The 1979 entries of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird into the N.B.A. were breathlessly awaited, given the prefabricated rivalry they developed while stalking each other along the way to the N.C.A.A. title game. Patrick Ewing, the prize of the first lottery in 1985, was hailed as a Knicks’ savior. At that point, the team’s championship drought had reached 12 years. Now it’s at 46, and counting.
For his part, Williamson suggested he would have been undaunted by New York had the Knicks, with their league-worst record, landed him.
“I don’t try to live up to nobody’s expectations,” he said. A noble thought, but along with the amplified news media, he would have been dealing with the baggage of the franchise’s two most recent calamitous decades and a front office that, while not responsible for creating the carnage, has essentially proved nothing to date, notably in the development of young talent.
Conventional thought would argue that true greatness will emerge anywhere, even in unstable conditions. But N.B.A. history is littered with touted draft picks who flamed out fast or had marginal careers. Given the hopes for Williamson as the next breakout star and TV ratings magnet, better for him and the league to optimize his apprenticeship.
In New Orleans, David Griffin, newly installed as the executive vice president of basketball operations for the Pelicans, arrived in April with the imprimatur of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 championship team — just in time for the fortuitous lottery roll. Asked what Griffin had told him during their pre-draft meeting, Williamson said, “It would not only be a business, they would make it like joining a family.”
Griffin’s powers of family persuasion didn’t work on Davis. Williamson doesn’t have a choice. But he will. And if Griffin’s early work on the roster is any indication, the waiting may not be so difficult after all.