Continuing Basketball Insiders’ examination of all 30 teams this offseason, today we look at the Philadelphia 76ers and how they can improve going forward.
The good news for Sixers fans, coming off one of the worst seasons in NBA history (one that featured upheaval and turnover in the front office to cap off the 2015-16 campaign) is that there is nowhere to go but up.
Focus on the Present
Sam Hinkie’s infamous “process” was about focusing on the future. And say what you will about Hinkie, he left a cupboard full of intriguing and promising assets. Now, the onus is on new general manager Bryan Colangelo to turn the corner and turn that promise into actual on-court victories.
We saw this change in philosophy begin to take hold last season, when Jerry Colangelo (Bryan’s father) was brought in to right the ship. Philadelphia promptly traded away future second-round draft picks in exchange for Ish Smith, a player they had previously let walk in free agency. Philly also signed veteran Elton Brand to serve as a trusted mentor to their cadre of young big men.
This change in direction is likely music to the ears of head coach Brett Brown. Brown has fought the good fight while having to play each night at a talent disadvantage. When the Sixers are able to increase the quality of their roster, Brown will finally have an opportunity to showcase his abilities as a head coach, as the 76ers start to enter games on equal footing with their opponents.
Still, making the transition from an organization focused on the future to one striving to improve right now is fraught with it’s own set of challenges. Patience, which was running low in Philly, will obviously still be required. Luckily for Philadelphia, they have an enormous amount of cap space to work with, which should hopefully expedite the evolution.
Utilize Cap Space Correctly
This upcoming offseason is obviously immensely important for the future of the franchise. The Sixers will enter the 2016 free agent frenzy with upwards of $60 million in salary cap space to spend, which will likely qualify as the most cap space in the league (depending on how the L.A. Lakers handle a few of their expiring contracts).
This organization will have an opportunity to add established, proven players to their exciting young core. Unfortunately for the Sixers, this is a relatively weak free agent class, especially considering the 76ers have essentially no chance at landing the crown jewels of the crop (LeBron James and Kevin Durant). There are a few elite forwards and centers on the market, but the 76ers’ primary objective will be to add guards. Could they convince DeMar DeRozan to accept a max contract to play in Philadelphia? The top point guard available will be Mike Conley, but considering his age and ‘wear and tear,’ he’s probably not an ideal fit. Other expensive players they could target would be wings such as Nicolas Batum, Harrison Barnes (restricted) and Chandler Parsons.
However, an issue Philly may run into is that they would likely need to overpay to land top-tier players this offseason, as the most valued commodities likely won’t have the lowly 76ers atop their list of preferred destinations. Still, the 76ers will need to spend approximately $50 million just to hit the salary floor, so splurging for the right player would be excusable. A second option might be trading for another team’s unhappy star who’s making major money.
The 76ers’ best plan of attack may be to target mid-tier talent – players who haven’t completely established themselves yet, but have each shown they are legit a NBA talent with an intriguing ceiling. Shooting guards who would fall into this category are Kent Bazemore, Allen Crabbe, Evan Fournier, Eric Gordon and Courtney Lee. Point guards include Jeremy Lin, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson and Matthew Dellavedova.
Of course, free agency isn’t the only way the Sixers plan to improve their roster this summer.
Get Lucky in the Lottery and Hope for Healthy Returns
Depending on how the ping pong balls bounce, the 76ers could end up with four first-round selections – including two of the top four picks in the 2016 NBA draft. The Lakers pick is top-three protected, so if L.A. drops out of the first three spots, the Sixers will be sitting pretty. There is a 44.2 percent chance of this happening. In this scenario, Philly could, theoretically, walk away from the draft with LSU’s Ben Simmons and combo-guard Jamal Murray out of Kentucky.
Developing the young players who are under contract is crucial too. There were a number of twists and turns that resulted in Hinkie’s ouster in Philadelphia, but arguably none was more damaging than losing Joel Embiid for two seasons due to multiple foot injuries. At the time he was drafted, Embiid was viewed by many draft experts as possessing an incredibly high upside. He needs to appear in at least one NBA game before we start rehashing how good he can become, but the excitement will ratchet up if he shows signs of healthy progress.
Jahlil Okafor’s introduction to the NBA was a rocky ride. He showed that he could score at will, which wasn’t a surprise, but other than that his rookie season was an unpleasant experience. He had multiple off-the-court issues that brought unwanted drama and embarrassment. On the floor, his defense was deplorable. His season was also cut short due to a knee injury. The Sixers have to hope he not only returns to 100 percent health, but that he also matures a great deal in a short period of time and is willing to commit to improving his defense next season.
Another potential piece that could greatly improve the overall outlook of the organization going forward is bringing Dario Saric to America. Saric, the 10th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, turned 22 years old earlier this month and as is one of the more promising prospects in all of Europe.
Saric is currently a member of the Turkish Basketball League affiliate Anadolu Effes, which is nearing the end of its regular season. This season, in 22 minutes per contest, Saric is averaging 11.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, while shooting an ultra-impressive 50 percent from the floor, 40.3 percent from three-point territory and 93.9 percent from the free-throw line. Saric will likely play for Croatia in the Olympics this summer, but Coach Brown has said that will not decrease the chances he comes over to play in the NBA next season. Saric has one more year left on his current contract in Turkey.
If things fall the right way over the new few months, it’s not impossible to see the Sixers on a path to respectability sooner rather than later.
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