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Head to Head: Ranking the Rebuilding Efforts

The Lakers, 76ers and Knicks are all rebuilding. Which franchise is best positioned for the future?



The Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks all find themselves at the bottom of the NBA standings this season, but which franchise is best set up for the future? Moke Hamilton, Jabari Davis and Alex Kennedy rank the rebuilding efforts in today’s Head to Head:

Moke Hamilton: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but in this case, the Philadelphia 76ers have three birds. With Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid already in tow, the Sixers have three young pieces that they hope can be building blocks. They do not have any big money contracts on their books and currently have the rights to more than 10 future first- and second-round draft picks between now and 2020.

It is nearly impossible to argue with the fact that the Sixers’ future is brightest between them, the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, but if one did want to make such an argument, it could only be made for the Lakers.

As far as the Knicks are concerned, they remain a team in transition and one that is looking for some sort of hope. Phil Jackson raised eyebrows this past week when he, to his credit, admitted that his “experiment” in New York this season failed. He should be credited with being willing to publicly admit defeat; that type of candor is difficult to find in an NBA general manager.

For Jackson, a lot rides on what he is able to accomplish in July 2015. As the Knicks consider buying out the remainder of Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract, the team is in all-out tank mode with its sights set firmly on winning the draft lottery and the right to select Duke’s Jahlil Okafor. The team will also scour the free agent market this summer and hope to bring in two capable talents from the talented class that will include the likes of Marc Gasol, Jimmy Butler and LaMarcus Aldridge, among others.

But for the Knicks, as of right now, all the franchise has is hopes, especially considering that the Toronto Raptors own their 2016 first round pick.

The Sixers, on the other hand? They already have young, talented pieces in place and a war chest of draft picks.

As for the Lakers, they are in a very similar predicament as the Knicks. They currently owe both the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic draft picks for the Steve Nash and Dwight Howard trades and are probably regretting those moves right about now.

There are some major difference between the Lakers and Knicks, though. While the 30-year-old Carmelo Anthony is in the first year of his five-year, $124 million contract, the Lakers are thinking about life without Kobe Bryant, whose current contract expires after next season.

With Nick Young, Jordan Hill and Julius Randle, the Lakers also have a few pieces that they hope can be a bridge to the post-Kobe era.

The main difference between the Lakers and the Knicks, though, is tradition. The Lakers have a front office and an ownership group that knows what it means to be NBA Champions. The Lakers are the New York Yankees of basketball and have won five championships since 2000 and two within the past five years.

With big markets and fun cities to offer, the Lakers and Knicks will each undoubtedly attempt to build their futures by persuading free agents to relocate. Only one of those teams, however, can boast championship rings and Larry O’Brien trophies.

In the end, it is difficult to argue with the fact that the Sixers have the brightest future of these three teams and it is also difficult to argue that the future of the Knicks is most bleak.

The three teams find themselves jostling for lottery position this season. One has a war chest of draft picks, one has a rich tradition and one has lofty dreams and expectations.

If asked which team has the brightest future, based on what we currently know, I would say the Sixers with the Lakers as a close second. If the Knicks managed to win the draft lottery this spring, I may reconsider, so let’s revisit this again in May.

Jabari Davis: It’s tough to place the Knicks and Lakers ahead of the Sixers when ranking their rebuild efforts. When you look at how many assets and young pieces each franchise currently has to work with, it’s clear that Philadelphia is best positioned for the future.

The unpredictability of the draft and free agency market leaves an uncertainty with the Knicks and Lakers that the Sixers don’t have to concern themselves with at this point. Beyond having multiple bigs in Nerlens Noel and (eventually) Joel Embiid, they also have the former Rookie of the Year in Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels among other young players who have shown promise under head coach Brett Brown.

Add to that the fact that Philadelphia also owns Miami’s 2015 first-round pick (1-10 protected) and four 2015 second-round picks courtesy of previous deals with Golden State, Houston, New Orleans and Orlando. General manager Sam Hinkie has already shown a willingness to part ways with talent in order to continue stockpiling assets. With only $16.4 million in guaranteed salary on the books for next season, Hinkie’s plan has yielded the most flexibility and moveable assets of any team.

The Lakers, to their credit, also have a ton of flexibility moving forward, but with the uncertainty surrounding both next year’s draft pick (only top-five protected) and Kobe Bryant’s health, they would still be a distant second at this point.

The Knicks? Well, it’s clear they are just a mess at this point. Hard to argue with Knicks president Phil Jackson’s recent assessment that this has been a “disastrous season.” That said, their turnaround might not take quite as long as some might think once Jackson is able to revamp the roster. With only $32.7 million in guaranteed salary so far for next season, Jackson will also be armed with the resources to influence immediate change.

Alex Kennedy: First off, let me say that I would agree that Philadelphia has the best long-term plan of the group. I’ve written about them in the past, pointing to them as a top up-and-coming team to watch.

However, that’s a process that is going to take a long time. They have some excellent young prospects, but they need to develop those guys and surround them with the right pieces in the years to come. Barring some trades (where Sam Hinkie flips some of those draft picks and young players), I think we all agree that the Sixers’ rebuild will take some time.

When looking at which of these teams will have the chance to turn things around the quickest, I think it’s the Knicks. I get why you guys bashed them (this season has been ugly), but I think it has to be said that New York probably has the best shot at making the leap from cellar-dweller to playoff team over the next few years. Part of that is because they play in the East (which is a luxury the Lakers don’t have, sorry L.A. fans), but I also say that because they have the chance to completely revamp their roster starting this summer.

The Knicks will have a top pick in this year’s draft (which is no guarantee for the Lakers since their selection will go to the Suns if it’s outside of the top five). They’re also the only team of this group with a superstar who’s still in his prime and locked up long-term in Carmelo Anthony. Throw in Phil Jackson, a ton of cap room (since they have just $32,717,391 in guaranteed contracts on the books for next year) and you can see where I’m going with this.

Let’s say that the Knicks are able to draft Jahlil Okafor or Emmanuel Mudiay. That’s a huge addition that will help them on the court and likely on the recruiting trail since New York would now have a potential star alongside Anthony. The chance to form a big three in a large market (and possibly contend in the wide open East) is appealing.

This summer, Anthony and Jackson will obviously attempt to lure a star free agent (or two) from a pool that could include Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Goran Dragic, Rajon Rondo, Paul Millsap, Jimmy Butler, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, Monta Ellis, etc.

But even if they can’t land one of those stars, this a pretty deep free agent class so it’s possible they could add multiple players below the max who could be available such as Roy Hibbert, Tobias Harris, Draymond Green, Wes Matthews, Reggie Jackson, Thaddeus Young and Amir Johnson among others.

My point is that the Knicks’ roster could (and likely will) look very different next year.

In 2016, the cap will go way up, their top pick from the 2015 NBA Draft will have a year of experience under his belt and they’ll have another loaded free agent class to recruit from. We could see Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Al Horford and Joakim Noah among others available in 2016, and New York will be in pursuit.

Yes, the Knicks need some things to bounce their way, but I think they have the best chance of these three teams to turn things around quickly and become relevant in the next few years. Free agency is unpredictable so it’s possible that New York strikes out over the next two summers, but it’s also possible Jackson’s plan will work and the Knicks will be much better in the near future.

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