It’s March and that means the season is effectively over for a number of NBA teams. We’ll be picking through the remains of the fakers, pretenders and never-had-a-chancers to determine what went wrong. More importantly, what can be salvaged going into next season and beyond? Cuz the great thing about the NBA is even when all is lost, the dead still have hope. There’s always room for wild optimism thanks to coaching carousels, the siren song of the big free agent, the franchise-saving Draft pick, the unknown potential of young assets and blind faith.
I’m tardy with this blog post – it could’ve been written in October, given the sorry state of the 76ers. We’ll keep this short and sweet for our own sanity.
Postmortem: The Sixers tanked last season, same as the season before and the one before that. Their “process” sounds good on paper – avoid the purgatory of mediocrity by bottoming out completely while hoarding cheap players with potential, cap space, overseas prospects and most importantly, high Lottery picks. But once again the basketball karma gods smited (smote?) them last year, as the Lakers jumped them in the Lottery and grabbed D’Angelo Russell, who could’ve been Philly’s much-needed point guard. They also passed on Kristaps Porzingis who has proven to be a franchise-changing pick. The Sixers missed out on all of them, instead selecting Jahlil Okafor, who had a fine rookie season in his own right. But the jury’s out on Okafor’s potential for being a centerpiece on a winning team. He’s a potent low-post scorer (17.5 per game) with pretty limited range. He only grabbed 7 boards in 30 minutes per game, and his defense needs a lot of work. Okafor is a good asset, though questions remain about whether he is a fit on offense playing next to Nerlens Noel, a more defensive-minded big man who can only score at the rim. The two most-used lineups that featured both big men this season were -16.2 and -26.1. Plus, former No. 3 pick Joel Embiid – who hasn’t played a minute since being drafted – maybe has a chance to get on the court next season? How he will fit in with two 6’11” centers in Noel and Okafor remains to be seen.
/checks Sixers injury report
Anyway, the Sixers are projected for a league-worst 14-58 record and again their hopes are pinned on the Draft. They do have a chance at four 1st Round picks this year – their own, the Lakers’, the Heat’s and the Thunder’s. They desperately need another injury-prone 7-footer. No wait, scratch that. They have a grave need for a franchise point guard to quarterback Mike D’Antoni’s offense.
That’s right, D’Antoni’s here now! After Jerry Colangelo was brought in to be the adult in the room, overseeing Basketball Operations (and giving GM Sam Hinkie the occasional wedgie), D’Antoni quickly joined as Associate Head Coach. Colangelo has a great reputation for building winners while D’Antoni revolutionized NBA offense as coach of the Phoenix Suns. But after his time lighting scoreboards up with Steve Nash running his offense, D’Antoni failed to strike lightning again in New York and Los Angeles. His “Seven Seconds or Less” system requires a dynamic point guard, not the flotsam he had with the Knicks and Lakers: Chris Duhon, Nate Robinson, Ray Felton, Steve Blake, Kendall Marshall and a broken down Nash.
This would be a good time to point out that the Sixers’ point guards are Ish Smith, Isaiah Canaan, TJ McConnell and the ubiquitous Kendall Marshall. They must find a point guard in this draft, because no difference-making free agents are coming to Philly.
Low Moments: It’s hard to narrow down to a concise list, so let’s jut go with their most recent humiliation. Last night, it looked like Philly would finally get that elusive 10th win, until Emmanuel Mudiay happened:
Bright Spots: LOL. I guess it would be the addition of Colangelo and D’Antoni to the brain trust. Also head coach Brett Brown (Philly record – 46-190) continues to do the Lord’s work with this limited roster. Listen to him on Zach Lowe’s podcast and you’ll come away feeling better about the Sixers than you ever should about a 9-63 team. I’m a believer in Brown and I hope things turn around for him.
Assets: Cataloguing these is not a small task, as Hinkie’s plan is to stockpile all the assets he can. This team is paying 25 players this year! Someone tell Hinkie these aren’t the Philadelphia Phillies. So many are on league-minimum deals that the Sixers are still under the salary cap despite the lengthy payroll. Here’s my best stab at an asset ranking:
- Okafor – Potential future All-Star.
- Noel – Potential future Defensive POY.
- 2016 1st Round pick – They have the best chance at No. 1 overall, and should certainly wind up with either Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram.
- Dario Saric – Lottery pick in 2014, acquired in a draft day trade with Orlando. Biding his time before committing to join the tire fire in Philly, he’s playing so-so in the Euroleague and still only 21 years old.
- Lakers 2016 1st Round pick – They will need some Lottery luck, as this pick is top-3 protected and the Lake Show is projected for the No. 2 pick.
- Embiid – Tantalizing talent but his body just won’t cooperate. It doesn’t bode well that stories leaked out about his weight gain (though he supposedly trimmed back down) and questionable behavior.
- 2017 1st Round pick – No reason to think it won’t be high lottery. Could also be a trade chip but Hinkie and Colangelo would have to have a cage match to part with it.
- Robert Covington – Solid player (12 ppg) making peanuts, under team control through 2017-18.
- Heat 2016 1st Round pick – Probably conveys in the low-mid 20s.
- Thunder 2016 1st Round pick – Probably conveys in the late-20s.
- Nik Stauskas – A Lottery bust, but on a rookie deal. If he can become a pure shooter he has some value.
- Jerami Grant – 9 ppg, cheap 22-year old under team control through 2017-18.
- Marshall – Cheap and under team control through 2018-19.
- Hollis Thompson – $1M team option this summer, only 24 years old.
- Future No.1 picks – they have their own 1st Rounder each year through 2023, and some other teams’ as well. Hinkie’s got to get some credit for protecting their high draft picks.
- McConnell – Backup point guard is his ceiling, but makes under $1M for another year of team control.
Free Agency prospects: Who knows? They’ve shunned free agency under Hinkie’s mad reign, but now that Colangelo is overseeing things they will probably make some offers given their ridiculous cap space. I don’t see anyone of max contract status going to Philly however.
Resurrection Scale: 10% (Not Just Gone, but Forgotten): With an electron microscope you can just make out a tiny flicker of hope. They have a lot of assets but need to land a point guard, more shooting, a dynamic wing and maybe more before they’re luring any free agents. Colangelo and D’Antoni have a big test ahead of them, to see if they can execute now that assets and cap space have been stockpiled for years.