This was always going to be a critical lottery for the Sixers. For an organization and a fan base that's been playing the long game for a while, there's a real sense of anticipation about the whole affair. Anxiety, too. That's what happens when you aren't sure what's about to happen.
Quite a bit of planning and maneuvering went into building for Tuesday's lottery. Now the guy who put all that in motion is gone. It's funny. A lot of people spent a lot of time, locally and nationally, talking about The Process and Sam Hinkie's divisive rebuild. No one ever really knew what he was thinking. It was impossible to anticipate his moves. And yet, in a weird way, it feels like he'd be more of a known commodity going into this draft if he were still in charge. If the Sixers end up with one or two picks in the top five, you could have imagined Hinkie taking the player(s) he thought was best and being quite happy about it. His successor is harder to peg.
When Joshua Harris hired Bryan Colangelo, he said the Sixers were ready to move to the next phase of the rebuild. That's a pretty vague statement. It could mean lots of things, though there seem to be more unknown possibilities with Colangelo in charge. At the combine in Chicago last week, Colangelo said "nothing is off the table." He also entertained a hypothetical and said the Sixers will be "open for business" if they land two top-five picks. That is, they'd consider trading one. Or perhaps both. Maybe. Colangelo embraced all sorts of potential scenarios.
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"It really just comes from the conversation following the lottery results," Colangelo told NBA.com. "That's the one thing about the lottery. Once it's completed we'll know exactly what we have. Before anything else happens, that's the first domino that's got to fall. Tuesday's a big day for us in a whole host of ways."
It was going to be a big day for them before Colangelo arrived. Now it's a big day for the Sixers and Colangelo. This is the first step, and it will go a long way toward shaping Colangelo's tenure in the Sixers' front office, not to mention how he's perceived.
The Sixers have a 26.9 percent chance to get the top pick. The odds of them landing a top-two pick increase to roughly 50 percent. And the chance of them getting two picks in the top five is nearly a coin flip. That puts Colangelo and the Sixers in a really interesting position. When asked to evaluate the Sixers roster, Colangelo recently said on Comcast SportsNet that they have "young developing pieces" and some "potential stars." What they do not have, in Colangelo's estimation, is "a current star." It's hard to quibble with any of that. Nerlens Noel has showed potential, particularly at the defensive end of the floor. Jahlil Okafor - who struggled defensively and was disappointing on the glass - was second among rookies in scoring and led the Sixers in that category. Joel Embiid is, ostensibly, set to make his NBA debut next season. Dario Saric might, too. That's promising. But none of them are stars. Not now. And they might never be.
How far is Colangelo willing to go to acquire someone who might fit into some loose definition of "a current star"? He has at least three first-round picks at his disposal this year. He might have four. There are plenty of other picks available in subsequent years. Not to mention the aforementioned pieces that are still in the early stages of their development. That's a lot of assets to work with. And if he doesn't go the trade route, will he instead be able to convince someone to sign with the Sixers once free agency begins? There are so many different directions Colangelo could go.
As Colangelo openly admitted, they're clearly open to ideas. But what would the Sixers want in return in order to unload a first-rounder and/or a player in an attempt to accelerate the rebuild? And if the Sixers swap picks and/or young players for veterans, are they headed back to the mediocre middle they occupied for so long before Hinkie arrived?
"We've talked about not racing out to the middle and getting stuck," Colangelo told reporters in Chicago last week. "We've talked about taking incremental steps and that theme is going to be consistent throughout this whole process. It's not just this week and the next few weeks leading up to the draft, it's going to be over several years that we're going to be taking these steps."
This lottery was always important for the Sixers. Now it has added meaning. We're about to find out if the Sixers are indeed open for business - and, more importantly, what kind of business the new boss is running.