Draft Day Arrives, Representing Next Major Moment for Franchise
CAMDEN - The moment is just about here.
For a second straight year, the 76ers’ position in the first round of the draft will be the same - No. 1 overall. The circumstances surrounding the path taken back to that spot, however, couldn’t have been more different.
In a way, the Sixers landed last year’s top pick relatively fair and square. By virtue of their record, they had the highest odds of winning the NBA’s draft lottery, and did just that.
This time around, reaching the peak of the draft order required some wrangling. First, there were triggers from a 2015 trade with Sacramento that initially allowed the Sixers to wind up with the third pick instead of the fifth.
Then, on Monday, came the culmination of weeks worth of dialogue with the Boston Celtics over the No. 1 pick. The Sixers had enough carrots to dangle, the C’s bit, and the first slot changed hands.
So, once again, here the Sixers are, poised to set the pace for the draft, one year after choosing Ben Simmons first overall. It will be the fourth time in franchise history the Sixers go No. 1, and fifth time in the last 55 years the same team has picked first in back-to-back years.
“It’s great excitement, obviously,” Sixers President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo said Monday, shortly after he finalized the deal with the Celtics. “We have a much better idea of where we are today than just a few days ago. Sitting in the No. 1 spot, we couldn’t be in a better place. So, we know where we are, we’ve got pick certainty now, and we can zero in on the fine details of that selection now.”
During Monday’s press conference, Colangelo wasn’t prepared to commit to which player the Sixers might be leaning towards selecting at No. 1. His decision to keep things close to the vest, however, did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm, mostly because he and his staff consider the talent at the top of the draft to be so promising.
To put the matter into context, Colangelo compared this year’s batch of blue chippers to that from 2006, when he had his first chance to make a No.1 pick. At the time, Colangelo was running the Toronto Raptors.
“The talent level of this class is far and away better than where I was sitting in 2006,” he said. “That’s not to say that there aren’t players that have emerged as really very good NBA players, but nowhere near comparable to what we are talking about in term of this particular draft class.”
Colangelo said Monday he could see several All-Stars - even a couple franchise-changing prospects - emerging from the lottery phase of the 2017 draft.
“It’s a much clearer picture. There was no clear consensus No. 1 in 2006, and in this particular draft, some would argue there is no consensus No. 1, but there’s consensus that there’s multiple players that could be No. 1 because of the level of talent.”
Over the course of the last five weeks, every facet of the Sixers’ basketball operations department - from talent evaluators to scouts to coaches to the team’s medical staff - have poured an exhaustive amount of effort into readying the organization for draft night. In respect to projected lottery picks, the Sixers brought in Markelle Fultz, De’Aaron Fox, and Malik Monk for private auditions in Camden, and travelled across the country to meet with other prospects as well.
“I feel really good about the [trade] decision we’ve made because it puts us in a position to grab the guy that we think is the best fit, has the most talent, and probably brings the most to this organization as a whole,” said Colangelo.
The Sixers’ extensive homework hasn’t only been limited to those candidates expected to go at top of the first-round. Heading into Thursday, the team was in possession of four second-round picks, too - No. 36, 39, 46, and 50. The Sixers’ due diligence in scouting the combine in May, attending off-site agent-arranged pro days, and organizing in-house pre-draft group workouts should help during this phase of the draft.
Colangelo will have a handful of choices to make in the second-round, and not necessarily exclusive to which player to pick.
“If there is someone on the board that makes sense, we will certainly make a selection in that regard,” Colangelo said Monday while talking about the second round, “but there are so many variables with what we might be able to do with these picks.”
He then proceeded to rattle them off.
“You could potentially package them and move up to have a latter first-round pick that potentially is a better fit for the current fit for the current roster. You may sell a pick because it’s a valuable asset and it may just not be right in terms of fit for your roster at that particular moment. You may defer it for future seconds down the road, which is of more value. You could draft a player that is not planning on coming over from overseas, an international player that you could potentially leave over for a year or two. There are the draft-and-stash thought processes there, a lot of versatility. There’s a lot of interest in our picks.”
Calls in recent days from colleagues around the league about the Sixers’ stockpile of second-round picks have been steady, according to Colangelo.
“What we are doing is lining up options and alternatives for those picks and for those selections. We want to be prepared as we are on the clock, the two-minute mark moves fast and we are going to have multiple decisions to make on draft night.”
First round or second, the possibilities for Thursday night certainly seemed to stoke Colangelo’s anticipation earlier this week, when he held his final media availability before the draft. He rightly noted that this excitement hasn’t been limited to within the walls of Sixers’ training complex. One downward thumb scroll through a social media timeline, or a quick check in on the local sports radio airwaves is all that would be needed to confirm the Sixers have been the talk of the town lately, especially on the heels of Monday’s exchange with Boston.
The swift groundswell of support hasn’t been lost on the man in charge.
“I think we were relevant before, perhaps maybe more relevant now,” said Colangelo. “This fan base has been already excited about what they’ve seen. January alone last year, 10-5, gave us a taste of what success feels like. It’s been a while. That momentum is still carrying forward. The relevance is there. I sensed it, I felt it, and we get that feedback from players, agents, conversations with your colleagues in the marketplace, the 29 other teams. It’s definitely taking strides. The question is, how much does a move, from three to one, propel us to that level.”
Apparently, a lot. Like record-setting a lot.
Since Monday’s move, the Sixers, according to multiple reports, have not only sold out of their season ticket membership inventory for the 2017-2018 season, but have also sold more total season ticket packages than any other team in the league.
“If you stepped inside our business office across the road, you probably hear a bell ringing a lot,” Colangelo said Monday. “The bell rings every time someone sells a new season ticket. I would venture to say we’re going to be sold out this year, playing to full capacity every night. It’s an interesting position to be in. I think that relevance has already been felt, but it’s certainly going to take even more momentum on as we select this Thursday.”
The time to welcome the moment appears to be now.