Duke Basketball: Zion Williamson should dictate his NBA destination

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Deciding for himself which franchise he will join would be the best bet for Zion Williamson to quickly become the greatest NBA player the Duke basketball program has ever produced.

As the most uniquely talented prospect in the history of the game, former Duke basketball freakshow Zion Williamson holds so many cards — all of them, in fact — that he doesn’t have to allow ping-pong balls to decide his fate.

However, before the NBA holds its draft lottery on Tuesday night — so as not to come across as a total jerk to fans of whatever franchise sees the ping-pong balls bounce in its favor — the 6-foot-7, 285-pound Mars native and presumptive No. 1 overall pick could go ahead and announce he will only play for the franchise he decides is his best fit.

So what if some would call him a slew of ugly names for overriding the process?

He would hear some of those same names should he end up falling short of expectations in the short-term as a result of ending up with an incompetent franchise — not naming names, but several such franchises are among those with high probabilities of ending up with the first pick.

So if Williamson wants to potentially maximize his exposure in the media while befriending New Yorkers by taking on the challenge of helping the Knicks win their first title since 1973, then he has the option to make that happen (he has said on several occasions he wouldn’t mind playing in the Big Apple).

If he instead prefers to play alongside and learn from LeBron James in Los Angeles, then he has the option to make that happen.

Heck, if he desires to join the Golden State Warriors in order to essentially ensure a ring on his finger before he’s old enough to drink — he’ll still be 18 when the draft occurs on June 20 — then he also has that option.

All Williamson has to do is let it be known he will refuse to don any jersey other than the one he chooses, thereby forcing a trade prior to the draft; furthermore, he can even influence the terms of such a trade in order to ensure the team he ends up on does not end up with a depleted roster as a result of the trade.

What’s the NBA going to do to stop him from usurping its power in deciding the method to choose which team will benefit from his services? Tell him to take his talents overseas?

If that happened, then the league would lose out on a too-many-digits-to-count amount of revenue from not being able to sell millions of his jerseys next season; also, it would lose out on advertising dollars that are sure to come from a Zion-boost to TV ratings.

In other words, the NBA needs Zion more than Zion needs the NBA.

Many of the biggest names in the NBA have openly agreed that Williamson will likely be the biggest thing to happen to professional basketball in at least more than a decade.

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Besides, Williamson wouldn’t be the first teenager to dictate his destination — cue tape of Kobe Bryant slapping the Charlotte Hornets in the face by immediately demanding a trade to the Lakers following the draft in 1996. He also wouldn’t be the first former Duke basketball player to reject a franchise that drafted him — cue tape of Danny Ferry deciding to play overseas for a year instead of playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, the franchise that picked him in 1989.

Unlike Ferry, though, if worst came to worst with Williamson having to play somewhere outside the United States for a year — just a hypothetical as this would never happen — the cameras and endorsements would still follow his every move.

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No matter what continent Williamson is on, talking heads will constantly talk about him while his shoes fly off the shelves due to his ability to fly, his humility, his sense of humor in interviews, his unselfishness on and off the court, his awareness on the court, his otherworldly passing ability, his potentially ball-popping blocks, his knack for intercepting opponents’ passes, his infectious energy, his diesel frame, his LeBron-like presence, his guard-like quickness, his ability to play up to five positions, his deft touch in the paint, and even his better-than-advertised stroke from downtown (from the start of ACC play through Duke’s loss to Michigan State in the Elite Eight last season, Williamson made 40 percent of his 3-point attempts).

Sure, if Williamson announces he’ll only accept playing for the team of his choosing, then whichever franchise ends up with the first pick would likely be upset — unless, of course, it happens to be Willamson’s choice — and could retaliate by picking him anyway and refusing to trade him to the team of his choosing just to see if he’s bluffing.

If he wasn’t bluffing, though, then that franchise would have nothing to show for its No. 1 pick and instantly become the butt of jokes for decades to come.

Or the franchise with the first pick could choose not to trade its pick to Williamson’s favorite franchise and pick someone else instead — such as Ja Morant or fellow Dukie R.J. Barrett — causing Williamson’s initial contract to take a hit by his sliding down the draft board. But considering said contract will be chump-change when compared to his endorsement contracts, it’s not as if Williamson wouldn’t still be able to purchase mansions for himself and all of his favorite family members.

The list of obvious benefits to Williamson from choosing what city he plays in is long:

  • He can end up living in a climate he likes the best.
  • He can end up playing for a coach he thinks will make the best use of his talents.
  • He can end up playing alongside teammates he thinks will best complement his game.
  • He can end up with a GM he thinks will make the best decisions to put him in the best position to win for years to come.
  • He can end up wearing the jersey he thinks would look the best on him.
  • He can end up increasing his chances of staying in one place for his entire career, thereby totally ingratiating himself with one fanbase.
  • Etc.

Look, it’s no secret that recent history has not been all that collectively kind to those who walk across the stage first on draft night.

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For starters, only two of the past 31 No. 1 draft picks — Tim Duncan and Kyrie Irving — have won an NBA title during their initial stint with the franchise that picked them. And about a third of those 31 picks have fallen miles short of expectations that come with going No. 1 — which may not have happened in every instance had it not been for landing on a team with clueless coaches and management.

In reality, Williamson is far too nice of a guy to do what I have proposed in this article. That being said, I worry his potential downfall could be his penchant for pleasing the masses by refraining from making controversial and seemingly selfish decisions.

And as a lifelong Duke basketball fan who has grown tired of UNC fans having bragging rights when it comes to the list of all-time NBA greats and who has always dreamed to one day see a former Blue Devil surpass former Tar Heel Michael Jordan as the best to ever play the game — as well as not wanting to see my all-time favorite player to watch fall victim to a franchise that is not worthy to have him — I fully admit that I wrote this article for selfish reasons.

Ultimately, though, I don’t care where Zion lands or what he does to get there, so long as it is where he wants to be.

Next. Which franchise is the best fit for Zion?. dark

But there would be no shame in Zion choosing his destination. After all, everything about him has earned him that right.