NEW YORK, NY – The outcome of Tuesday’s draft lottery, as far as the 76ers were concerned, was, in the end, simple and promising.
Based on the random bounces of 14 ping pong balls, it was determined that, for the fifth time in franchise history, the club will choose third when the time comes to pick from the next wave of prospects destined for the NBA.
In a year in which the draft’s talent pool is considered top-heavy, Tuesday’s development proved to be encouraging in the eyes of two people who figure to have substantial influence in the Sixers’ fortunes, both in the present, and in the future.
“We’re happy that we came out of here with a top pick,” said Sixers President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo. “We knew that would be the case one way or the other. The question was would what degree would we be happy?”
The auspicious short-term news to emerge from New York Tuesday was underscored by enticing long-term implications as well. With the Los Angeles Lakers landing the second overall pick this year (Boston won the lottery), the Sixers automatically obtained the rights to L.A.’s first-round slot for 2018, wherever it falls.
On top of the above condition, which was part of a previous trade, the Sixers remain in line for Sacramento’s 2019 first-rounder, thanks to another past transaction.
“I think the third pick, and moving up via the swap, was really beneficial to us in a number of ways,” Colangelo said. “It puts us in position to make decisions now ahead of a couple of teams that might have taken a name off the board that we’re really high on. I think that the third pick is a solid place to be.”
“I think that’s going to help us a lot, just getting another piece of talent that’s going to come in and help us win games,” said Joel Embiid, who, resplendent in a red suit and gold high-top sneakers, served as the Sixers’ on-stage representative at the lottery. “I’m excited about [the third pick], and I’m really excited about next season.”
As crisp and clean as picking third sounds, getting to that point was certainly a bit of an adventure.
Entering the lottery, the Sixers were primed for a considerable pay-off. Factoring in the trade arrangements with the Kings and Lakers, the Sixers had a 14.7% shot at the number one pick, an 8.7% chance at leaving with two picks in the top four, and a better than 50.0% probability of snagging a pair of selections in either the top six or seven.
At the very worst, the Sixers faced the prospect of heading home with the seventh overall pick, which, given the projected rookie crop for 2017, wouldn’t have amounted to nothing.
The first clue as to where the Sixers’ position might be surfaced midway through the top-14 roll call, when NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announced that Sacramento would be occupying the tenth spot, due to a trigger from a February trade with New Orleans that involved All-Star DeMarcus Cousins.
Seconds later, murmurs inside the Grand Ballroom of the New York Hilton Midtown hotel got louder after Tatum revealed the New York Knicks would be eighth, the draft slot originally designated for the Kings. With New York falling to eight, Sacramento – via its own pick – was therefore assured at least a spot in the top three.
The hitch, of course, was that the Sixers, going back to a 2015 deal, held the right to swap places with the Kings, in the event Sacramento fared better in this year’s lottery, which was ultimately the case.
So, rather than being forced to settle for the fifth pick, the Sixers instead moved up to number three. The ramifications, according to Colangelo, carried consequence, and brought greater clarity to the Sixers’ outlook.
“That’s obviously the key word…’clarity,’” he said. “We know now what Joel Embiid is, and what he can be. Last year at this point, I couldn’t tell you that. We know that Ben Simmons is coming in. Last year at this point, I didn’t know that, because we didn’t know who was going to win the lottery, and we did.
“We’ve got a couple of positions already locked up [where] we had a lot of uncertainty in the past. You’ve got Jerryd Bayless, who is like having a free agent signee that we’ve already jumped the gun on in terms of having a player that we can slot in. So, we know a lot more about who we are as a team, how people performed this year, and who’s going to be available for us. It’s going to make the decision at three a lot easier to make.”
With so many contingencies at work, the lottery seemed to be a roller coaster of sorts for Embiid.
“I was excited when I thought Sacramento would move into the top three,” said Embiid, one of the Sixers’ four all-time number three selections. Charles Smith (1988), Jerry Stackhouse (1995), and Jahlil Okafor (2015) make up the rest of the group.
As the Sixers’ lottery representative, Embiid didn’t disappoint, providing several memorable moments. Shortly after ESPN emcee Mark Jones informed viewers there was a chance Sacramento’s top-three pick could convey to the Sixers, the playful, engaging big man hammed it up a bit.
When Jones broke the news that the pick swap between the Sixers and Kings would actually be taking place, Embiid first embellished a long, drawn-out look of confusion, before smirking in approval.
Seated directly to the left of Los Angeles Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson throughout the event, Embiid clearly took the opportunity to have some fun with the Hall of Famer, whose club might have been forced to surrender its first-round pick to the Sixers, had the pick fallen outside the top three.
“I was just talking a little bit of trash,” Embiid joked. “I was telling him that I’m about to take his pick, and they’re going to go home with nothing, but I had fun talking with him.”
“Jo Jo’s got so much personality, he brings so much to the table,” Colangelo said. “It’s great having him up there as the face of the organization [Tuesday]. He’s just going to continue to be everything he can be both on the court and off the court, and that’s a special piece, and a special player, and a special person.”
With the Sixers’ fate now sealed, Colangelo and his staff can begin to intensify and streamline their preparations for the June 22nd draft, sharpening their focus more closely on the options that could potentially be available at number three.
“We know who those players might be, and who they might look like,” said Colangelo, “so we can zero in on who we’re going to work out for that third spot.”
In addition to nabbing the draft’s third overall pick, the Sixers are set to pick four times in the second round. They also found out Tuesday that they’ll have 36th selection, obtained from from New York, as well as numbers 39, 46, and 50.
Colangelo said, “Now, we can start to establish some of those things that we’re doing in the background, working on the workouts, not only agent-led workouts that we’re going to be attending in the coming weeks, but setting up our own workouts for back in Camden.”
There were indeed a handful of scenarios that could have played out Tuesday. In the end, the Sixers emerged from the lottery with a stronger sense of direction, and yet another reason for optimism.