The Sixers are entering a new phase Thursday evening when they make the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft.
After three years of the team’s dismal losing, including a 10-72 record last season, this selection marks the beginning of a turnaround. The decisions they make on draft night will jumpstart the much-needed next chapter of the organization.
“It’s extremely exciting,” head coach Brett Brown said, "the realization that we’ve navigated through three years of some difficult times and now we’re in a position to not only choose the first player of the draft, but have the ability to reshape our roster with considered trades, to decide on how we use (picks) 24 and 26, how we continue to grow the style of play, the rules that we have in place as it relates to our version of culture. Stuff that nobody sort of sees on a stat sheet or on the court, all those things that just go into a higher level."
Complete coverage of the Philadelphia 76ers and their rivals in the NBA from NBC Sports Philadelphia.
The Sixers are expected to select Ben Simmons at No. 1. The 6-foot-10, 242-pound forward from LSU will become the new face of the franchise. Simmons worked out with the Sixers on Tuesday, just two days before the draft, following a dinner with them last week in Cleveland prior to Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
All along, the No. 1 pick was considered to be a two-man race between Simmons and Duke forward Brandon Ingram, who also participated in a private workout with the Sixers. Throughout the draft process, members of the front office have reiterated the importance studying all of their resources and making the right selection.
“There is a responsibility along with the obvious opportunity to recalibrate our own program and make a wise decision,” Brown said.
Simmons’ workout was a chance for members of the organization to get an up-close and personal look at him. Brown, however, has been linked to Simmons long before the 19-year-old was a top prospect.
Brown’s ties to Simmons’ family go back almost 30 years to his days in Australia. Brown coached his father for five years and knew his mother when she was a cheerleader. He also coached Simmons' brother years later. Simmons grew up just 12 miles away from where Brown lived. Their similarities from Brown’s 17 years abroad gives the coach a unique, instant relationship with Simmons.
“You just can’t make this type of stuff up,” Brown said of their connections. “To speak to him from my perspective is very, very comfortable. It’s very comfortable. He knows that should we draft him, he will have people that will help him navigate all this apart from help him grow his game. The landscape of the NBA is difficult, and he will have mentors and people that care for a lot of things way more than just basketball around him should we draft him.”
From there, the Sixers have several options at the 24th and 26th picks. They are considering packaging the two selections to move up into the mid-teens. The Sixers already have a young roster and could find other ways to enhance their team besides carrying a pair of late-first-round picks into training camp.
There is also the possibility the Sixers could trade up into the lottery. President of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said the top eight would be their ideal situation. A trade of this extent would have to involve current players, with both Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor mentioned in rumors.
As the Sixers weigh these options, they are doing so collaboratively. The staff, which was overhauled in April and May, has been meeting to hash out ideas and opinions that stem from various paths of experience. Brown speaks with Colangelo a minimum of five times a day, whether it is seven in the morning or midnight.
“His accessibility and availability is 24-7,” Brown said of Colangelo. “We both sort of tap into each other with that spirit. He knows the passion that I have and I hope the energy that I have creates an environment that we speak often.
“To sit in rooms and be on phones and study and research intel that we have and are extracting, to then bring our scouts in all at once to bunker in and have them all here and share ideas and argue and spitball, it’s one of the real enjoyable parts of growing a program.”
The Sixers are working to build a new roster with more question marks than just their trio of draft picks. The team is waiting on the decision from former lottery pick Dario Saric on whether he will remain in Turkey or join the Sixers for next season. Saric has until July 17 to notify his current team.
Another ongoing uncertainty has become clearer this week. Joel Embiid has been cleared for controlled, monitored five-on-five scrimmages. The 2014 third overall pick has yet to play an NBA game because of foot injuries.
Brown stressed the word “excitement” in regard to his progress. He is looking forward to imparting his in-game experience from his days on the Spurs’ staff (including stories of Tim Duncan) on Embiid, who did not grow up playing basketball.
Embiid’s health is a huge factor in how the Sixers shape their frontcourt for the future. While it is not realistic to expect Embiid to play 82 games or 40 minutes a night, knowing that he is a significant step closer to making his debut is long-awaited news for Brown.
“You feel a responsibility to help settle him down and grow him at a realistic pace,” Brown said. “You’re always mindful that the city and their coach can’t get too ahead of ourselves where he hasn’t played basketball for almost three years.”
Once the names are called at the draft, the work just begins for Brown. He said he isn't wired to take a sigh of relief once it's over, noting, "I feel that there’s just so much left to do."
The Sixers will participate in summer leagues in both Utah and Las Vegas. These coincide with free agency, as the Sixers will evaluate who they can acquire in the market and through trades. The team will be looking to make moves, ones it has carefully considered and evaluated.
“We all feel the responsibility of getting this right given the situation over the past three years," Brown said. "We aren’t going to skip steps. We understand that there is an element of patience with all of this — the growth of the program, the growth of Joel Embiid or the first player, or what’s going to happen with Dario Saric. There’s a patience level that can’t drown reality of wanting too much too soon and we skip a step. I think the fans should know that we are acutely aware of building this at a meticulous pace. An aggressive pace, but not one that’s reckless.”
Draft night will have a special result for Brown, who considers holding the locker room together as the biggest challenge he has faced. For the first time in his role with the Sixers, he will be leading a team that is built with long-term plans after coaching a revolving door of players. Brown always has carried the success of the team on his shoulders. He coaches with a sense of accountability, acknowledging Philadelphia and its fans through the Sixers' struggles, and looks for them to be rewarded.
“(Thursday is going to be) the realization that we’re a step further, maybe a big step further, to being able to have a team that the city can wrap their arms around and touch a little bit and feel like it could be their team for a while,” Brown said. “You can see pieces that can be here for a while. I am always aware of the fans. I feel so responsible.”