Mere hours removed from winning the NBA Draft Lottery, 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil hasn’t come down for the euphoric high of having the No. 1 pick.
“I have been worse, I’ll tell you that,” O’Neil joked on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I mean, how good is this? Three years of a rebuild, three years of a tear down, three years of pain. We have a bunch of young pieces with Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. We’ve got Joel Embiid and now you add a No. 1 overall, the 24th and 26th (picks), we’ve got $50 million in cap space – it starts to look really interesting really quickly.”
The 76ers have had one of the worst three-years runs in basketball history, going 47-199 (.191) since the start of the 2013-14 season, including a woeful 10-72 (.122) this year.
O’Neil expects much better in 2016-17.
“The fans stuck with us through this whole process,” he said, “but now we move from process to progress. Now it’s about building. You have Bryan Colangelo, a proven dealmaker, a guy who’s drafted (Steve) Nash, (Amar’e) Stoudemire, (Michael) Finley, (Shawn) Marion – he’s got an unbelievable draft record. He likes to do deals, (build) great relationships, and I think we’ve got some currency now. I think there’s a real opportunity. Yes, it has been a challenge and difficult on the court, but the energy and enthusiasm of the city and of Brett Brown is infectious. . . . We’re putting the pieces together and I think it’s going to be a really long, fun run.”
The 76ers will almost certainty draft Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram with the No. 1 pick.
“They’re saying it’s a two-person draft,” O’Neil said. “It may or may not be. We’re just going to make sure we turn over every block and make sure that we’re doing our homework and make the right decision. This is a big one. I had a friend call me right before the lottery and he said, ‘Wouldn’t you rather have pick No. 2?’ I said, ‘That is not a winner philosophy. It’s just not. We believe that we have smarter people, better people, that will do more research and work harder than anybody, and you got to make the right call. I’m thrilled to have the No. 1 and we will certainly pick, hopefully, the next superstar.”
O’Neil was also asked about Okafor’s rookie campaign. The 20-year-old center averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 53 games this year, but Brandon Tierney was not overly impressed. He doesn’t see a future superstar in Okafor. He sees limited athleticism and a defensive liability.
“Well, I think what you’re seeing is a 19-year-old kid with a really unique skill set,” O’Neil said. “I look at all the great teams and players and as they’ve come up. I’d like to point to our friends in Oklahoma City. You can’t forget that Kevin Durant and Westbrook and Harden missed the playoffs on a team together. He’s 19 years old. I remember when I was 19, I ate differently, I thought differently, I made different situations, and your body’s not fully developed and your brain’s not fully developed and you’re still figuring out who you are and how to get there. I think that not only applies to life but also to basketball. So I say to give up on a blue chip kid who’s No. 3 overall early on, that’d be a tough one.”
Tierney, for what it’s worth, has no concerns about Okafor off the court. Neither does O’Neil – even though the 76ers suspended the Duke product for two games in December following a physical altercation with a heckler in Boston.
“He’s a really good kid who works his tail off, which I really like,” O’Neil said. “He’s definitely a Duke-type kid. But listen, we could find holes in everybody’s game. Our team won 10 games. So you can literally go down the roster and pick apart just about anybody’s game. I would just say let’s get some talent around these guys and see how that rounds out their game and how it changes the dynamic on the court. So I’m a fan.”