The league won Tuesday night.
Sure, basketball life in the Big Easy may never be the same after the New Orleans Pelicans landed the top pick in the draft and a chance to select man-child Zion Williamson, but the NBA was the clear-cut winner in the latest high-stakes game of chance.
“The league doesn’t want teams early in the season to stop playing, so it got what it wanted, and I think that’s a good thing for the league,’’ Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. “Look at what happened. From a league perspective, they have to be thrilled about how it turned out from the excitement of it.
“I had a feeling something odd was going to happen, and it did.’’
Odd? Yes. Beneficial for Paxson and the Bulls? Not even close.
In finishing with the fourth-worst record, the Bulls watched any chance at Williamson or point guard Ja Morant go by the boards with the announcement of the seventh slot in the draft.
“First of all, it’s not catastrophic,’’ Paxson told the Sun-Times.
But it was the NBA telling its franchises that tanking is no longer a sustainable form of life.
Of the three teams that played the tanking card — the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns — only the Knicks finished in the top three of the lottery, and they only got the third pick.
A cruel gut punch, considering No. 3 is where many scouts think this draft suffers a drastic drop-off.
But maybe most important, the NBA has come up with yet another prime-time drama to captivate audiences every May.
This draft lottery proved to be must-see TV, the ultimate reality show with unforeseen twists and turns.
The Pelicans saw their franchise change on Tuesday, but it was the NBA that won the night.
• David Griffin, New Orleans Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations — So you still want to leave, Anthony Davis? That’s a question Griffin can boldly ask his All-Star big man, especially with Davis (left) potentially having Zion Williamson as a running partner. And if Davis still wants out, the blow of losing him was softened with New Orleans having a chance to flip him for more assets to jump-start its rebuild.
• Memphis Grizzlies — The payroll is still a disaster, but having the No. 2 pick and a shot at Ja Morant offers up a chance to start the rebuild much quicker. Mike Conley (right) and the $67 million he’s owed for two more years, anyone?
• Los Angeles Lakers — Rather than having the 11th overall pick to package for more potential big-name talent, Showtime jumped up to No. 4. The plot thickens.
• Bulls point guard Kris Dunn — Ja who?
• New York Knicks — RJ Barrett (left) could end up being an All-Star for years to come, but what the Knicks did this season was no secret. They cleared the decks for two max players in free agency and were hoping to land Williamson with the No. 1 pick. All eyes are forced to turn to July.
• 14-percenters — The Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns each had a 14 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick — the best odds in the lottery. Failure for all three.
• Conspiracy theories — So the NBA only wants the biggest stars in major markets? That ridiculous theory took another big hit.
• Bulls fans — Top free agents are hard to come by, especially for this organization. The Bulls have had to grow their stars in-house. Williamson or Morant would’ve continued in that direction, but in Zion’s case, he also could’ve been the ultimate recruiter for something bigger down the road. That dream died Tuesday night.