PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Ben Simmons may as well have walked right into a Philadelphia 76ers pep rally when he took a seat on “The Tonight Show” stage.
The Philly-born band The Roots serenaded Simmons with the team’s catchy anthem they play at every home game, a decades-old tune with a chorus where the fans belt out: “1-2-3-4-5-Sixers.” Simmons and host Jimmy Fallon shared some bites Tuesday night of a cheesesteak from Philly’s Dalessandro’s.
“I could live in Philly,” Simmons said as he chowed down.
Good news, then.
Because barring a series of unreal events, the Sixers are likely to select Simmons with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
Another round of cheesesteaks!
Draft night is what the Sixers (10-72) have built – or rather, destroyed – for over the last three seasons. They’ve absorbed two losing streaks of at least 26 straight games and have lost at least the first 17 games each of the last two seasons.
They even lost the architect of what was dubbed “The Process,” general manager Sam Hinkie.
All the losing, just to win big on draft night.
The ultimate prize is Simmons, the 6-foot-10, 242-pound forward out of LSU, who finally worked out Tuesday for the Sixers in front of team ownership and coach Brett Brown. He posted on Instagram a photo of himself at the workout with the caption, “Trust the process.”
“It was important for us to close that chapter that Ben (or his agent) would want to have Ben here,” team president Bryan Colangelo said. “I’m glad he made that decision. It speaks to his desire to want to be selected No. 1.”
Colangelo, running his first draft in Philadelphia, knows this is a draft that could define the rebuilding process for years. The Sixers have the first, 24th and 26th picks of the first round, a chance to add three players to one of the youngest rosters in the league. Colangelo has been open about his desire to nab another top-10 pick, and could package the late first-round selections and a player – say, center Jahlil Okafor – for a high pick.
The Sixers need backcourt help and surely Providence guard Kris Dunn fits the mold, with a pick-and-roll game that could benefit big men Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel.
The Sixers have a logjam of big men and it seems inevitable that whether it’s this summer or next, Embiid, Noel and Okafor will not last long as a trio.
Embiid, the third overall pick of the 2014 draft, has yet to play for the Sixers because of foot injuries. He appeared to move a step closer toward participating in regular 5-on-5 drills when he tweeted this week, “And I’m FINALLY BACK on the court!!! Been a long time coming.. Great day to be a Sixer.” He could be joined by fellow ’14 draftee Dario Saric, who may opt out of the final year of his contract with Anadolu Efes of the Turkish Basketball League.
Could it be, a franchise that ran through the likes of JaVale McGee, Darius Johnson-Odom, Tim Frazier and Sonny Weems the last three years could potentially open next season with Simmons, Embiid, Noel, Saric and even Okafor?
“Things are about to change to the organization for the better,” Colangelo said. “It’s been a long time coming. We all know it’s still going to take some time.”
Brown received a two-year contract extension last season before Colangelo was hired, and both appear entrenched in the rebuild for the long haul. Colangelo has a solid draft record with 18 seasons behind him with the Phoenix Suns (11) and the Toronto Raptors (seven). He took Steve Nash with the 15th pick of the 1996 draft, Shawn Merion with the ninth pick of the ’99 draft for the Suns and DeMar DeRozan with the ninth pick in ’09 for the Raptors.
His biggest headscratcher of a selection was Andrea Bargnani with the first pick in 2006 for the Raptors.
The 19-year-old Simmons is no sure thing, either. For all his talent, he couldn’t lead LSU into the NCAA Tournament in his lone season in school despite leading the Tigers in scoring, rebounds and assists.
Simmons, who grew up in Australia before moving to Florida for three years of high school at Montverde Academy, averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists this season with LSU. He never demonstrated he could make jump shots consistently, rarely shooting from outside and going only 1 of 3 from 3-point range all season. He also exhibited an inclination to pass, rather than create his own shot, in the late stages of close games.
Simmons also had academic issues that made him ineligible for the Wooden Award, which is presented to the nation’s top college player.
But Simmons’ relationship with Brown could help ease his transition into the league. Brown coached Simmons’ father, Dave, for four years of pro ball in Australia and knows the family well.
With a modern practice facility set to open in Camden, New Jersey, and roughly $60 million in salary cap space, Philadelphia may no longer stand as the NBA’s version of Siberia to rookies and veterans.
“We’re definitely an organization on the rise and I think they feel it,” Colangelo said.
Who knows, the Sixers could return to the finals in just a few years, just like they did the last time they held the No. 1 pick in 1996 and took some kid out of Georgetown named Allen Iverson.