The NBA Draft Lottery has come and gone and I, for one, am happy it’s over. Not because I hate the NBA or the lottery system, mind you, I just wanted the uncertainty to be over. I’ve been looking forward to this day ever since I understood the particulars of the Jrue Holiday trade during last year’s NBA Draft. I looked forward to this day throughout every game of a rough season. That anticipation had done nothing but grow in the months, weeks, days, and finally hours leading up to the lottery. I was utterly useless at work today, although depending on who you ask, they may not have noticed the difference.
There are some who hate the lottery system the NBA employs to determine its draft order. I know that my co-host Jeff is one of them. A lot of people will tell you that it lends itself to a bit of unfairness, and you can make an excellent argument for that. One thing I’ll say for it though, if you have a team that is in the lottery with a definite chance for a franchise-altering moment, there is nothing like the tension leading up to the announcement. Today was by far the most nervous I’ve been in quite a while, as silly as that sounds. You’re not going to get that in a league with a pre-determined order like the NFL or MLB.
As it turns out, the Sixers ended up with the 3rd pick (their own) and the 10th pick (acquired from New Orleans in the Holiday trade). Despite finishing with the second-worst record in the league, they ended up moving down a spot from where they were slotted because Cleveland moved up from the 9th spot and won the right to pick first overall. This will be the third #1 overall pick for Cleveland in the past four years, and that has already caused a lot of consternation among NBA fans. The conspiracy theories are already starting, saying that the fix is in to try to entice LeBron James to go back to Cleveland. Just relax…they’ll blow it, they’re Cleveland.
Due to the facts that Cleveland won the top pick again and that the Sixers finished one spot worse than where they were supposed to, the doom-and-gloom crowd is already out in force. They’ll tell you the tank wasn’t worth it. They’ll tell you the Sixers are screwed. Those people are morons. Allow me to tell you why…
First, let’s start with the #3 pick. Would I have liked to have seen the Sixers get the first or second pick? Of course! The thing is, this draft is seen as having three superstars in it (Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embiid) and the Sixers happen to have the third pick. So you just wait it out and pick whichever of the three falls to you. Easy. Wiggins is definitely the guy I want, but I don’t hold out much hope for him to be there. I happen to believe that Wiggins and Embiid will be taken in some order with the first two picks, leaving the Sixers with Duke’s Jabari Parker. I’m going to do another post getting into the strengths and weaknesses of each player later, but Parker is probably the favorite to win Rookie of the Year next season. I’ll be saying this even if Parker ends up somewhere other than Philly next season, he’s just the most polished, NBA-ready guy in the draft right now.
Now, let’s look at the #10 pick. For those of you complaining that the Sixers didn’t get the first overall pick, this could have gone SO much worse. Had New Orleans secured one of the top 3 spots, the Sixers would only get one lottery pick instead of two. There is a lot of talent in this year’s draft, and your team has two of the top ten picks. So knock it off, you’re going to have a crack at two really good players. Who might be there at #10? You might get Doug McDermott, this season’s NCAA Player of the Year. While limited defensively, he is a great scorer and smart player who has one elite tool (shooting) that will keep him in the league for at least 10 years. You might get Aaron Gordon, an ultra-athletic forward who can jump out of the gym and provide great defense. You might get Gary Harris, a good long-distance shooter who can play at both ends of the floor. Or you might get another talented player who can immediately step in and contribute to this team.
You have five, count ‘em, five second round draft picks, which is a ridiculous amount. Those picks can be used to fortify your bench and, if you’re lucky, discover an overlooked gem. They can be used to pick a few European projects, to see if they can develop into a contributor to a championship team, a la Manu Ginobili of the Spurs. They could be used as chess pieces to help facilitate a trade.
Know what else you have? An endless amount of possibility and options, with one of the most highly regarded young general managers in the league calling the shots. With last year’s Holiday trade, Sam Hinkie proved that he is not scared to make a major move. At his disposal, he has two top ten picks, five 2nd-round picks, a young, athletic, proven forward with a reasonable contract (Thad Young) to use as a trade piece, and an ungodly amount of salary cap space to work with. Hinkie could trade Young and the 10th pick to move up, he could use Young and an early second rounder to trade back into the back end of the first round to give you 3 first-round picks, or he could rent out some of that cap space by taking the remaining year(s) of a bad contract in exchange for another first round pick. Here’s a quick example: Chicago has the 16th and 19th pick in the draft. They’d also love to sign Carmelo Anthony if he decides to leave New York, but won’t be able to fit him under the salary cap. However, what if the Sixers could take the last year of Carlos Boozer’s bad contract ($16.8 million for 2014/15) in exchange for one of those two picks, which would allow the Bulls to sign Anthony? Boozer’s contract comes off the books after next year, so what’s the harm? That’s just one option, I’m sure there are plenty of others out there.
Are the Sixers the closest in Philadelphia to a championship? No, that would be the Eagles. Is this Sixers off-season guaranteed to be a success? Nope, the only guarantee is that we’re all gonna end up in the dirt (cheers!). Will they be a playoff team next year? Probably not, and that won’t make this off-season a failure. But from an organization-building standpoint, I really can’t think of the last off-season that held this much promise and this much potential, with such a myriad of directions in which it could go. The possibilities are endless, and I’m really excited to see what direction this team takes. If you care about basketball, you should be, too.