The last time the Philadelphia 76ers qualified for the NBA playoffs, Doug Collins was barking instructions at Andre Iguodala and LeBron James was still searching for his first NBA title.
It’s been five long seasons, but at this point, the light at the end of the tunnel in Philadelphia would probably be best described as a beam. The spectacular glow emanating from it is so bright that not even the normally reserved Bryan Colangelo could contain his excitement. The president of basketball operations and general manager of the franchise spoke with Basketball Insiders at length about the potential changing of fortunes in Philadelphia.
“The infusion of two number one picks at the same time is just an incredible wealth of talent coming into a program at the right time,” Colangelo told Basketball Insiders.
“We’re taking the next step, certainly, adding another piece like Markelle [Fultz] in terms of that young talent and the core that we’re putting together.”
Fultz will be joining Ben Simmons—the first overall pick in the 2016 draft—as the players who will flank Joel Embiid and Dario Saric in an attempt to restore the Sixers to prominence.
Despite finishing last season with a 28-54 record, the Sixers have shown evident progress toward such a return, and that was before a summer that has introduced a tremendous infusion of other talent, as well. Considering that the team’s win total last season equaled the combined total of the two prior, the rise of Embiid and Saric had already resulted in newfound hope.
Now, reinforcements have arrived.
“Joel [Embiid], showing what he was capable of last year, adding to that, then bringing in some veteran players where you’re developing the program,” Colangelo mentioned as what excites him. “You’re cultivating the young players—the core guys from Joel and Dario to Markelle and Ben—but now have guys that can help grow the program with leadership, mentorship, and professionalism, as well.”
Certainly, the newly signed duo of J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson will pay major dividends. As two well-respected veteran players, Redick and Johnson have each had a positive impact at each of their previous stops. As the Sixers look to take the next step in their rebuild, the team is in need of a culture change. Colangelo believes that, in that regard, the duo will be important, despite the fact that each signed only a one-year deal—Redick for $23 million and Johnson for $11 million.
“Time will tell where things go with that,” Colangelo said about the prospect of Redick and Johnson becoming long-term members of the team. “The point is, as much as we want to maintain flexibility and have that, that’s just a strategy. In terms of the types of players that we’ve added and the people that we’ve added, I’d like to think there’s a longer term prognosis there.”
Since joining the Sixers front office in April 2016, without question, Colangelo has been the beneficiary of some of the seeds that were planted by one of his predecessors, Sam Hinkie. Still, since then, Colangelo has made a series of maneuvers to further improve the process in Philadelphia.
“We’ve had some key free agent signings,” Colangelo said, giving himself what seemed to be a well-deserved and somewhat veiled pat on the back.
“They were players that wanted to be here, players that fit what we were trying to do and specifically with our needs. We’re just tremendously excited about it.
This [summer] has really taken us to an entirely different level.”
As the Sixers get set to begin competition in an Eastern Conference that saw the likes of Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap depart, and one that could soon see Carmelo Anthony relocate, as well, the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks seem to be the teams that are poised to ascend toward the top of the conference. The Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls—each of which qualified for the playoffs last season—may take a step back.
For that reason, there is increased excitement revolving around the Sixers this season, especially as the team seems to have both a nucleus with which it believes it can move forward into the future, as well as the flexibility to continue to build.
“I don’t think you ever want to abandon the building process,” Colangelo said when asked whether the Sixers will retain the likes of Redick and Johnson and continue to build. “The building process is ongoing all the time, you’re developing payers, sometimes, you’re forced to trade players because of contractual situations,” he said. “But we’ve got a number of contracts that bode well for the future in terms of these rookies contracts and what those extensions may look like down the road, but we’re poised in a position right now to do something with this year, the growth and development. Still, we’ve maintained the flexibility to still make some sort of a huge imprint next year whether it be with trade access or acquiring another talent via trade or via free agency once again, so we’ve kinda put ourselves in a position where we’ve got the best of both worlds.”
It has been quite some time since the Sixers have entered a season with high hopes and expectations of competing on a nightly basis, but with an impressive core that will be competing in what appears to be a weakened Eastern Conference, only time will tell what the immediate future holds.
“It’s certainly gonna be an interesting year and it’s gonna be a year of a lot of growth,” Colangelo said.
“We’ll see where we are nine months from now.”
Without a doubt, along the way, the entire NBA will be watching intently.
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