The pain from Kawhi Leonard’s quadruple doinker still feels fresh. Our fandom wounds, still bleeding, haven’t even had a chance to fester or scab yet. Pretzels I nervously ate during the game are now salty crumbs on my floor I was (am) too demoralized to clean, a stale reminder of anguish. Sure, learning that the Sixers players largely all spoke highly at exits of head coach Brett Brown was nice. And that Brown finally received an endorsement from ownership last night that he’ll be back next season may have helped a little bit too. But the agony of defeat is still as fresh as a spring shower. But there is no time to ruminate. The NBA Draft Lottery is tonight.
It’s a monster one with monster ramifications on everything NBA related. Because of Duke’s Zion Williamson, the prospect with the most expectation since LeBron James, its results will dramatically alter the landscape of the NBA, its power dynamic, and shift billions of dollars and plenty of wins from one city to another. It could impact which team Kevin Durant goes to or who his teammates are, it could impact where Anthony Davis plays next. It could impact where Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris play next season.
With our title borrowed from Meek Mill, let’s get into some dream and nightmare scenarios for tonight.
What do you want first the good news or the bad news? The bad news? OK.
I started off by listing out how it might sort of stink if the Hawks or Bulls or Heat landed Zion. You’d have a young scrappy team, lob-city 2.0 (Atlanta), a team with talent who is in a city that has a chance to lure some free agents (Chicago) and Pat Riley (Heat) who is always a winner. But then I started to think about it harder. And I deleted all of those. The truth is, there are really only a couple of absolute nightmare scenarios for the Sixers here. And they’re all similar.
3) The Lakers win the lottery
The Lakers are really a joke right now. They’re wonderfully non-threatening, far away in the Western Conference, and mired in controversy and apparent incompetence. They have been as bad as any team in the league over the last 6 years and that includes the Process Sixers. But if they landed Zion, LeBron and Anthony Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, could try to work out a trade where Zion is traded to the Pelicans for Davis. Whether they kept Zion or acquired The Brow, it would make L.A. one of the hottest free agent markets come July. Guys like Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, would all have to at least strongly consider their offers. This would be more than annoying. This would be very bad because of the increased risk they could woo one of the Sixers’ own free agents.
2) The Knicks win the Lottery
The Sixers have done so much to build a title window around the next 3-4 years. There should be no scenario more nauseating for Sixers fans tonight than the Knicks -who have always been the biggest train-wreck of a franchise in the entire NBA over the last 20 years- winning the lottery. If New York is able to pair Kevin Durant with Zion Williamson, (or trade Zion for Davis) and also sign another max-level player they would be finals favorites. Imagine that? Watching Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid lose in the playoffs to Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and either Kyrie Irving or worse... Jimmy Butler and hearing about how The Process was always dumb and James Dolan had the better plan would be far harder to live than a four-bouncer by Kawhi Leonard. And it’s not even close. Knowing that the Knicks might very well have now blocked the Sixers’ clearest path to the NBA Finals for the exact 3-4 year window Philadelphia just targeted to win is truly a horrifying possibility.
Just Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving? They’d have a lot of trouble beating the Sixers’ current core. Add in Zion or The Brow and scales probably tip in their favor; especially if Philadelphia were to lose a key player or two this July.
In fact, it would be so bad for the Sixers that the next scenario includes New York as well....
1) The Knicks win the lottery and the Celtics get the 2nd pick and the Lakers get the third pick
Some Sixers fans would actually die if this happened. Because if this were to occur it would mean there was a full-commercial break where you knew the Sixers/Celtics pick (acquired by Sam Hinkie in the Sauce Castillo trade, and then sent off to Boston by Bryan Colangelo for Markelle Fultz but protected for pick one) had moved up. You would have about one or two full minutes to watch Nike, Apple, Gatorade, and Kia Sorenta commercials knowing you either won Zion or your fiercest rival won Zion and Boston got a top 2 or 3 pick. Your absolute nightmare or your ultimate dream, read allowed by Adam Silver’s Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum. And in this scenario, your hopes are high and then you lose.
That’s it. That’s the one. The ultimate Philadelphia hellscape fantasy. Demon goats. Horned chickens. Slim Reapers. Evil leprechauns. Ringer articles about Steve Mills and Danny Ainge being smart. Entitled and empowered Lakers, Celts and Knicks fans on twitter saying stuff for years. Always wondering if it were rigged. And then accepting that for a handful of weeks you’ll wonder if they’re not also going to steal Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris now.
Let’s get to a happier place, shall we?
2) Memphis, Phoenix, Cleveland, Minnesota, Charlotte wins the lottery, Boston does not move up
It may not feel this way right now, but in case I have not been clear enough...the sense of relief Sixers fans should feel if the Knicks don’t win the lottery is a dream, in and of itself. If Zion were to plop harmlessly in one of these non-free agent destination cities it would be wonderful.
You probably have not done so, but allow yourself to picture for a moment: it’s next season, you flip on a Friday night game on ESPN or League Pass, and it’s Memphis hosting the Pistons, some broadcaster is describing how important it has been for Zion to have Mike Conley as a mentor. You bat your eyes to keep yourself awake. And then you flip open Twitter and see Jaren Jackson Jr. block a shot and Zion dunk it at the other and you retweet it. That was fun. And you go back to sleep. It’s like flipping on an episode of How I Met Your Mother or Impractical Jokers and giggling lazily as you doze off, knowing yes, you’re home. You’re. Still. Safe. Allow yourself to celebrate these events because you dodged some horrifying bullets.
1) Sixers win the lottery
Untold glory. The Sixers owners may not expect to win the lottery this evening. But if you think of what would happen to the value of their organization and investment and their own legacy if the former GM they hired, Sam Hinkie delivered a trade that brought Zion to Philly 4 years later... they’d all be heroes because of Sam’s vision. Their investment would sky-rocket in value. The Sixers would shoot up those annual Forbes rankings. They’d win titles. If you had a power-ball ticket for a few billion dollars but knew you had a 1/100 chance at it, instead of the normal 1/billion chance at it, you would be wise to take several valium the day of the drawing. One out of one hundred is not nothing. You probably know 100 people. Imagine if one of them at random won a few billion dollars. The odds aren’t too small to dream about for a couple of hours.
All those silly things that Bill Simmons thought would happen to the Celtics last summer, would happen for the Sixers this coming year. 67 wins. Lots of high-fiving. Lots of standing around celebrating because the 12th man dunked. And you will bask in eternal glory all summer long imagining the possibilities, and not even worrying as much if they kept each free-agent. Because you, my friends, are all winners. You believed in The Process when few others did. The Process was always for winners.