CHICAGO — The Knicks are back in an all-too-familiar spot, readying for the NBA Draft Lottery Tuesday night and hoping for a change of fortune.
Executive vice president William Wesley, a longtime confidant of team president Leon Rose, has been picked to represent the Knicks at the event.
It’s surprising because Wesley is a silent partner publicly. He hasn’t spoken with the media once in his two years with the team after a long run helping to secure clients for CAA and Rose. But he has been visible traveling with the team on many of the road trips this season and notably when disagreeing with referees’ calls. He sat front row to watch the Mavericks and Jazz in the opening round of the playoffs when Jalen Brunson and Donovan Mitchell — two players he has long connections with and has been rumored to be trying to get to New York — were facing off.
Can Wesley “recruit” a jump in the lottery, changing the fortunes of the Knicks? They have been in the event 17 times since winning it in 1985 and have never moved up once, falling backward seven times. They sit with the 11th-worst record and slim odds of moving up — 2% to grab the top spot and 9.4% to jump from 11 into the top four picks.
There have been teams that have jumped from the back end of the lottery, and even since the odds have been changed to prevent tanking and help teams with the four worst records, there has been movement into the top spots. The Pelicans jumped from No. 7 to first in 2019, the first year of the new format, passing the Knicks. Memphis also jumped the Knicks, who had the worst record, costing them a shot at Ja Morant. Last year the Charlotte Hornets held the 11th spot with similar odds format and held there.
There was some movement, with the Pistons jumping from the second spot to the first pick, the Cleveland Cavaliers rising from fifth to third and the Toronto Raptors shifting from seventh to fifth. The last time a team moved from as far back as 11th to the top spot was in 1993, when Orlando made the jump to get Chris Webber.
The Knicks have filled this seat often with former stars. Dave DeBusschere, a champion as a player, was the Knicks’ GM in 1985 when he pounded his fist in celebration as the Knicks got the top pick and the chance to select Patrick Ewing. But the likes of John Starks, Walt Frazier and Allan Houston have experienced disappointment in lottery luck.
So this time it’s Wesley on the stage. Brock Aller, vice president, basketball and strategic planning, will be in the drawing room where the actual lottery is conducted with the Ping-Pong balls being drawn.
While the Knicks certainly need help, it is that strategic planning that might be the most important aspect of their future right now. The team has put together a young core, including a lot of players who will have to be paid if they are going to remain in place, such as unrestricted free agent Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett, who is eligible for a pricey extension that could be worth as much as $181 million over five seasons.
Rose and the Knicks’ front office have taken care to hold on to their picks and also stockpile second-round selections, but they are running out of space — and likely patience for a win-now fan base — for rookies and other young players with only so many rotation spots available. While Wesley is believed to have been pushing for a star to join the team, the Knicks have no cap room to pursue a free agent and would have to either make moves to clear cap space or work a sign-and-trade deal.