PHILADELPHIA– The 76ers held their annual NBA lottery party for season ticket holders at the Philadelphia Art Museum a few weeks ago. You could see the roar coming out of the building and echoing down the parkway after it became apparent the stagnant franchise would get the No. 1 pick overall in the 2016 draft.
Long suffering Sixers’ fans finally received some good news and spontaneous celebrations broke out across the city.
Their heroes had been buried at the bottom of the league, winning just 10 games last season and just 47 over the past three years. But the mood has shifted and suddenly there is renewed hope for an escape from a self made purgatory.
No more “Trust The Process,” as former general manager Sam Hinkie used to say. The Sixers have made their share of mistakes in the recent past. Owner Josh Harris is a businessman, not a basketball expert, but he bought into the 2012 trade for bum kneed Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson for Olympian Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and a first round draft pick. Bynum never played a game for Philadelphia, leaving Harris to go all in with Hinkie’s philosophy of trying to win long term with multiple lottery picks by using analytics to rationalize trading away whatever assets he had.
“What’s evident now more than ever is ‘The Process’ is over,” Sixers’ President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo said. Conangelo said he has spoken to 80 percent of the current roster, saying no one’s spot is safe because “there is so much ahead of us.” Colangelo wants to build a basketball team rather than an asset farm.
“We’re got good young, developing players, but we don’t have a star where we can say a bona fide star has made it. We are still looking for the first one– if that comes in the form of the first pick in the draft, if it comes in the form of a player we acquire via trade or free agency.”
Colangelo needs to develop a cohesive roster where roles are defined and players aren’t routinely moved around like chess pieces while the franchise puts an inferior product on the court, all in the name of building through the draft with lottery picks.
I’ve never been a big fan of tanking games. It goes against everything I believe in sports. And it looks like I have company.
When UConn’s Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma, who has won 11 national championships in women’s basketball and built a dynasty with four-year players was introduced by NBA commissioner Adam /Silver at the annual Winged Foot Award at the New York Athletic Club, he threw out a revolutionary idea to that league.
“I think the NBA should do what the English Premier League in soccer does,” he said. “Finish at the bottom of the league and you get relegated to a lower tiered division,” he said. “Think that would make the games more competitive.?”
Sixers’ coach Brett Brown has to be tired of losing big by now.
And he and Colangelo have a chance to do something about it if they choose wisely with the franchise’s first No. 1 pick overall in 20 years. The Sixers are guaranteed to get an NBA-ready player with their pick– either multi-faceted 6-10 point/forward Ben Simmons from LSU or wiry 6-10, 190-pound small forward Brandon Ingram from Duke. Both are one and done.
Early indications are the Sixers like what they see in the 19-year old Simmons, an Australian import who was the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2015 and was selected the National Freshman of the year after averaging 19.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists. Colangelo went on local radio recently and called Simmons a transcendent talent. Brown, who coached in Australia for 17 years, coached Simmons’ father Dave with the Melbourne Tigers and has known the family forever, so he has a feel for the kid, went a step farther, suggesting Simmons has a hint of Magic Johnson and you can see a younger LeBron where you’re not sure what position he is. One moment you think he’s a four, maybe he is a three, he looks comfortable handling the ball . . . the comparison of those two players could be a little reckless and ambitious, but there is no denying he really does come to the draft with a very unique skill package.”
Simmons is a great passer who is a match up problem for both guards and forwards. He is not a great shooter but neither was Magic when he entered the league in 1980 and developed a bad tendency of disappearing at big moments in college…
Ingram, who will not be 19 until the start of training camp, was the ACC Rookie of the Year. He is a polished offensive player who averaged 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and has a Kevin Durant offensive skill set. He shot 41 percent beyond the three point arc and was an effective slasher to the rim and should help erase the stigma that Duke lottery picks benefited by playing with better players in a highly structured environment but can’t cut it in the NBA.
Either would be a nice addition to a roster that includes promising young front court talent like Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric Embiid, the third pick in the 2014 draft, was supposed to be their center of the future. But he has yet to play a game in two years with a foot injury but he is finally healthy. The 6-10 Saric, an elite international youth player from Croatia, is still playing in Turkey. There is a chance both would play for the team this season. The Sixers also have $92 million under the salary cap, which would allow them to romance an attractive free agent and much needed shooting guard Brad Beal of Washington. There is also speculation the team could trade one of their big men- most likely the 6-10 Okafor– if they select Simmons for the third pick overall and then use it to draft a point guard like Kris Dunn of Providence or Jamal Murray of Kentucky.
The Sixers are trying to take steps in the right direction.
But they still are a long way from competing for a championship.
Even if Simmons or Ingram are future franchise players, they are still too young to to move mountains by themselves. As good as they project, neither was good enough to to carry their teams deep into March madness. LSU didn’t even make the NCAA tournament. And Duke, which won the 2015 national championship with three freshman starters, was eliminated by Oregon in the Sweet Sixteen.
Consider some of the iconic players on United States Olympic teams once FIBA voted to allow NBA players to participate in 1992.
It took Michael Jordan six years before he won his first NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls in 1991. He was 28.
It took Shaquille O’Neal seven years before he won his first title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000 and he was 27.
It took LeBron James eight years before he won his first title with the Miami Heat in 2012. He was 27.
Talent alone does not win championships. Organization does. General managers earn their money by acquiring a combination or experienced free agents and youthful talent from winning programs who know how to win.
Philadelphia is a hard-working, blue collar rabid sports town. But it has only two professional championships to show in the past 33 years. The Sixers won in 1983 with Moses Malone and Julius Erving and the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. It’s time to end the misery. Common sense thinking dictates the Sixers take the best player availablekn the June 23 draft and that is Simmons. .
Since the birth of one and done in 2006, the NBA has drafted 80 freshmen, 71 of them in the first round.
First Round | Second Round
2015 13 | 0
2014 10 | 0
2013 6 | 2
2012 8 | 1
2011 5 | 1
2010 7 | 3
2009 4 | 0
2008 10 | 2
2007 8 | 0
. . .
The first picks during those years included nine freshmen.
2007 center Greg Oden, freshman, Portland,
2008 guard Derrick Rose, freshman, Chicago.
2009 forward Blake Griffin, sophomore, Los Angeles Clippers
2010 point guard John Wall, freshman, Washington.
2011 point guard Kyrie Irving, freshman, Cleveland.
2012 center Anthony Davis, freshman, New Orleans.
2013 forward Anthony Bennett, freshman, Cleveland.
2014– forward Andrew Wiggins, freshman, Cleveland.
2015– center Karl-Anthony Towns, freshman, Minnesota.
. . .
Of that group of one and dones, Rose, Griffin, Irving, Wiggins and Anthony-Towns were selected Rookies of the Year. Oden and Bennett flamed out. The 10 drafts have produced two MVPs (Rose, 2010) and forward Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City (2014, the second pick in the 2007 draft behind Oden); three who made the 2012 USA Olympic team– Durant, , center Kevin Love (Minnesota) and Anthony Davis; and six members of the 2014 World Championship team– Rose, Irving, Davis, center DeMarcus Cousins of Sacramento; center Andre Drummond of Detroit; and Demar Derozen of Toronto.