For a while, it seemed Ben Simmons was the no-brainer top pick in the NBA draft.
But should the 76ers go in a different direction on June 23?
Folks were all over the Simmons-is-the-second-coming-of-LeBron-James bandwagon heading into his one-and-done season at Louisiana State. When Simmons' lack of shooting ability became evident and he didn't play as hard as some expected, people began to question how reliable he would be in the NBA. Plus, reports are flying around that the versatile forward doesn't want to play for the Sixers. He wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, who have the second pick.
Then there's Brandon Ingram, a long, athletic small forward out of Duke. He's the other candidate to be the first pick. A solid shooter, he is seen by some as a better fit for a Sixers squad in desperate need of another shooter. At 6-foot-9, the one-and-done Blue Devil would create matchup problems on the perimeter. And no one can argue that he was a success story last season while Simmons underachieved.
But two of the three NBA executives I spoke to said the Sixers have to take Simmons. So did a league scout. The other executive said that Simmons has the potential to be the better player, but he points out that Ingram played harder in college, is a far superior shooter, and is a better fit for the Sixers. That's why he believes they will select him with the first pick.
In his eyes, Simmons is too much of a gamble.
"They need a wing player," said the executive, who like the other sources, spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Simmons is not a wing player. Simmons is a power forward. He's like a playmaking power forward. The same with [Dario] Saric.
"Ingram is like a wing player. Ingram is a shooter. Ingram has the big upside. So you just look at what they need, especially the shooting part. Ingram fits what the Sixers need more than Simmons."
Perhaps, but the others basically believe it's Simmons or bust.
"Come on, man," one executive responded to the questioning. "It's Simmons."
Said another executive: "I think you have to take Simmons. . . . That's who they should take."
The scout said the Simmons vs. Ingram debate isn't even close.
"Everything is smoke and mirrors," he said. "Everyone wants it to be a mystery and intrigue. It's simple: Ben Simmons is the best player in college basketball. He's one of maybe a handful of guys that can transition from college to the NBA this year. So what's the problem?"
The Sixers have not decided - at least publicly - on whom they'll pick. President of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo plans to do his due diligence.
Simmons is a 6-foot-10, 240-pound ball handler who would be in position to initiate the Sixers offense. Extremely versatile, the Australian can play small forward, power forward, and center in certain small-ball situations. His skill-set would put him in a unique situation as a Sixers distributor.
Plus, the team would be a home away from home for him.
His father, Dave, played for Sixers coach Brett Brown in Australia. The Simmons family attended a 2014-15 Sixers game at Orlando and greeted Brown afterward.
Simmons is also familiar with David Martin, the Sixers' director of performance research and development. Martin had a senior sports-science position with the Australian Institute of Sport before being hired by the Sixers last summer.
But it appears that Simmons wants to play in Los Angeles, where he could make more endorsement money. As a result, he reportedly won't work out for any NBA teams outside of the scheduled workout with his agency, Klutch Sports, in Cleveland.
"There's certainly risk factors . . . in Simmons' background," one of the executives said. "But that's where Bryan has to get involved and you convince him otherwise. You have to roll out the red carpet and show him what Philly is all about."
But there's more.
Some questioned his work ethic as the season progressed at LSU. And he was benched for academic reasons in the opening minutes of a game against Tennessee on Feb. 20.
He also failed to achieve the 2.0 grade point average needed in the fall semester to be a finalist for the Wooden Award, which goes to the nation's top college player.
The scout isn't concerned about those transgressions.
"Not once have I heard about him being involved in a sexual assault," he said. "Not once have I heard someone rent a car for him and it has weed in it. Not once have I heard anything negative about this dude's character. So the biggest knock on him is he's a diva. For real?
"He's a diva. OK, so Ben Simmons is a diva. What is Kobe Bryant? What is LeBron James?"
Meanwhile, Ingram had no blemishes at Duke. He is supposed to be a better person than he is a basketball player, and that's saying a lot for the silky smooth scorer. The executive who prefers Ingram to Simmons said that could play a big part in Colangelo's decision.
Simmons was LSU's best recruit since Shaquille O'Neal in 1989, and one can argue he was given a lot of freedom and put on a pedestal. All that could have led to his sense of entitlement.
Ingram was just one of a long list of future lottery picks to play at Duke. As a result, he was held to a high standard. Ingram was in a more structured and disciplined system. He also played with a better crop of talent.
"Put Ben Simmons at Duke and put Brandon Ingram at LSU and let's see how they match up," the scout said. "Let's see how they look."