New 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo
Sixers fans who devoted any time at all to the NBA Finals had better pay close attention to the qualities of a champion. Merely scoring isn’t enough. Being a defensive player but an offensive liability won’t get it done. And those who fall apart when the pressure goes up are often consigned to the bench—or, eventually, to the T’wolves.
That information is instructive for those who believe that by drafting Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram and making a trade or two, the Sixers will ascend quickly to contender status and that the last three years of execrable basketball and shaky leadership at the administrative level—go ahead, Jahlil, run amok—will be forgotten as the confetti pours down during the championship parade. It’s not going to happen any time soon. In fact, given the absolute uncertainty of the NBA Draft, there is no guarantee Simmons, Ingram or any other player whose name is called early on Thursday night will have the rare blend of talent, commitment and winning attitude necessary to lift a team into championship contention.
Simmons could be a transformative player. Or, as one executive told me, he could be “Lamar Odom without the off-court stuff.” Ingram has the potential to be a great shooter, and some have likened him to Kevin Durant—the default setting for all long, skinny marksmen. Ingram could also become a standstill gunner without the kind of all-around game title teams need from their stars.
The only thing that’s certain about this coming draft is that new Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo will most certainly make some moves that allow him to define the team in his terms, rather than Sam Hinkie’s. If Colangelo simply makes the three first-round picks the Sixers have and starts 2016-17 with the rookies—Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric (if he decides to join the fun)—Colangelo will have merely executed the Hinkie plan and will have no ability to take credit for any turnaround the Sixers might make.
Colangelo is going to do something on Thursday—that’s almost a certainty. According to one exec, the Sixers are shopping both Okafor and Noel. There’s no promise anything will happen, but don’t be surprised if it does. The question is what the Sixers could get in return for either player. Although Okafor was the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, he doesn’t hold the same value as the third pick in the ’16 draft. That’s because he’s a known quantity now. It’s like what happens when someone drives a new car off the lot: It depreciates the minute it hits the street. Okafor can score and rebound in his area, but he is a post player in an NBA that’s increasingly dependent on smaller players who can shoot from the outside. And his off-court transgressions last year have raised some flags, although many think they were aberrations brought on by a Sixers’ culture that was so poisoned by losing that he had no impetus to be professional.
It would be unlikely that the Celtics would take Okafor straight up for the third pick. Might they consider Okafor and the Lakers’ 2017 selection? Maybe. But that’s a two-for-one deal in a draft that seems to have only two guaranteed standouts.
As the draft nears, remember that many top overall picks from the past are still waiting to win their first rings. Teams need to focus on getting winning players, not just talented people who help fantasy team owners but don’t have championship makeups. As Colangelo works to craft his team, let’s hope that’s his priority, rather than just trying to amass a bunch of players for whom contending is secondary.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: Is El Hombre the only person in town who turns on a Phillies game, sees the home nine down by a couple runs in the third inning and immediately changes the channel, since he knows a comeback is virtually impossible? He didn’t think so. There have been some anemic teams in Phillies’ history, but this one is particularly weak. A walk and a hit batsman qualify as a rally for this club.
AND ANOTHER THING: Happy birthday to La Madre, who never hesitated to support a crazy kid’s infatuation with sports—even though she always thought the Phillies were “dumb” and that the only way the other teams in town could win was if they were playing elementary schools. You’re the best, Mom!