The 76ers hold the first selection in the NBA draft Thursday, getting their pick of the incoming hoops litter for just the third time in a franchise history that stretches all the way back to the Syracuse Nationals and a draft record that began when Harry Truman was president.
It is a rare and promising moment for the team, and not just because the two previous top picks, Doug Collins in 1973 and Allen Iverson in 1996, helped build teams that reached the NBA Finals. The same could be expected of Ben Simmons, the 6-foot-10 forward from LSU who reportedly has been told his will be the first name called on Thursday.
What's odd about this draft, however - and illustrative of the strange overall juncture where the team finds itself - is that the opening selection might be the least interesting thing the Sixers do all night. At least that's what we've been led to believe.
Everyone expects the Sixers to take Simmons and there is little indication they will do anything else, but beyond that, no one knows what will happen, including perhaps general manager Bryan Colangelo. Trades made during the draft have a way of appearing and disappearing without warning. What the Sixers do have, though, is a lot of cards to deal and an apparent willingness to play the hand aggressively. Among Colangelo's goals, as he said earlier this week, is finding a way to secure an additional draft pick among the top eight selections, which would be a pretty good trick.
"We would like to, and I've been pretty consistent that if it becomes available, we'll certainly do that," he said. "I think there is a cutoff at which point it would not be productive to move. We're not going to do a bad deal by overpaying . . . but something in the top eight or so would be something that would work for us as an organization."
That's a very specific cutoff for Colangelo to reference, and it either indicates where the Sixers feel there is a steep talent decline on the draft board or the point beyond which they don't see compatibility with the teams that will be drafting. Toronto, where Colangelo didn't ultimately fare well as general manager, is drafting ninth. Make of that what you will.
More likely, the eighth pick is the dividing line where the Sixers are confident they can draft one of the three guards who are projected to go that high - Kris Dunn, Jamal Murray, or Buddy Hield. The Sixers desperately need backcourt help, but the question is how they will get another pick in order to get one of those guys.
The answer, according to the most prevalent predraft rumors, is they will get it by trading Jahlil Okafor, who is obviously valuable on the open market and who could be made expendable by the drafting of Simmons and the optimistic reports the team is disseminating concerning the (second) rehabilitation from surgery of Joel Embiid.
Colangelo is in a little bit of a hurry to get things done and moving an attractive piece like Okafor would certainly speed the process. He also has the 24th and 26th picks in the first round to use as chips, or could find a trade partner who would rather have Nerlens Noel instead of Okafor. That said, if they are able to trade for another high pick, the deal probably will involve Okafor.
If that happens - after all the franchise upheaval that began in August 2012 with the Andrew Bynum trade, and continued with the tanking era of the next front office administration, a four-season span during which the team was 166 games under .500 - Embiid will be the only incumbent first-round pick still on the roster. That's a remarkable, and slight, amount of gain.
Nerlens Noel and the rights to Dario Saric came in draft night trades, but at the expense of first-round picks Jrue Holiday and Elfrid Payton. (The Saric deal, which stands as Sam Hinkie's masterpiece, also reclaimed the team's 2017 first-round pick from Orlando. Trading Holiday to New Orleans for Noel and the pick that became both Saric and that 2017 first-rounder is a worthy challenger, but it did cost the team a $3 million fine because Sam forgot to tell New Orleans about Holiday's stress fractures. Details, details.)
So, yeah. If Okafor is traded, Embiid would be the only holdover on the roster actually selected in the first round by the Sixers. And he's never played a game. That's how crazy the last few years have been, and how unpredictable this next period of time might be as well.
The Colangelo Boys are going into deal-making mode. There will be some new first-round picks who come in the door. Some of these might even stay around. Some might even get on the court and play. The guess here, looking at the potential trade partners, is a deal involving Phoenix and the No. 4 pick, which would have a certain symmetry from a Colangelo family point of view.
We'll see. Once the Sixers get the humdrum of picking first in the NBA draft out of the way, the excitement will start for real.