SAN FRANCISCO – With the Warriors hugging the floor of the NBA and lining up a top-three pick in the draft lottery, Sunday afternoon brings an opportunity for them and their fans to share a flight of fantasy.
To spend a couple hours away from this abysmal season and allow their hearts and minds to drift off to the May 19 lottery in Chicago and the next 10 or so years.
The potential effect of the lottery will, after all, be right before their eyes.
When Zion Williamson bounds onto the floor at Chase Center, he will command immediate and constant attention from the Warriors. The No. 1 pick of the 2019 draft arrived in New Orleans as the latest reminder that sometimes all it takes is one pick to profoundly impact a franchise and even the entire league.
While Williamson missed the first half of the season while recuperating from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, the NBA wrapped its marketing wing in a Lakers flag, promoting every move LeBron James made or thought about making.
With Zion on the sideline, the Pelicans were 17-27. They’re 7-5 since his spectacular debut on Jan. 22.
“I’m just glad for him and for New Orleans that he’s healthy and playing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Saturday. ‘It’s great for the league. And, obviously, they’re playing good basketball right now.”
Understand, the 2020 draft does not offer a Zion, who, like LeBron James 16 years earlier, entered the league on a stream of breathless hype that seemed mythical.
Impact players will be available, though, and any of them likely would benefit from joining the Warriors and playing alongside the likes of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins.
Whereas Zion is considered the savior in New Orleans, much as LeBron was in Cleveland, the Warriors are not in need of such a dramatic entrance. They are, however, seeking someone capable of exciting them and their fans.
And, moreover, being a part of the core that takes the franchise through the new decade.
It could be James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 center/forward with the 7-5 wingspan who spent a couple hours at the University of Memphis and is drawing comparisons to Anthony Davis.
Or maybe it’s Anthony Edwards, the 6-5 guard from Georgia who has the physique and skills to become a 21st century Mitch Richmond.
A couple others are particularly intriguing: Onyeka Okongwu, a high-energy 6-9 power forward from USC, and Isaac Okoro, a 6-6, 225-pound wing who is a solid scorer and can defend at least three positions.
But here is one definitely worth remembering: Dayton’s Obi Toppin. A 6-9 power forward with a smooth and refined offensive game, he’s picking up front-office admirers and rising fast. The Warriors have spent considerable time evaluating him.
With lottery picks in the next two drafts, the Warriors have negotiated their way into position to select foundational players for their future. Thompson turned 30 this month. Green turns 30 next month, 10 days before Curry turns 32. They’re going to need an infusion of youth, and next season is a good time to start grooming them.
The desire to add Giannis Antetokounmpo notwithstanding, the Warriors also need someone who can fire up the fan base.
New Orleans has its guy. Zion’s presence has electrified a historically sluggish Pelicans fan base and captured the attention of the NBA. He’s featured in TV promotions. He’s being interviewed on the court after games. He’s captivating audiences at every stop the Pelicans make.
[RELATED: Toscano-Anderson looks to inspire Mexican NBA fans]
Zion plays with Curry’s joy and Green’s ferocity, and with a bounce that can hold up against that of Orlando Magic star Aaron Gordon.
“He’s just an incredible athlete,” Kerr said of Williamson. “It’s pretty rare that you see a guy come into the league and just jump off the screen athletically. In the NBA, almost everybody out there is an incredible athlete. Zion stands above the crowd, literally and figuratively.”
Well, not exactly. He’s 6-6, the same height as Draymond. But that hasn’t stopped Zion from being what every franchise yearns for in its efforts to satisfy all five levels: ownership, personnel, coaching staff, teammates and fans.
When the Warriors take the floor Sunday, they’ll be burdened with a 12-44 record. Ignore it. Consider it an investment. Focus instead on the future, beginning with those ping-pong balls on May 19.