WASHINGTON — In a few days, the disappointment will fade — honestly, it will — and reason will take over. In a few days — OK, maybe it’ll take a week — the reality that Zion Williamson is likely headed for Bourbon Street instead of Broadway will stop gnawing at you, and you will allow yourself to chew on three important facts:
1. The Knicks are already better right now than they were at the season’s end, and their future is already brighter, and their roster is already stronger.
2. RJ Barrett isn’t the sensation that his Duke teammate, Williamson, is, but on this day a year ago he was the presumptive No. 1 pick in this draft, and he was every bit the star Williamson was during his five-month college cameo, averaging exactly as many points (22.6), almost as many rebounds (8.9 to 7.6) and twice as many assists (4.3 to 2.1).
3. The real prize, always, was going to be — and remains — July 1, when the NBA’s free-agency sweepstakes begins, when the Knicks are expected to be real players with two elite players, and if you believe so much of the chatter that has been electrifying the league these past few months, Kevin Durant is a realistic target of those ambitions.
In a few days, these will be the consolation prizes.
Sure. It’s tough. You were teased. You were toyed with. You knew what the odds were. You knew that 14 percent was a pretty lousy payoff for all the rotten basketball you endured this year, and the cynic in you was all but certain that when the fifth-place team was revealed it was going to be the Knicks’ logo jumping out at you.
But when that fifth envelope was opened, it was Cleveland’s insignia.
And, well … maybe you started to dream then. There was a commercial break. There was a long, uneasy pause. When the telecast resumed, there was Patrick Ewing standing front and center with the other three representatives of the Pelicans, Grizzlies and Lakers.
Maybe the skeptic snuck out again:
The Lakers. Of COURSE it’s going to be the Lakers …
Except the next envelope that was opened, out tumbled the Lakers’ logo. And that was maybe when you started to believe. To really believe. That, maybe, was when you started to let your imagination get the better of you. In what everyone insists is a draft containing three game-changers — Williamson and Barrett of Duke, Ja Morant of Murray State — the Knicks were now assured one of them.
And now you could really dream. Now you could really allow yourself to believe. Now you could really …
And, well, that’s when the sad horns played. The envelope was opened. And there was the famous Knicks logo. The NBA’s new lottery system had yielded everything that Adam Silver could have asked for: several teams moving up. Several teams moving down. And a distinct message warning all future teams toying with tanking: it’s not worth it.
So, yes: maybe that’s where you stand this morning. Maybe the images you had of Zion in a No. 1 white-orange-and-blue uniform suddenly fading away kept you awake during the night, and will haunt you today, tomorrow too, maybe on to the weekend. It’s OK. This was as close to a playoff game as you’ve had in years. Losing stinks.
In a few days, you’ll feel better. Yes, Zion will almost certainly be a Pelican (and, who knows, may well be the force that makes Anthony Davis change his mind about staying in New Orleans). Ja will probably be a Grizzly, a franchise that has enjoyed 12 years of elite point-guard play from Mike Conley and will now likely draft his heir apparent.
But the Knicks will have Barrett, who some scouts insist is the better Duke player, who in most other years would’ve been Tuesday’s Grand Prize, who is every bit as appealing an asset for the Knicks to show off when they begin their most important recruiting pitches in years in less than two months. In a few days, that’ll make you feel better.
Honestly. It will.