THE BIRTHPLACE OF HOPE for any floundering franchise is the draft, and while playoff races are heating up in both the NHL and the NBA, some teams are already focusing on late June. On March 2 the Sabres held a trade-deadline fire sale that included four deals to beef up their already sizable stockpile of future draft picks. (Buffalo will have two first-rounders in June.) And on March 3, Knicks president Phil Jackson was fined for talking about an NCAA underclassman, when he said that Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell was "a great-looking prospect." The Sabres and the Knicks have the worst records in the NHL and the NBA, respectively, but that doesn't guarantee them the top pick. Here's a look at the chase to be the best of the worst in those two leagues.
The System: The first three picks of the draft are awarded by a weighted lottery system, in which the last-place team has a 25% chance of getting the first pick. The lowest pick the NBA's cellar-dweller could receive is fourth overall.
The Prizes: Duke's Jahlil Okafor (above, right), a 6'11" freshman center, is the likely top pick and a franchise-changing talent. OSU's Russell, who is averaging 19.2 points per game, has been racing up draft boards all season and is next in line.
The Contenders: The Knicks traded Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith in January, then waived six-time All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire last month, while the 76ers dealt 2014 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams at the Feb. 19 trade deadline. Watch out for the T-Wolves: They were only two games ahead of New York at week's end.
The "Winner": With a road-heavy schedule down the stretch, New York may finally succeed in giving its fans a first-place finish.
The System: This year a weighted lottery will determine only the first pick; the rest will be dictated by season-ending records. For example, the 30th-place team, which will have a 20% chance of picking first, is guaranteed at worst the second overall selection.
The Prizes: The NHL has not one but two potential franchise centers entering the draft, Connor McDavid (above, left) of the OHL's Erie Otters and Jack Eichel from Boston University. They are the most-hyped prospects since Sidney Crosby was drafted No. 1 in 2005.
The Contenders: The Sabres traded two starting goaltenders in three weeks, leaving them with a trio in net that boasts just 142 career starts. The Coyotes, who had lost 11 of 12 through Sunday, also sold off some assets at the deadline and are sinking in time to challenge Buffalo for most futile.
The "Winner": The Sabres need a face of the franchise, and without a proven goalie, they have guaranteed that they will get one.
THEY SAID IT
"He may have a bit of a sore neck."
J√∂rg Schmadtke, athletic director of Cologne, after team mascot Hennes, a goat, was roughed up by striker Anthony Ujah while celebrating a goal in the team's 4--2 win against Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.
DOUG MCSCHOOLER/AP (RUSSELL)
DAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (OKAFOR)
CLAUS ANDERSEN/GETTY IMAGES (MCDAVID)
TIM CLAYTON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (EICHEL)
INA FASSBENDER/REUTERS (GOAT)