COUNTLESS TIMES during his three years as head coach of the 76ers, Brett Brown has welcomed a new player to his roster during the season, whether through trades or 10-day contracts. With an constantly changing roster and few definitive roles established, Brown often kidded that he would “shake their hands and give them 20 minutes of playing time.” It really was no joke, as that often happened. It was all part of the “ready, fire, aim” mentality that Brown has had to possess with this always-fluid franchise.
The point is, there simply wasn’t time for new players to learn a system or be eased into a lineup. They were given the opportunity to hit the road running, to prove to the Sixers that they were worthy of being here and had a chance to help the team moving forward.
Now, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo, vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley and associate vice president and chief of staff Ned Cohen find themselves in the same position as so many of Brown’s additions. Ready. Fire. Aim.
Colangelo is the senior member of the group, having been hired all the way back on April 10, while the other two were introduced by the team a week ago. They will all play a big part in the NBA rookie combine in Chicago this week, where players will flash their skills on the floor and their personalities off it in interviews the Sixers will perform.
In the three years of “The Process,” the Sixers have put themselves in position to improve with high draft picks. In his first season, former general manager Sam Hinkie worked his way into getting Nerlens Noel with the sixth pick after trading All-Star Jrue Holiday to New Orleans. He then used the 11th pick to grab Michael Carter-Williams, the eventual rookie of the year. In his second draft, the hope was Andrew Wiggins but became an injured Joel Embiid at No. 3, and last year Jahlil Okafor fell to them at the third spot also. Pretty much all those picks, save Carter-Williams, were no-brainers and the jury is still out on how the three bigs will help the organization moving forward.
After a 10-72 season, Colangelo finds himself with a good chance to land the No. 1 pick, definitely one in the top four. The Sixers will also get the Lakers’ first pick, provided it doesn’t fall in the top three, and also can swap picks with the Sacramento Kings if their pick is higher than the Sixers.
Noel, Embiid and Okafor were pretty much no-brainers when they fell to the Sixers. And taking either Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram next month with one of the first two picks falls into that category. Of course, questions still will be raised if either one of them comes here, such as how does Simmons’ style of play fit with Dario Saric, who may be coming over to play next season. Both are 6-10 and possess guard skills. Also, can Ingram’s slight frame carry him through an NBA season and will he still be an effective shooter when his legs start to wilt midway through the season? Those two, however, are the upper echelon of this draft group when it comes to potential and NBA skill sets, so again, no brainers if the Sixers are in position to land them.
But what happens if the Sixers are out of the top two when the pingpong balls fall on Tuesday? The field then becomes the likes of Kris Dunn, Dragan Bender, Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield. And with the Sixers’ run of bad luck over the past years, don’t you half expect them not to get one of the top two picks?
If they don’t, Colangelo and company have to get the pick absolutely correct. Dunn or Murray can’t come here and be a good point guard, they’ll have to be All-Star worthy within the next few seasons. If Hield lands here, he has to be mentioned among the better shooters in the league after a couple of seasons. If Bender is the pick, he needs to become a stretch power forward in the mold of Dirk Nowitzki, a big who can stretch the floor for Embiid (provided he stays healthy).
But it’s not just that first pick that needs to pan out. Should the Sixers keep the 24th and 26th picks or trade them for something else, they need to hit the jackpot there too. They’ll need to find that diamond in the rough late in the first round, like so many other successful teams have done through the years.
Just take a look at the remaining teams in the playoffs and you see so many contributors who were draft-day afterthoughts, if not by the team they are currently on, then by others who selected them. The models, of course, are San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, taken 57th overall in 1999, and Tony Parker, 28th in 2001. Miami is looking to get to the Eastern Conference finals with Goran Dragic running the point. Dragic was taken with the 45th pick in 2008. Though unlikely, if the Heat win the title this season, it would be their fourth since 2006 and their team leader through that time (as coach Eric Spoelstra has labeled him) has been Udonis Haslem, who was undrafted out of Florida in 2003. The Heat’s Hassan Whiteside is one of the best defensive players in the league; he was taken 33rd in 2010 by Sacramento.
San Antonio also boasts MVP runner-up Kawhi Leonard, taken 15th in 2011; Danny Green (46th by Cleveland in 2009); Boris Diaw (21st by Atlanta in 2003); and Patty Mills (55th by Portland in 2009). Serge Ibaka (24th in 2008) supplies the interior defense for Oklahoma City; and Mason Plumlee (22nd by Brooklyn in 2013) has found his game in Portland.
The implausible amount of losing the Sixers have gone through the past three years hasn’t produced a No. 1 pick. Perhaps that will change on Tuesday. But this build can’t be done solely with top three or four picks. There have to be other future stars acquired elsewhere, further down the draft board. With so many other holes to fill, that is where the real work and keen eyes of Colangelo, Eversley and Cohen need to be proven.
It’s ready, fire, aim time for the new management. “Bull’s-eye” will need to be added if this rebuild is going to come to fruition soon.