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Division rivals get stronger, but it could have been a lot worse

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Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

As night fell on Manhattan, Knick fans gathered in bars and friends' homes for Lottery viewing parties.  Their long, 17-win season would be worth it all if they got one of the top two picks and either Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor.  Shortly before 9, it all came crashing down.

Instead of choosing between two very good big men at No. 1 or taking the one left at No. 2, the Knicks will be faced with taking a player who their fans (at least) see as a lesser light --a player like Emmanuel Mudiay, Kristaps Porzingis, Justise Winslow, even Mario Hezonja -- or trading the pick.

Meanwhile in Philly, they had no problem with staying at No. 3. Towns and Okafor didn't hold much lure for them. They already have Nerlens Noel, one the NBA's top rookies, and the oft-injured but highly talented Joel Embiid. Taking D'Angelo Russell, the Ohio State point guard, was always the smart move ... and taking him at No. 3 instead of No. 1 or 2 will save them millions of dollars over the course of his rookie contract.

But there was disappointment as well. If things had broken just so, they could have walked out of the New York Hilton with the Nos. 1, 6 (Lakers) and 11 (Heat) picks. Chances of that happening were less thn one-third of one percent but fans can dream.

In other words, the Atlantic Division got stronger on Tuesday, but for the Nets it could have been much, much worse. The Knicks still have good options, but this won't be a month long fan fest as Knick partisans argue over which giant to take.  Now, its about angst.  What to do, what to do?

The angst of course is misplaced. Mudiay, Porzingis, Winslow and Hezonja all have the skillset and vibe to do well in New York.  Sure, there are issues.  Mudiay played in China (with Yi Jianlian) and not that many games. He's a bit of a mystery.  After drafting Frederic Weis ahead of Ron Artest and trading three picks -- including next year's No. 1 -- for Andrea Bargnani, the Knicks, and particularly their fans, have an (illogical) aversion to the big international center. And truth be told, he's probably two years away.  Winslow could be the steal of the draft. Same with Hezonja, the young Croatian. But they play the same position as Carmelo Anthony. (Moving Melo to the 4 is one alternative, but that would take a heavier toll on the soon to be 31-year-old).

Trading the pick sounds like a good idea, but for who and with who? The Knicks don't have a lot of assets to package with that pick and every trade Phil Jackson made since taking over has been a net loss.  Putting aside the disastrous Tyson Chandler deal, the Knicks traded playoff heroes J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni for three second rounders in 2017 and 2019, free agent Alexey Shved, some cap space and a $6.4 million trade exception.  Be afraid, be very afraid.

We bet the Knicks talk a big trade, but at the end of the day on June 25, they'll take Mudiay. Porzingis would cause a fan revolt and a trade seems risky.  Mudiay may not be a consolation prize. He's a very, very good point guard who could become a lead guard in the Triangle. But right now, they don't look like a playoff team next season.

Philly could make the playoffs IF Embiid is healthy, IF they somehow get Dario Saric to come over, IF they can integrate Russell with backcourt mates like Tony Wroten and Noel with Embiid upfront. But long-term, they also had a blip.  The Lakers pick, top five protected this season, is likely to be higher next year when they will probably get it. It's top three protected next year and unprotected in 2017.  The Heat pick will be top ten protected next year as well.

One other note out of the lottery: The Lakers moving up to No. 2 could affect the Nets in that L.A. was seen as a possible contender for Brook Lopez in free agency.  Will they be as interested if they wind up with Okafor?  Doubt it.

Of course, we should talk!? None of us know what the Nets will look like by the second week in July, by which time they will have picked in the Draft and reworked the roster in free agency.  But as things stand right now, the lottery was a net win for Brooklyn.