Ladies and gentlemen, the NBA Draft Lottery has concluded, and in what seems like another instance of basketball blasphemy, the Philadelphia 76ers (Sixers) have been awarded the #1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The Los Angeles Lakers received #2, followed by the Boston Celtics at #3. There is no denying that the Sixers have been one of the more well-documented embarrassments in the NBA, completely gutting an otherwise promising Doug Collins-coached roster in the hopes that they could amass a young foundation of players. For years, Sixers fans would be forced to “trust the process,” to the abject ridicule of Basketball Twitter.
This would come a the expense of relevancy and the respect of basketball fans, both in Philadelphia and around the basketball world. After Doug Collins, rightfully frustrated at management’s gutting of an otherwise potential-laden roster, resigned, the Sixers hired former San Antonio Spurs assistant and Gregg Popovich disciple Brett Brown to replace Collins. While the coaching hire appeared to be one with a bright future [starting the season 3-0 with exciting wins over Eastern Conference contenders like the Chicago Bulls and then-defending champions Miami HEAT], it all fell apart.
The Sixers would go on to set a NBA record in futility, going a pathetic 47-199 between the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons. Led by the now-fired Sam Hinkie, the Sixers would effectively rid itself 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams (#11, 2013), Evan Turner (#2, 2010), Thomas Robinson (#5, 2012), Spencer Hawes (#10, 2007), Thaddeus Young (#12, 2007), replacing them with mostly rookies and inconsequential journeymen. It reached a fever pitch this past season, with the Sixers fielding only two players with more than five years of experience (one of them being 16-year veteran Elton Brand, goaded out of retirement for veteran guidance).
But this is not why you’re here. There exists something intriguing once more about this upcoming summer. With the Sixers shockingly rewarded for intended futility once again, this time with the #1 pick, it has caused a stir once more in the NBA community, not so much for the Sixers apparent luck, but for reports coming out of highly-touted Australian prospect Ben Simmons’ camp that the all-around forward is attempting to force his way to the Los Angeles Lakers. This is something we have seen before on multiple occasions, raising an important question.
When was the last time this actually worked?
Seriously, when? Kobe Bryant? Steve Francis? That isn’t recent history. Kobe was drafted nearly two decades ago in 1996. Francis was drafted in 1999. People born that year are high school seniors now. Ancient history. In the last few years, we have seen multiple prospects reportedly trying to use their budding star power to force their way to the Los Angeles Lakers via the draft by seemingly threatening not to comply with a team that drafted them against their will. We have allegedly seen this with the likes of Dante Exum, Jahlil Okafor, and Karl-Anthony Towns. How has that turned out?
We can begin with Dante Exum, drafted in 2014. That year, the Lakers found themselves in the lottery for the first time since Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Miami HEAT before the 2004-05 season, drafting Andrew Bynum 10th overall. With the 7th pick, it was increasingly unlikely that the Lakers would be able to draft the highly-touted Australian combo guard, as he was then considered to be a Top 5 prospect. Exum’s team reportedly tried to force the hand of the first six NBA teams, but this tactic proved unsuccessful; the Utah Jazz would select him 5th overall. Exum reported for training camp, and that was that. L.A. then drafted Julius Randle.
This same scenario would happen a year later in 2015, this time with two highly-touted big men coming out of college in Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor. Both were reportedly trying to force their way to the Lakers sitting at #3, and both were drafted by other teams (Towns to Minnesota and Okafor to Philadelphia). The Lakers didn’t suffer too much, however, leaving the lottery that night with talented point guard D’Angelo Russell. His future is as bright as ever in Los Angeles, and the promise of a much more positive coaching presence combined with the conclusion of the Kobe Bryant Era will provide many more opportunities for growth.
Stay tuned for more on that. To borrow from Miami Herald writer Ethan Skolnick‘s afternoon radio show segment “Here’s The Thing,” here’s the thing: We live in an era where players are becoming more important than head coaches in the professional ranks; head coaches are often to blame first and foremost whenever a team either struggles or suffers under a toxic environment. But one thing is clear–while the influence of players (especially star players) seemingly grows by the year, they do not control their destiny as far as who drafts them is concerned.
The reality here is that when a player is drafted, their rights belong to the team that drafted them. This means that draftees cannot sign with another NBA franchise unless the original team transfers those draft rights to that team via trade. An example of this would be the various different foreign prospects drafted by the San Antonio Spurs since 2000. Current Indiana Pacers forward/center Luis Scola was drafted by the Spurs in 2002. He never played for San Antonio due to his storied Euroleague career and the Spurs’ eventual trading of his rights to Houston in 2007.
Had Scola opted out of his European career, the only team he could have joined was San Antonio, as they owned his draft rights. This would have been the same for the Timberwolves and Sixers had either Towns or Okafor refused to report to summer league or training camp. It wouldn’t have made sense to on their part, and like any other job, if you don’t report to work, you don’t get paid. Despite any potential threats reportedly floated by the Simmons camp, the only person that gets hurt by this is the player. He’s not going anywhere else in the world this autumn, and fast.
So to make a long story short, don’t waste your time with the reports of certain players refusing to work out for certain teams because they don’t want to play for a certain coach or in a current city. If the team wants them, they will draft them, and if they draft them, they will play. It would be financial suicide not to. Don’t believe the hype.
Get your season tickets ready, Sixers fans. Ben Simmons is coming to town.