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Head to Head: Will the 76ers’ Plan Work?

Is the Philadelphia 76ers’ rebuilding plan doomed? Ben Dowsett and Moke Hamilton discuss.

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The Philadelphia 76ers’ rebuilding process has been controversial since the team is clearly tanking. Basketball Insiders’ editor Alex Kennedy recently shared his thoughts about the team’s plan, saying that the future is bright in Philly. We asked our Moke Hamilton and Ben Dowsett to weigh in on this topic for today’s head to head.

Moke Hamilton:

It may not necessarily be reflected in their win-loss total, but the Philadelphia 76ers are slowly beginning to assemble a core of youngsters that seem like they should be plus-contributors on the NBA level. From the moment I saw Nerlens Noel take the floor at the 2014 NBA Las Vegas Summer League, I was in love with his game. Like Hassan Whiteside, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns, he has great agility and timing as a big man. Jahlil Okafor has the makings of a dynamic post-player, and T.J. McConnell has been a rookie who is flying under the radar thus far this season. Along with Nik Stauskas, Isaiah Canaan and Jerami Grant, there are some pieces on that team, believe it or not.

Now, imagine the Sixers adding another top three pick to that core this summer.

My long-term concern with what is transpiring in Philadelphia, though, is the lack of a veteran presence to instill good work habits in the youngsters. If you go back and ask Charles Barkley, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, each of them needed veteran players to humble them, hold them accountable and teach them how to be professionals. That the Sixers lack any such presence is a bit disconcerting. When players are young, they are impressionable, so if they feel that they are working hard and that the hard working isn’t necessarily translating into wins, it can make them lose hope both in their head coach and in their front office. So while losing games and accruing high draft picks is a good strategy from an organizational standpoint, we all need to be cognizant of the long-term impact that this may have on the psyche of young and impressionable players. So, yes, I am a tad bit concerned.

This coming summer, the crop of free agents will include Bradley Beal (restricted), Mike Conley, Harrison Barnes (restricted), Joakim Noah, Rajon Rondo, Nicolas Batum, Luol Deng and Jeff Green. Adding any two of those players to the core in Philadelphia would be a good move, and with just $24.5 million on their books for the 2016-17 season, the Sixers will have tons of money to spend.

Of course, luring free agents to a team that has been the epitome of futility over the past few years won’t necessarily be easy, but the bottom line is that the Sixers have young talent, truckloads of draft picks and tons and tons of salary cap space. If I were a general manager, I would love to have an opportunity to take over the franchise because I know I could shape it in my own image.

If I were Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor, my feelings might be a tad different. Nevertheless, the plan that the Sixers put in play a few years ago, from an assets standpoint, seems to be working.

Now, let’s see how long it takes them to finally win a basketball game.

Ben Dowsett:

Perhaps the craziest thing about the Philadelphia 76ers rebuild that seems to ignite a fresh round of debate once a day at this point is this: The next couple years will still probably be more important in determining its true efficacy than the last couple years.

That’s not just to say that the way their already-drafted pieces pan out over the next couple seasons is of paramount importance, which of course it is. It’s more than that – it’s entirely likely the 76ers still have yet to even make the decisions that will most directly impact the variability of their future success.

Consider that, from the 2016 draft until the 2021 draft, the 76ers have 18 additional picks headed their way, and that’s just on top of their own selections, many of which (especially in the next year or two) are expected to be high lottery picks. They’ll make all their own first round picks (assuming no additional trades), plus seven others. The next few years are huge, especially 2016 itself, where Philly could have as many as four first-round picks including their own, which looks likely to have the best odds for number one overall. It’s possible this 2016 draft is their biggest individual crux point on the rebuild path; if they end up with three lottery or near-lottery picks, including two at the top of what could be a very impressive class (theirs and the Lakers pick they acquired from Phoenix that’s just top-three protected), the clock may begin to tick even more loudly.

Now, none of this is to say that the method Sam Hinkie has undertaken hasn’t already potentially damaged certain elements of the team’s future, perhaps irrevocably. The franchise’s relationship with many agents is already souring, mostly due to their habit of squeezing every ounce out of a guy while he’s still team-friendly before rudely jettisoning him to make way for the next bargain-bin guy who won’t impact the long term bottom line. They also haven’t made many friends in opposing front offices – controversies like the $3 million they were forced to shell out to New Orleans for not properly disclosing Jrue Holiday’s injury history at the time of his trade to the Pelicans doesn’t buy you much good will. This could be a big hurdle down the line, as Hinkie’s plan almost has to include a point at which the 76ers look to either make a big splash on the trade market or make a big free-agency signing to “flip the switch” to contender status.

And of course, none of this speaks to their player development, which some feel is also suboptimal given the team’s approach. Guys like Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel are spending their formative NBA years on glorified D-League teams, playing alongside talent that doesn’t come close to approximating what things will hopefully look like when the team is ready to contend. There’s real worry that these blue chip prospects are learning bad habits without actual NBA talent around them to simulate real team basketball, and concern that it won’t simply be a flip of any switch for them down the line.

Still, though, the next couple drafts could render those concerns overwhelmed if the 76ers nail a couple picks. Add two more elite prospects, with Euro star Dario Saric still an eventual candidate to join the team and Joel Embiid as a tantalizing trade piece or high-variance wild card, and despite all the stress they’ve caused, Philly could still end up with the most loaded stock of youngsters in the league in relatively short order. We’re all sick of doing it, but let’s wait and see.

 

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