Because we wanted Zion Williamson to go to New York so we could care about the Knicks again, their 3rd pick in the draft deprived us of what we have been waiting for since Carmelo left town. R.J. Barrett is good enough if he is drafted by New York. He has the talent to rebound, finish inside and outside. But he isn’t going to be the reason the Knicks have an instant rebuild and he isn’t an iconic young talent to watch develop. Even if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant sign in New York, Zion would still have been the X-factor because he is a mystery, a player who has not played one single NBA minute and yet everyone thinks he is a walking Hall of Famer. Can he live up to the hype in a city that hypes everything and then buries whoever cannot live up to the expectations?
Now that the Zion and Knicks marriage is over before it started, we are left in a place we didn’t want to be in. In their history, there is nothing about NOLA basketball that is inspiring. They couldn’t do anything with Chris Paul. They couldn’t do anything with Anthony Davis. They fired the best coach they ever had in Monty Williams. Now they have to start all over again with Zion Williamson.
On the bright side, Davis leaving will bring talent and the Pelicans can possibly have a Seattle/OKC reboot, a Durant came first, then Russell Westbrook came second, and then James Harden third kind of trajectory. Or, it could all be a disaster as failed attempt after failed attempt reminds us this is New Orleans, which is why everyone is so disappointed in the first place.
Zion deserves to be in a market big enough to handle his ginormous talent. But the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. In the last ten years, three number one picks went to big markets (Los Angeles and Philadelphia). 7 went to smaller markets like Cleveland and Minnesota.
None of the last 10 number one picks, with maybe the exception of Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid, are seen as next level freak of nature All-Stars. That’s Zion. We had expectations for him. As LeBron James is aging, it is time for someone new that LeBron can pass the baton to. LeBron in Los Angeles and Zion in New York- while it wasn’t Magic in Bird on opposite coasts- it was similar.
Zion will never be just another NBA player. He is going to be watched, dissected, adored, commercialized, copied, criticized, panned, trolled, cheered for. He knows he is a rookie and that expectations have to stay reasonable. In that sense, New Orleans may be a life send. He won’t have that glaring media eye on him. It makes it harder for us because having to pay attention to NOLA is time consuming. It isn’t easy and that’s what this was all supposed to be about. Easy. Seamless. Zion in New York was effortless and it seemed destined to happen. The Knicks needed him more than he needed the Knicks.
Zion can and will thrive wherever he is. He is that good. His stardom won’t hinge on not playing in New York, just the opposite. Because he has been deprived of the ins and outs of New York basketball he will be fetishized more, not less. He will be an urban myth. Remember when the Knicks almost had Zion Williamson.
And then they didn’t.