rise to power were drafted seventh overall (Steph Curry), 11th overall (Klay Thompson) and 35th overall (Draymond Green). Their coach came directly from TNT.
Sometimes the games are decided by smart front offices and how the ball (lottery or leather) bounces, or in the case of Kawhi Leonard, bounces and bounces and bounces and bounces.
And sometimes Memphis (6 percent) and New Orleans (6 percent) win a drawing overseen by Ernst & Young, and viewed in person by a representative of every lottery franchise, over the Knicks (14 percent) and the Bulls (12.5 percent) and so on.
Maybe Adam Silver so enjoys drinking potent hurricanes early in the morning on a downtown street that he’ll risk indictment to make sure New Orleans and Memphis, places that take civic pride in offering just such an experience, are relevant.
That’s about all the conspiracy folks have right now. Maybe they should put a G League team in Roswell.
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