With the NBA playoffs on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Inquirer is reliving the 76ers drafts through The Process starting with the selection of Joel Embiid with the third-overall pick in 2014. This is the third part of a six-part series.
Would they go with Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram?
That’s the decision 76ers had to make after winning the NBA draft lottery on May 16, 2016, which was 38 days before the 2016 draft.
Would they decide that Simmons, then a point forward out of LSU, was someone they couldn’t possibly pass up? Or would the Sixers conclude that the long, athletic and better-shooting Ingram was a better fit?
“You are going to have to ask that question on June 23 [the night of draft] when we are ready to announce it,” then Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said at the time.
The decision was actually made way before then.
The day after the draft lottery, Colangelo denied a report that said the Sixers were leaning toward drafting Simmons.
However, a league source told The Inquirer that Simmons’ workout with the Sixers on June 21 was all for show. The team had already decided he would become the first-overall pick. The source said the Sixers had to promise his camp that he would be the team’s selection before Simmons would come in to work out.
At the time, the Sixers were the laughingstock of the league with their 10-72 record. As a result, Philadelphia was far from a desired destination for draft picks. Plus, Colangelo, who was hired that April, had to repair relationships with agents, which were soured during former president/general manager Sam Hinkie’s tenure.
But making the promise to Simmons’ representatives turned out to be a no-brainer, especially for a team coming off a 10-win season.
As solid as Ingram was, the Sixers couldn’t pass up on Simmons’ transcendent talent.
After winning the lottery, one could argue Philly’s three seasons of tanking finally paid off for the franchise that compiled a 47-199 record during that time. They finally got their No. 1 pick after placing third in the previous two lotteries.
So they couldn’t mess this up by putting too much thought into what was an easy pick.
The surprising thing was that the Sixers made no trades before or after the draft involving Simmons.
“We didn’t feel any of those trade scenarios would have put us in a position we would want to be in going forward, so we took a patient approach and passed on a few opportunities we could have reached,” Colangelo said at the time.
The Sixers had two additional first-round picks in the draft, adding swingman Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (France) with the 24th overall pick and picking Furkan Korkmaz (Turkey) two spots later. Korkmaz, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, would remain in Europe another year before joining the Sixers.
But they were looking to move up from 24 and 26 in the draft, preferably into the top eight, to add another elite prospect to pair with the 6-10 Simmons, whom coach Brett Brown turned into an NBA point guard.
The team was widely known to be shopping players, primarily centers Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. They were also dangling the two late first-round picks.
They targeted the Boston Celtics’ third overall pick with the hope of selecting another guard. Word out of Boston was that the Sixers wanted too much in return to make the deal. NBA sources had indicated that the Sixers asked for Boston’s third and 16th picks. The Sixers reportedly offered Noel, Robert Covington, and the two late picks.
“There were numerous trade scenarios we looked at,” Colangelo said at the time.
They were unable to acquire another top-8 pick, but they landed Simmons, who joined Joel Embiid as the franchise’s cornerstones.
Simmons missed what would have been his first season after fracturing his right foot. The next season, Simmons garnered rookie of the year honors while being snubbed for the 2018 All-Star Game.
However, he went on to garner All-Star honors in 2019 and this season. This season, Simmons could become the first Sixer to win defensive player of the year since Dikembe Mutombo in 2001. That’s a bit misleading, considering the Sixers acquired Mutombo on Feb. 22, 2001 from the Atlanta Hawks, with whom he had spent most of the season.
In his third season, Simmons leads the league in total steals (115) and steals per game (2.1). The 23-year-old is also second in deflections (216) and third in deflections per game (4).