Sixers Looking Forward To Summer 2014

I lament the fact that I ever became emotionally invested in the Philadelphia 76ers.

Brushing aside the inherent absurdity of investing any energy whatsoever into a pro sports team –i.e. the assortment of tall, athletic strangers who play their home games within the shortest relative distance from my front door — it’s obvious that the fleeting joys of being a 76ers fan pale mightily in comparison to the crushing lows.

My first dip into the turbulent waters of Sixers fandom was during the team’s magical run to the NBA Finals in 2001; watching Allen Iverson single-handedly tear apart the opposition on a nightly basis left me with an unrealistically rosy outlook on all things Sixers. Since then it’s been more pain than pleasure, and while most Philadelphians seem indifferent to the team’s misfortunes — the Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers receive far more attention, especially when they’re struggling — I’m one of the few suckers who never stopped caring about the 76ers.

Countless times I’ve been duped into thinking the Sixers were this close to regaining relevance — that championship contention is within reach, if only AI & C-Webb can find a way to gel together, or if Elton Brand can get that spring back in his step… or if Evan Turner can live up to my unreasonably lofty expectations. On the surface, things seemed to always be changing — from the revolving door of coaches, to the passing of the baton from one AI to another — yet the Sixers were merely sinking deeper and deeper into a hole of prolonged mediocrity.

Then in Oct. 2011, Josh Harris & company took the squad off of Ed Snider’s hands, representing — finally — a genuine change in direction. The dirty work of turning the franchise on its head would thus be Harris’ responsibility, but not before the stale remnants of the Snider-era 76ers made one last push for glory — clawing their way to within one game of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012.

Fast forward two summers, and those of us who actually care about the Sixers have endured the NBA equivalent of the Red Wedding. First, Lou was shown the door. Next Iggy was shipped to Denver. Bynum’s knees disintegrated into dust whilst Nik Vucevic mocked us with his 20-rebound performances. Collins and DiLeo are no more. Jrue being dealt to the Pelicans on draft night stung most of all.

By cleaning house of everything that represents this miserable past decade of Sixers basketball, Harris & GM Sam Hinkie have provided fans with a light at the end of this tunnel of misery.  Next offseason is a beacon of hope — but the journey to get there is not going to be pretty. The Sixers are going to tank, hard. And as slimy as it makes me feel, I’m going to be rooting for them to lose miserably every single night. It’s going to be a dreadful time.

So for right now, let’s just pretend that the 2013-14 season is already in the books. Let’s say the Sixers played their way to one of the worst records in the NBA, and are sitting pretty with a top-5 pick, as well as another pick in the mid-teens (courtesy of the Pelicans). All is well and the darkest times are behind us.

But what questions need to be answered, and how will we make sure those dark times stay behind us?

 

1) Thad, Turner, and Hawes: Who’s still around?

The general thought is that these guys are still around because Hinkie intends to sell high on them at the trade deadline. Going into the 2013-14 season as the team’s “Big Three,” these veteran holdovers could have some seriously inflated numbers, especially Turner. This will be ET’s last chance to prove that he’s even half the player he was expected to be coming out of Ohio State in 2010. He’ll have every opportunity to shine, and without Jrue (or any viable perimeter scorers) in the fold, expect Evan’s scoring numbers to hover as high as 18-20ppg. He certainly won’t be efficient, and he certainly won’t make up for Jrue’s absence, but he should put the ball in the basket with enough regularity to draw some attention. And if he does, expect him to be dealt — not for anything particularly sexy, but for someone like Denver’s Evan Fournier or OKC’s Jeremy Lamb. If The Villain flounders, expect the Sixers to simply let him walk after the season.

Pretty much all of the above can also be said for Spencer Hawes. If his numbers are inflated enough, expect him to be gone in February — OKC could certainly use an offensively-skilled big man, and I don’t see PJ III getting much playing time… who knows. If Spence performs like trash, he’ll play the season out in Philly and help the Sixers lose some games. Either way, like Evan, his days as a 76er are numbered.

Thaddeus Young, being the most valuable of three — and the only one on the books past 2014 — makes for a very interesting case. I could actually see him playing out the remainder of his deal in Philly, despite the Sixers’ total rehaul. If Thad is still on the roster after the all-star break, either Hinkie didn’t receive any intriguing offers, or he believes the 25-year-old can contribute to this team well into the future. Do not expect Thad to be traded simply in order to dump salary, or because the team is trying to lose more games. The team has a ton of cap flexibility as it is, and their record will be utterly atrocious — Thad or no Thad.

2) Nerlens Noel – is he 100% healthy?

Noel is set to miss a decent chunk of his rookie year due to the torn ACL that he sustained last season at Kentucky. Whether or not he can come back full-throttle by early Winter is going to be one of the biggest developments of the 2013-14 season. Considering the unique circumstances, the Sixers might be wise to sit Nerlens for even longer than his anticipated Christmastime return date.

