From Left: Brandon Ingram, Bill Simmons
Ever since 1998, when the Los Angeles Clippers—then the quintessential pro sports laughingstock—earned the right to pick first in the NBA Draft, the announcement of a team’s winning the chance to be best of the worst has been greeted with great enthusiasm, celebration and optimism. If the ping-pong ball gods had bestowed such good fortune on fans, a championship must be close by.
Only it isn’t. Since ’98, it has only come twice—and never with the team that chose the player in the first place. LeBron James, Cleveland’s No. 1 overall in 2003, had to take his talents to Miami to get a title, and 2005 top man Andrew Bogut needed to migrate from Milwaukee to northern California to be part of Golden State’s championship club last year.
Cleveland—which selected Kyrie Irving No. 1 overall in 2011 and used Andrew Wiggins (the top man in ’14) as trade bait for Kevin Love—might win it all this year and end the streak. But Orlando (Dwight Howard in 2004), Toronto (Andrea Bargnani, 2006), Washington (John Wall, ’10) have never hoisted a trophy, despite their good lottery fortune. Of course, the Clippers haven’t, either. And their 1998 selection of Michael Olowokandi in a draft that also included Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Vince Carter, stands as one of the worst first-overall choices ever.
This is all germane in light of the Sixers’ providence Thursday night, when their horrific 2015-16 season was rewarded with the opportunity to decide between forwards Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. After subjecting fans to three years of basketball that would make Medusa look like a supermodel, the Sixers had a victory. Their epic supertank resulted in a meager 10 victories during this regular season, and the balls finally bounced in their favor: No 1—the top spot.
El Hombre was in the middle of four hours of lottery talk on 97.5 The Fanatic when NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum opened the penultimate envelope, revealing the Lakers’ logo and letting the world know that Philadelphia was the big winner. The whooping and hollering began immediately, and that was only in the studio, where co-host Joe DeCamara carried on so much that he broke blood vessels in his wrists from banging the desk so hard in jubilation.
Whoo-hoo! The Sixers have the first pick. Can a championship be very far away?
As a matter of fact, yes. Winning it all requires a lot more than just one bit of luck. Teams that take the title must have at least three standout players on the roster and four or five other significant contributors. Right now, the Sixers have no one on the roster who could be considered capable of being a main cog on a title team. Perhaps Simmons or Ingram will develop into one of the NBA’s best, but there’s no guarantee of that, as Olowokandi, Bargnani, Kwame Brown and Anthony Bennett have proven. And even if both do just that and win titles, history tells us the championships could come with other teams.
The Sixers will spend the next month trying to figure out which of the two to pick. But just as important will be the work over the next few seasons by GM Bryan Colangelo, as he tries to collect enough talent to populate a roster capable of contending. He must make shrewd trades, sign free agents interested in winning, and draft players who will fit a winning culture. It isn’t easy, and while winning the draft lottery is a good first step, the road to the title remains long and treacherous.
Just ask the Clippers about that.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: It doesn’t matter whether Ryan Howard is being paid $25 million this year or $250 million, he doesn’t belong in the Phillies’ lineup. If the team was willing to eat his contract just to get another team to take him, why is it so reticent about choking down millions by keeping him on the bench? Howard has reached new depths this season—.161 average, .233 OBP, .381 slugging percentage—and putting him into the game is an insult to fans paying to watch the team play. He was supposed to benefit from playing only against righthanded pitchers, but he can’t hit those guys. It’s somewhat sad, but playing him is also a huge detriment to the team’s success.