Over the last five years, it would be fair to say that the basketball gods have not been kind to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Since last making the playoffs in the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12, the Sixers have accumulated a 109-301 record. That’s the worst record in the NBA over that time frame.
While most of the excessive losing has been self-inflicted due to Philadelphia’s calculated tanking in order to land top-tier draft picks, even when the Sixers have gotten breaks (no pun intended), they haven’t necessarily worked out.
In 2014, Joel Embiid was brought in by Philadelphia with the third pick in the draft. However, Embiid had a stress fracture in his right foot at the time of his selection. He didn’t hit the court for the first time until this past season, in which he played just 31 games. Last June the Sixers selected Ben Simmons with the top pick in the draft. He suffered a Jones fracture to his right foot during his final training camp scrimmage on Sept. 30.
Despite bringing in a few players regarded as potential elite talent, the Sixers have had trouble actually getting them on the court.
But better days are on the horizon for the Sixers, who finished with 28 wins this season — the combined total of their two previous seasons. Embiid and Simmons look on track to be healthy to start next season, Dario Saric has proven himself as a core piece of the franchise, the Sixers could potentially have two top-five picks in June’s draft, and they hold over $50 million in cap space to play with this summer.
With that said, let’s take a look at the best possible scenario for the Sixers this offseason that could make them a legitimately competitive team next season, and for seasons to come.
The first, and most important, step in the Sixers’ shot at making a serious jump in the win column starts on May 16 when the draft lottery takes place. Currently, Philadelphia has an 11.9 percent chance to land the top pick. They also own the right to swap picks with the Sacramento Kings should the Kings pick become more favorable than their own.
On top of their own selection, the Sixers also would receive the Los Angeles Lakers’ pick should it fall outside of the top-three. There is currently a 53.1 percent chance of Philadelphia ending up with the Lakers pick.
The best-case scenario for the Sixers would be landing the No. 1 and No. 4 picks in the draft lottery. While it’s not likely the ping pong balls bounce in that particular way — just a 2.43 percent chance — for the sake of the exercise, let’s imagine the basketball gods shine some light on Philadelphia for the first time in a long time.
Should the Sixers wind up with the first and fourth picks in the draft, they will be in a position to not only draft the best player available but also address pressing needs on their roster. This would start with running to the podium with Markelle Fultz written on the draft card for the first overall pick.
With Ben Simmons set to play point guard on offense and guard whoever checks him on the opposing team, Fultz fulfills a perfect backcourt mate as a combo-guard. At 6-foot-4 with a sweet shooting stroke (41.3 percent from three-point range in his lone collegiate season), Fultz has the ability to play off the ball alongside Simmons and still be effective. With a 6-foot-10 wingspan and plus athleticism, Fultz should be more than capable of defending the opposing team’s guard.
After securing the top talent in the draft for the second year in a row, the No. 4 pick becomes gravy at this point. Still blatantly in need of wing scoring, selecting Kentucky guard Malik Monk — arguably the best scorer in the draft — would give the the Sixers another reliable shot-maker to play with Simmons.
A starting lineup of Fultz-Monk-Simmons-Saric-Embiid would suddenly become one of the league’s highest-ceiling five-man units. With multiple shooters, multiple playmakers, and a 7-foot-2 big man controlling the paint, the young Sixers would field their most talented roster since the Process began.
The Sixers will have up to $51.2 million in cap space during the upcoming free agency period. However, even with all that money at their disposal, it would be unwise for Philadelphia to start backing up the Brink’s truck for potential free agents.
With a bulk of their roster still on rookie contracts and bargain deals, the Sixers will need to make decisions concerning high-money extensions in the coming years. First up will be Embiid next summer, and even despite his injury history, he will likely command a max-contract.
Keeping the books clean for when the Sixers need to retain their own talent is important. But that doesn’t mean Philadelphia should avoid spending money at all costs. Key contributor Robert Covington has a $1.5 million club-option this summer, and the Sixers should take a chunk of their change to lock him up past next year.
A career 35 percent three-point shooter, Covington posted a career-best 2.0 defensive box plus/minus this past season. As the Sixers begin to fill out their roster with more talent via the draft, Covington can slide into a crucial rotational role, responsible for hitting shots from the wing and defending the opposition’s scoring threats.
Past Covington, there aren’t any splashy free agents that could help the Sixers long-term once their young players begin to come into their own. But there are players who provide valuable minutes next season without costing an arm and a leg.
Omri Casspi is coming off a season where he played for Sacramento before getting traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, and then was subsequently injured in his first game for New Orleans. The Pelicans waived Casspi and he then signed with and appeared in 13 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Because of his injury-plagued season, Casspi won’t likely command too much money on the open market.
But after shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc in 2015-16, the 6-foot-9 stretch forward can provide backup minutes behind Saric and would pair nicely with Embiid, drawing the second frontcourt defender out of the paint allowing Embiid to operate more freely inside.
After being consistently bitten by the injury bug throughout the course of the last five seasons, an injury-free summer could be the most vital part of the Sixers’ success next season.
However, most of this will ultimately be out of Philadelphia’s control. But their best case scenario this summer would be for every player, specifically Simmons and Embiid, to make it to opening night completely healthy. In order to ensure this, Simmons playing in his second straight Summer League isn’t likely.
On top of Simmons and Embiid, Jerryd Bayless returns to the lineup after playing just three games last season due to a wrist injury. Another guard capable of scoring from outside and playing off the ball, he projects to be a fine complement to Simmons.
With a bit of luck and a bit more caution, the Sixers hope to make it through the summer unscathed and enter a new season with all hands on deck.
Getting every star to align during an offseason is certainly a tall task, but should Philadelphia play it smart this summer — and get their fair share of luck, as well — they could be capable of winning more than just 28 games next season.
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