BRYAN COLANGELO is officially on the clock. The Sixers don't draft until No. 3, but that's mostly the point: The whole reason Colangelo is here is for picks like this. We can quibble about the exact nature of the grievances that ultimately earned Sam Hinkie his demotion/resignation, but one thing is clear: He did himself no favors the last time he took a swing at the No. 3 pick in the draft. Colangelo? He's a basketball guy. He's got the eye. At least, that's how the story goes. And, thus, here we are.
No doubt, there's more than a hint of revisionism in modern retellings of that 2015 draft. When the Sixers selected Jahlil Okafor, ESPN's cameras didn't cut to a shot of a crying child, as they did when the Knicks picked Kristaps Porzingis. Okafor was supposed to be the safe pick, the obvious pick, and that sometimes gets lost amid reactionaries' snickers. But, then, general managers are supposed to be smarter than ESPN cameramen, not to mention the rest of us. Or so the argument goes.
The most cogent argument against The Process has always centered around the probability that a team can convert its high draft picks into actual NBA players. When Hinkie picked Okafor as the best big man on a board that included Porzingis and Myles Turner, and even Willie Cauley-Stein, he gave his critics all the opening they'd need to sow the seeds of doubt into his boss' mind. It's easy to lose games and amass top-five picks. But NBA-level talent is scarce enough that it takes more than a blind squirrel to make the process work. After all, being trapped in mediocrity is better than being trapped in awfulness and never getting out. Again, that's the argument.
Exhibit A is, of course, the Timberwolves, who had five picks in the top six from 2008-11 and came away with O.J. Mayo, Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Wesley Johnson and Derrick Williams. But they're hardly the exception.
If LeBron hadn't decided to return his talents to Cleveland, what would we think about the viability of the Cavs' tank? No doubt, Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins would give them a dynamic pair of guards. But Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson were their other top-four picks. In fact, when you look at the teams that have had multiple cracks at the top of the draft, you start to see that for every Cody Zeller there is a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Hornets, 2012-13), and for every Kevin Love a Hasheem Thabeet (Memphis, 2008-09).
The Wizards landed Otto Porter and Bradley Beal at No. 3 and John Wall at No. 1. But in the midst of that run they took Jan Vesely at No. 6 when Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard were still on the board. The Magic hit on Victor Oladipo in 2013 but have yet to get much in the way of a return on Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja.
The list of teams that goes 3-for-3 and lands a Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden doesn't go much deeper than one.
It's a skewed sample, no doubt. In theory, the best scouting departments would belong to the teams that are never picking toward the top of the draft. The last three picks the Pacers have had higher than 20 have landed Turner, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Warriors drafted Ekpe Udoh at No. 6, but they did it the year after they took Steph Curry at No. 7, and Klay Thompson at No. 11.
Colangelo was brought here under the auspices of being one of those basketball men who warrant the benefit of the doubt. Whether his resume matches his cover letter is another matter. One can argue that selecting Andrea Barnani No. 1 over LaMarcus Aldridge was as egregious a mistake as picking Okafor over Porzingis or Turner, but Bargnani did have a four-year stretch in which he averaged 34 minutes, 18 points, and 5.6 rebounds and shot 37 percent from three-point range. Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan were perfectly fine picks at No. 5 and No. 9, and Roy Hibbert was an excellent pick at No. 17 for about two weeks, until Colangelo traded him for Jermaine O'Neal.
What that amounts to is the same thing the Hinkie era amounted to: You can pretty much find whatever it is you are looking for. The Sixers were looking for a guy with a track record of making pieces fit: The guy who drafted DeRozan and traded for Kyle Lowry, the guy who helped build the Suns. First and foremost, though, they were looking for a guy who would make the right choice, or, perhaps, avoid the disastrous one. Last year, with Ben Simmons the clear No. 1 prospect, Colangelo made the move anybody would have made.
This year, the field is far more muddled. The only certainty is that there will be a wrong pick. There always is. Hinkie made it two years ago, and, in doing so, sealed his exit. That is why Colangelo is here. And that is why his clock starts now.