The NBA's Future: Big-Market Superteams vs. Rising Stars

The NBA's Future: Big-Market Superteams vs. Rising Stars

Zion Williamson of the Duke Blue Devils dunks the ball against the Syracuse Orange during their game in the quarterfinal round of the 2019 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 14, 2019, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

SourceStreeter Lecka/Getty

Why you should care

Zion Williamson going to New Orleans — and not New York — is good for the league.

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“Let me taste your tears, New York.” That’s what we imagine Pelicans fans said between celebratory Sazeracs after New Orleans’ NBA draft lottery win Tuesday night. The Pelicans’ 13th-place Western Conference finish this season, thanks to superstar forward Anthony Davis’ decision to hold the franchise hostage by demanding a trade, paid off with the opportunity to draft phenom forward Zion Williamson. Now New Orleans can either convince Davis to stay or trade him for more young assets. With the No. 2 pick, the Memphis Grizzlies can draft their point guard of the future, Murray State’s Ja Morant. Meanwhile, major-market clubs like the Knicks (No. 3) and Lakers (No. 4) came up short in what looks to be a top-heavy draft. And the league is so much better for it.

Beyond the fact that Williamson and Morant are ideal basketball fits with the Pelicans and Grizzlies, respectively, the lottery results will spread more marquee talent into markets that desperately need attention. If you’re a conspiracymonger, it’s the inverse of then-Commissioner David Stern (allegedly) rigging the 1985 lottery for New York. Big-market teams will be fine; the Knicks, Lakers, Nets, Clippers and other behemoths can battle over pricey, superteam-obsessed free agents. Meanwhile, the sheer titillating newness of Zion and Ja will captivate fans like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook did in Oklahoma City a decade ago. Current playoff teams like Milwaukee, Toronto and Portland are proof that premier talent can lift any franchise to championship contention. Williamson and Morant are coming, Big Apple be damned.

The NBA might be better when the Knicks are relevant, but relevance doesn’t mean they have to win.

What to Watch & Pick ’Em

San Jose Sharks at St. Louis Blues, Game 4 Friday at 8:00pm ET on NBC Sports

After the Sharks took Game 3 in St. Louis in overtime, the Blues face a crucial test to reclaim home ice advantage and knot the NHL’s Western Conference finals at 2-2.

  • Sharks (+110)
  • Blues (-135)

Dominic Breazeale vs. Deontay Wilder, WBC Heavyweight Title, Saturday at 10:00pm ET on Showtime

A long-standing feud between two fighters who, in 2017, brawled in the lobby of an Alabama hotel will be settled in the ring — with Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) the heavy favorite.

  • Wilder (-1000)
  • Breazeale (+600)

Ones to Watch

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Rob Labritz at the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey.

Source Scott Halleran/PGA/Getty

Rob Labritz. Unless you’re an avid fan of New York state amateur golf, or a member at GlenArbor Golf Club, you’ve probably never heard of Labritz. Well, that’s about to change. Labritz, 47, is the club pro at GlenArbor and three-time winner of the New York State Open, held annually at Bethpage Black, the site of this weekend’s PGA Championship. That wealth of experience will go a long way toward keeping him in the hunt in his sixth career PGA Championship. No golfer on tour knows this course better than Labritz. He was the only club professional to make the cut at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, where he finished 68th. After a rough first day, can the 2500:1 longshot steal enough strokes to make the weekend cut — and become a New York media darling in the process?

Belinda Bencic. After a successful 2018 that saw Bencic rebound from a 2017 wrist injury, the 22-year-old Swiss star has continued her scorching play through the first five months of 2019. Ranked No. 55 on the WTA Tour to start the year, Bencic has played her way up to No. 15 heading into next week’s French Open. In addition to winning the Dubai Tennis Championships in February, Bencic has made three semifinals this year, including an early-May run at the Madrid Open, where she defeated world No. 1 Naomi Osaka before falling to No. 3 Simona Halep in the semifinals. A tall, powerful right-hander with exquisite form — much like her countrymen Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka — Bencic will be a force to reckon with at Roland-Garros when play begins May 26.

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Belinda Bencic of Switzerland celebrates a match victory in 2018 in Perth, Australia.

Source Paul Kane/Getty

Trending Up

A clash of world football elitism. Fresh off the most thrilling Champions League semifinals in recent history, two troubling reports have many — both in and outside of European soccer — scratching their heads. First, per documents obtained by The New York Times, UEFA has proposed restructuring the Champions League into an elitist event that will leave out most of Europe. In short, 24 of the world’s top clubs will advance to the 32-team group stage, skipping domestic rounds and eliminating many of the chaotic upsets that make the tournament so exciting. Under this new system, Ajax — the Dutch club that made a miracle run to this year’s semis — would likely not have qualified for competition. Then, on Monday, reports surfaced that UEFA investigators will recommend Manchester City, one of the richest teams in the world, be suspended from Champions League play for one year for evading European soccer’s spending limits. Owned by Emirati Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Man City just won the English Premier League and would be a Champions League favorite in 2020. UEFA may want to guarantee its cash cows succeed, but a power struggle is clearly underway off the pitch.

Trending Down

Tar Heel hockey ennui. Though they were swept by hockey blue bloods in the form of the Boston Bruins, the Carolina Hurricanes ripped off a playoff run against the odds. From a thrilling seven-game first-round triumph over the defending champion Washington Capitals to a sweep of the New York Islanders, the Hurricanes outperformed more expensive clubs. This season, Carolina spent only 78.6 percent of the NHL’s $79.5 million salary cap, by far the lowest of any conference finalist in the past eight years. The next closest was Los Angeles’ 93.2 percent in 2012–13. In fact, the Hurricanes had the lowest payroll in the league this season. Ultimately, it was a strategy that worked. This playoff run has galvanized Hurricanes fans; by mid-April the Canes already had $2.5 million committed for new business in season ticket sales for next year. At the same time last year, they were at $400,000.

Read This

She Survived Cancer to Thrive in the WNBA. Now She Runs a Spa by Brendon Kleen in OZY

Jessica Breland spent her junior season at UNC receiving regular doses of chemotherapy, and conquered pro hoops anyway. Turns out the ups and downs of fighting cancer were the perfect prep for running a small business.

Ladarius Miller Left Memphis Seven Years Ago. Now He Wants to Bring Boxing Glory Back by Drew Hill in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

At 17, Ladarius Miller boarded a bus in Memphis, headed to Las Vegas with no connections and no professional fights under his belt. Now, he returns with a contract with Mayweather Promotions, a 19-1 record and a main event in the city that made him.

Welcome to the World of Competitive, Intercollegiate Meat Judging Mike Piellucci in Sports Illustrated

Recruiting and rivalries. Championships and iconic coaches. Sounds like just another day in the Big 12 — but this is a sport unlike any other. What exactly is the high-steaks world of competitive meat judging? Think college football in a cooler.

Left in the Wake of the NCAA Bribery Scandal Nightmare by Mirin Fader in B/R Mag

Brian Bowen was a five-star recruit on the fast track to NBA stardom. Tony Bland was a master recruiter and rising head coaching candidate. Then the FBI came knocking. A few years later, they’re still picking up the pieces.

Don’t Miss

Debut homer, anyone? Highly touted third base/outfield prospect Austin Riley did not disappoint in his major league debut for Atlanta on Wednesday. The 22-year-old was the 41st overall pick of the 2015 MLB draft, and he’s slugged .505 with 86 home runs in 463 games across parts of five minor league seasons. With a nonchalant homerun trot, he looks like a regular.

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