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Dan Bickley

In bleak Phoenix sports scene, Zion to the Suns would be a shot of hope

(AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

The Coyotes have faded. The Hotshots have folded. The Suns are limping to the finish line. The Diamondbacks are staggering from the gate. Sometimes the only thing to cheer is fear itself.

But we have another shot at redemption.

With their loss on Wednesday, the Suns thankfully secured a bottom-tier ranking in the NBA draft lottery staged May 15. They will have a 14 percent chance of securing the No. 1 pick, just like the Knicks and Cavaliers. They could become just the third franchise to win consecutive draft lotteries, and this year’s prize is Zion Williamson, the most valuable player to enter the league since LeBron James.

Suns fans are rolling their eyes in unison. We could never be so lucky.

Our lack of faith is a strange phenomenon. The Valley could conceivably welcome two of the most anticipated rookies in history – Duke’s Williamson and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray. One is a basketball star with a NFL body, one of the rare household names to join the NBA in years. The other is an underdog QB who looks more like a point guard than a football player. They could extend a series of high-profile rookie rollouts in Arizona, topping last year’s tandem of Deandre Ayton and Josh Rosen.

The thought makes my palms sweat.

The Suns badly need a power forward. Williamson has the ferocity missing from Ayton, last year’s No. 1 pick. He has a freakish combination of size and athleticism. He is destined to compile a career full of Hall of Fame highlights, dunks and blocked shots. He could join a lineup featuring Ayton, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That has my attention.

Even if the Suns finish second in the draft lottery, they still win big. They can select Murray State’s Ja Morant, an elite point guard who slices, dissects and jumps over people. He is like Russell Westbrook, only different. Or they could trade that pick for an established veteran.

But this is also Phoenix, Arizona. We are not Titletown. We are a one-title town. Our sports bars cater to infidels. There is an all-encompassing sense of fatalism, a belief that leagues conspire against us (at worst) or don’t care about us (at best). As a result, we have no shot at winning the services of Ayton, Murray and Williamson is in the span of 12 months.

That’s too much fortune for a region weaned on failure, and most believe Williamson will end up in Madison Square Garden, conveniently and inevitably, just like Patrick Ewing many years ago.

It’s frightening how many fans believe the NBA draft lottery is a shell game, rigged inside league headquarters. It’s remarkable the NBA keep growing in popularity amid such suspicions. But the skepticism is real and pervasive in many cities, particularly Phoenix, where our persecution complex was fueled by former NBA Commissioner David Stern.

That’s why this draft lottery is important for the NBA and our local NBA franchise. If the Knicks don’t win, it will be a crushing defeat for all conspiracy theorists. And if the Suns some prevail, winning another draft lottery championship and adding Williamson to their current mix, they will go from most dysfunctional to most interesting team overnight.

At the very least, the Suns are in the game. Even if we could never be so lucky.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier