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Fixing the Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers are one of the saddest teams in the NBA, but fixing them isn’t as hard as it seems. Here’s what the team should do next.

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Whatever Egyptian pharaoh first decided to undergo the construction of the pyramids must have understood the importance of patience in developing what must have then seemed like a borderline impossible task. Imhotep, the ancient architect commissioned to build the first of the great pyramids, likely laid out his plans in front of him, admitted to himself that the task at hand would be unbearably daunting, but knew that if he pulled it all off, the pain and suffering of those that helped build the things would all be worth it.

Whatever patience Imhotep and the pharaohs may have had to exercise, Philadelphia 76ers fans should probably count on doubling it. The road ahead for this massive rebuilding project is long and arduous, no doubt about it, and people who root for the Sixers should probably count on at least a few more years of mediocrity. It won’t ever be as bad as it was this season, when the team tied the NBA record for consecutive losses with 26 in a row, but it will most certainly be slow.

Fortunately, it’s slow by design. It’s not like this is an organization trying to be good and failing miserably. Philadelphia bottomed out on purpose, wiping their books clean of bloated salaries and stockpiling talented young players and draft picks for the future. That’s a great start and really the blueprint for rebuilding a team in today’s NBA, but where do the Sixers go from here? How do they transform themselves from the league’s most depressing team to a perennial contender in less time than it took for the Great Pyramid of Giza to be built?

Here’s the most logical approach for fixing the Sixers:

Keep the D-Leaguers on the Roster for Another Year

If Jason Richardson and Byron Mullens pick their player options for 2014-2015, Philadelphia will be committed to just over $17 million in payroll for that season, which casual fans may read as a great opportunity to bring in some pricy name brand talent, but there’s no way Sam Hinkie is inking any middle-tier veterans to long-term deals this summer. It’s not happening, and that’s the right call.

The whole philosophy surrounding this rebuild is youth and frugality. Philadelphia hopes to draft a ton of big stars with high draft picks (more on this in a minute), and if that happens those kids are going to need big-money extensions eventually. Multi-year deals for veterans that eat into that flexibility and actually help the team get better in the meantime are, frankly, counterproductive.

Since neither LeBron James nor Carmelo Anthony are coming to play in Philly next season no matter how much money Hinkie may put on the table, there’s no reason to put big money and long-term contracts on the table for anybody. Stinking for another year means another top pick in another potentially great draft. Veteran free agents not only prevent that from happening, but they clog up the cap for future years when winning is, in theory, both more realistic and more important

That means the best thing to do for now is keep employing the cheap talent. Give Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and the team’s two lottery picks plenty of playing time together, grow them as a nucleus, and then see where you are in the summer of 2015, which will offer a much better free agency crop, anyway. It’s win-win-win (except for all of the losing).

Trade Thaddeus Young

While it’s true that the best Hinkie could do for Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes was second-round draft picks, there’s still an outside chance that he could return something more valuable for Young, by far the team’s highest-paid player and, outside of Carter-Williams, the team’s best player.

Young has an early-termination option after next season, and in a summer where teams are planning on having a ton of cap space, there’s a good chance that he could opt out and see what sort of dollars he’d fetch on the open market. Honestly, another year toiling away in Philly might be enough to push him to free agency even if he’d make less than the nearly $10 million he’d earn by playing another year with the Sixers.

So if he might leave for nothing, and if he’s not really in the team’s future plans anyway, why not cash him out for some sort of asset? Even if it is another second-round pick or two, it’s better than losing him for nothing. Hinkie is great at stock-piling assets, and this could be another opportunity to do precisely that while also saving some money in the process.

Hit on the Draft Picks

More important than anything else in this blueprint is actually nailing all the high draft picks they’re bound to have over the course of the next few years. Michael Carter-Williams, despite going late in the lottery, is clearly a “hit,” but we don’t know yet what Nerlens Noel will look like once he finally takes the court and there’s certainly no indication this early in the spring which two players the Sixers may end up with when they make a couple of lottery picks this June.

Without question, this brand of rebuilding requires that teams come away from their years of bottom-dwelling with bona fide stars. Landing Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker would help them tremendously, but if they end up picking too late for one of those guys, they’re better off chasing after players with star potential like Julius Randle and Dante Exum than players with red flags like Joel Embiid and Aaron Gordon.

There are stars in this upcoming draft—players who could completely alter the fate of a franchise in a matter of two or three years—but the Sixers have to find those guys to pair up with Carter-Williams and Noel. They also have to hope Noel is as good (and as healthy) as they hope he is.

Just ask Oklahoma City how good it feels to hit on those draft picks. Then ask Cleveland or Sacramento what it feels like to strike out a few times. This plan works well when a team grabs the right players, but when they miss on too many picks, the whole rebuilding thing starts all over again a few years down the road. That, obviously, is not what the Sixers are looking to do.

Let it Marinate

Once Philadelphia has the four young players they think they can build their future around, all there is left to do is pop that bread in the toaster and wait for it to heat up. The right mix of guys could really jell quickly and get Philadelphia back on a winning path, but “quickly” in this sense of the word probably means two or three years. That’s a long time to wait for things to get better, but that’s where this plan is taking us. Expecting results too quickly would be unfair, but expecting those results in a fair amount of time could lead to a very happy fan base that is sure to love the idea of returning to respectability.

We’re a ways away from that, but for now it certainly does look like the Sixers are going about all of this the right way.

The pyramids weren’t built in a day, but the end result proved legendary. A complete turnaround for the Sixers wouldn’t be any less incredible.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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