The coast-to-coast debate over the merits of Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram expected to take place over the next five weeks might be a moot point.
The Philadelphia 76ers are leaning heavily toward taking Simmons on June 23, according to league sources, with the No. 1 overall pick they landed in the NBA draft lottery Tuesday night.
That would set the Los Angeles Lakers up at No. 2 with Ingram, who already wowed them in his May 11 interview on opening day of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. Ingram’s drive to be great and dedication to winning, according to sources, resonated deeply with the Lakers’ front-office contingent.
The 76ers will further investigate Ingram, but they have great confidence in the upside of Simmons, whose ambidextrous athletic ability at 6’10” and 240 pounds comes with innate basketball instincts.
It’s not as if the 76ers need to get to know Simmons to decide if they want him. Simmons was born and raised in Australia, where 76ers director of performance research and development David T. Martin was an iconic sports-science leader until leaving the Australian Institute of Sport for Philadelphia in 2015.
Sixers head coach Brett Brown also coached Simmons’ father, Dave, with the Melbourne Tigers. All of that history with Simmons has allayed any concerns over his attitude and inconsistent motor during his one season at LSU.
The sweet-shooting Ingram will be offered the chance to be so exceptional in a private workout that he shifts Philadelphia’s thinking, but as of now, it appears as though the Duke freshman will be available at No. 2. That would thrill the Lakers, who aren't sure if Ingram isn't better than Simmons.
Ingram, a natural small forward at 6'9", is a polished and versatile offensive player. He also projects to being a defensive presence once he gains more strength to go with his 7’3” wingspan. Not only would Ingram fill a swing position of immense importance in today’s NBA, but he would also plug a gaping hole on a Lakers roster that has young talent in point guard D’Angelo Russell, shooting guard Jordan Clarkson and power forwards Julius Randle and Larry Nance.
Ingram's rise is similar to that of Russell, the Lakers’ No. 2 overall pick last year. Both were relatively unheralded in recruiting circles instead of prep icons presumed as certain one-and-done guys; both confidently worked their way to prominence and eventually became captivating NBA prospects.
Even though Simmons and Russell are friends and have spoken about the possibility of playing together as Lakers, Ingram’s shot-making would better maximize Russell’s passing gifts. Simmons’ ball-handling, on the other hand, would overlap with Russell’s. And in Randle, the Lakers already have a rebounding force who lacks a jumper, much like Simmons.
Still, the Lakers will actively explore trading the pick. They want to get better as soon as possible—in part to make sure Philadelphia doesn’t get too good of a pick next year when the Lakers’ first-rounder conveys to the 76ers if it’s outside the top three. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is also seeking a better blend of youth and experience on the roster.
But it's an open question if the Lakers can find a star another club is willing to send away. Trading away the likes of Paul George or Jimmy Butler would be hard-to-explain steps back for the Pacers or Bulls. And with George Karl gone and a new arena to open, the Kings aren't likely to move DeMarcus Cousins.
It's also valid to wonder why the Lakers would want to give up young assets they have under cost-controlled contracts that would fit perfectly with massive incoming free-agent deals.
The 76ers, despite suggesting they don't anticipate trading the No. 1 pick that already had club officials dancing the night away in New York, actually may be the team more likely to get a draft deal done.
New general manager and team president Bryan Colangelo, hired to jump-start former GM Sam Hinkie’s much maligned "process" that sucked the life out of the franchise, is very much looking to trade.
Colangelo has other picks and one of the big men from the youthful group of Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid to offer. Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, 27, would be a logical target with the rise of Dennis Schroder, 22.
But the 76ers also have in mind that Simmons can initiate a lot of offense, something they’ve lacked as much as outside shooting. And they're going to need time to grow anyway.
Simmons would give the Sixers a commodity that looks and feels like best in class, something majority owner Josh Harris covets as he pushes the franchise back to respectability.
Lakers legend Magic Johnson, to whom Simmons has been compared, offered this glowing endorsement via his Twitter account in January:
Simmons trying to be a latter-day Magic for the Lakers in their very first season without Kobe Bryant makes for a fascinating scenario.
But the 76ers have the power, and they are not planning to let Simmons get away.
Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.