As the Knicks and their fans fantasize about a potential future featuring some combination of Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Williamson says it would be pretty sweet to play with those players.
"I mean, it would be dope to play with KD and Kyrie, but like I said I'm enjoying college and whichever team drafts me I'm going to be ready to play hard and work," Williamson told me in the Duke locker room after going for 29 points, 6 rebounds, 5 steals and 2 blocks as No. 2 Duke beat St. John's 91-61 on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Knicks (10-41) own the NBA's worst record and have full on "Stopped Tryin' for Zion." This week, they traded Kristaps Porzingis and nearly half their team to the Dallas Mavericks, and now have nearly $75 million in cap space to pursue two max free agents this summer, with Durant and Irving squarely in their sights.
When I asked Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski what he made of all the tanking talk -- ESPN's Dick Vitale spent much of the broadcast talking about the Knicks possibly landing the 6-foot-7, 270-pound Williamson -- he said he understands why teams would want to sacrifice a season to land players like Williamson or 6-7 wing R.J. Barrett, the projected No. 2 pick.
"I just know that if you're doing anything, then a couple of my guys I know are targets, and God bless them if they land in those places and hopefully they still have some other players too when they have them," Krzyzewski said.
The Knicks kept a core of their younger players in Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier and Noah Vonleh, among others, but it remains anyone's guess what their full roster will look like next season.
Zion LIT UP Cameron Indoor with this dunk 🔥 pic.twitter.com/aTVC5Z9oN7- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 2, 2019
Coach K has coached a slew of future NBA lottery picks, but he says he's never had anyone like Williamson in terms of his built box-office appeal. Williamson has 2.3 million Instagram followers, 191,000 Twitter followers and has become regular programming on ESPN. Some have estimated he could earn $1 billion -- with a "B" -- across his NBA career.
"Nobody has brought in the exposure that he brought in," Krzyzewski said. "He had over a million or 2 million followers before he got here. When does that happen? It may never happen but it's happening for him. And we're [so] high profile. Everything is looked at closely and so excellent play is looked at by everybody. The thing about that kid is that he doesn't want all that attention and he handles it well and we have a good group. So I'm not sure any group would handle it the same way."
Barrett, who went for 15 points and 14 rebounds in the win, said he and Williamson aren't really focused on all the tanking talk.
"I don't even watch TV, so I don't know what's going on," the Canadian said.
After a somewhat slow start, Williamson scored the last 10 points of the first half, capped by a steal and a dunk. He threw down several dunks in the game that triggered roars from the Cameron Crazies.
If he somehow lands with the Knicks, he could be throwing down dunks next season at Madison Square Garden -- much to the crowd's delight.
"To the fans, I appreciate the love that they're showing to want me to come to their team, but I'm still in college," Williamson said. "I'm enjoying the process and whichever team drafts me I'm going to be ready to work and just love the city."