By: Michael Conroy
Just what is so compelling about the NBA Draft Lottery? Is there an untapped audience clamoring to watch athletes decorated with “pseudo-haute couture” attire as they grin and grimace through a hyper-glorified raffle? No, those optics alone can’t be responsible for shutting down a Buffalo Wild Wings at around 6:30 p.m. on an otherwise random Tuesday. Hope, on the other hand, could do that with its eyes closed. After all, only the hopeful could form a community as inexplicably interested as the Philadelphia 76ers fanbase. Last night, that’s exactly what the NBA was selling.
ESPN had the perfect lead-in to its coverage of the Western Conference Finals opener between the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. The broadcast played like an — albeit shamelessly milked — Old Spice commercial. In a sense, fans were told: “Look at your man, now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me. But with the first, sixth and eleventh overall picks in the 2015 NBA Draft, he could smell like me.”
Just think, all of the “stink” emanating from Sixers GM, Sam Hinkie’s controversial tanking strategy in recent years could finally be abating. Watching James Harden square off against Steph Curry, respectively the third and seventh overall selections in 2009, the future of a team with the potential draft capital of the 76ers seemed undeniably bright. Landing just one of their two conditional picks would increase the odds of drafting a difference-maker exponentially. It was an enticing scenario, but one that ultimately eluded the Sixers faithful.
In reality, Philadelphia’s Utopian outcome was never very likely. Still, it’s difficult not to view last night’s haul as a slight disappointment. The third overall selection in the draft is hardly a pittance for any NBA team, but landing outside of the top 2 could prove problematic for the Sixers in the long run.
Both Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are favored to be the top pick, but D’Angelo Russell could be a target for the Lakers at #2. What, then, will Hinkie do if Los Angeles goes off script on draft night? Nerlens Noel flourished in the second half of last season and last year’s third overall selection, Joel Embiid is poised for a breakout rookie* campaign in 2015. The selection of Okafor or Towns would undoubtedly force out one of the other Sixers’ center prospects.
Of course, Sam Hinkie tends to view all players as assets, so the idea of taking Jahlil Okafor may be slightly more tenable. Regardless, if the 76ers are truly building something, wouldn’t it be better if the blocks fit together?
It’s true that the Philadelphia 76ers are playing the long game and their fans have clearly bought in, but just because people are patient, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re buying tickets. It’s always easier to suffer the journey when you can make out the destination in the distance.
Two superstars clashed on a national stage last night. The 7-minute lottery extravaganza was fun, but James Harden and Stephen Curry were the main event. The pair represent the highest rated offensive prospects drafted in the past decade. Third on that list could be a 76er next month. A good Point-Guard in the NBA makes his entire team better. D’Angelo Russell could facilitate the offensive growth of Philadelphia’s young roster through crucial developmental years. He may have been Hinkie’s pick at #1 overall.
In the end, it might come down to which Center the Lakers favor and whether the Timberwolves take him first. That might just cost the Sixers their chance at Russell. Los Angeles could even leverage their superior positioning to gain assets from Philadelphia. As it stands, Philly will be hoping once again just over a month from now. Perhaps those dreams won’t be dashed.