Such a move would certainly provide fellow big Spencer Hawes with more opportunities to inflate those empty stats. It also leaves the frontcourt with a almost comical lack of depth, which would help to keep the tank train firmly on the tracks. Thirdly — and most importantly — the Sixers already know what it’s like to try and build a team around an injury-hampered big man, so getting Nerlens to 100% should be their top priority. Sure, Noel’s one torn ACL is nothing compared to Bynum’s chronic knee troubles, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, and questions about Noel’s health shouldn’t even be part of the discussion come 2014. So sit the rook until he is 100%, and then ease him back very, very cautiously.

3) What were J-Rich and Kwame Brown up to in 2013-14?

At a certain point, you have to wonder what Kwame is even doing on the roster anymore. J-Rich is a different story, considering that he’s booked for 12.8 million over the next 2 seasons, but with Kwame it would just be so easy (and relatively painless) to simply show him the door and leave the stupidity of Doug Collins behind once and for all. Neither Kwame nor Richardson are going to contribute anything of value to the team, and even if they did, the Sixers are trying to tank here, do they mind? Khalif Wyatt and Arnett Moultrie should be eating up whatever minutes Brett Brown may or may not be planning to allocate to these two wily veterans (I can’t even type that phrase with a straight face).

The only possible use I can think of for these two is as moving parts in a trade that also involves Thad/ET/Hawes (“Oh, you don’t want give us X+Y for Thad… how about you give us X + take back J-Rich?”).

In all likelihood, you should expect J-Rich and Kwame to be riding the Sixers’ bench all season long. Hinkie may be a genius according to Nerlens Noel, but moving those contracts without having to absorb something even worse would be quite a feat.

4) Sam Hinkie hurled a ton of crap at the proverbial wall. How much of it actually stuck?

Royce White. Tony Wroten. Darius Morris. Khalif Wyatt. James Anderson. Tim Ohlbrecht.

These are the players Sam Hinkie has chosen to fill out his depth chart with going into 2013-14. Most of them will probably be gone by the start of the 2014-15 season. Luckily, they’re all inked to non-guaranteed multi-year deals, meaning the power is entirely in Sam Hinkie’s hands to decide who stays and who goes. In 2011 the front office made the mistake of signing 2nd round pick Lavoy Allen to a one year deal (in general, 2nd round picks sign multi-year deals with a team option after the first year). Lavoy’s above average play in the 2012 playoffs meant Tony DiLeo was forced to shell out 6 million in order to keep him around. It’s not as if Lavoy — ranked the least valuable player in the NBA by ESPN prior to his rookie season — was in any position to refuse whatever offer the Sixers threw at him when they drafted him 50th overall in 2011. Just one of the many head-scratching moves made by the Sixers front office over the years.

If I had to guess, I would say Anderson and Morris have the best chance of finding their niche and sticking around for another season. Anderson (who could be the starting shooting guard on opening night) strikes me as a Jodie Meeks-type player who, when put in a position to do what he does best — shoot open threes — has the ability to really open up the offense. Morris on the other hand strikes me as a Willie Green type, who will bust his tail and endear himself to the coaching staff — remaining on the roster for years to come, even after we’ve all grown sick of looking at him.

5) Free Agency: Hinkie should pursue Greg Monroe first, Paul George second. 

Many are declaring 2014 to be the deepest free agency pool in recent memory — and perhaps of all time. But with no semblance of a winning basketball team in place, and coming off two abysmal seasons in a row, the Sixers’ options will be limited. Therefore Hinkie’s sights should be set on a very select few. LeBron sure isn’t coming to Philadelphia. Melo? Get it out of your head. Paul Pierce? Dirk Nowitzki? Perhaps if if were 1998 that would make sense.

The way I see it, the only big names worth pursuing, considering the makeup of the current Sixers squad, are Detroit’s Greg Monroe and Indiana’s Paul George (probably not much more likely to come to Philly than LeBron, but just play along). I’ve also heard the names DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors floating around, but I’m not on board. Monroe and George, both 23, are legitimate cornerstones — the kinds of players you build your team around. Monroe, with his polished game and his ability to play with his back to the basket, is just the type of player you want to pencil in next to the raw, freakishly athletic Noel. George, the 6-8, 220 lb swingman, seems to give LeBron more difficulty each time the two meet. He’s the guy you want with the ball in his hands at the end of the 4th quarter. Cousins and Favors, however, are complementary pieces. And the Sixers shouldn’t be wasting their delicious cap space on complementary pieces.

Depending on how the draft shakes out, throwing a max deal at either Monroe or George may cease to make sense. For example, if the Sixers hit the jackpot and land small forward Andrew Wiggins, George isn’t necessarily the guy you would want. Not to mention both of these guys are restricted free agents, so Detroit and Indiana can match any offer the Sixers make. George is probably unlikely to entertain an offer from the Sixers anyway, having previously stated that he wouldn’t want to leave Indiana — even if Kobe told him to! Monroe, on the contrary, is not expecting a contract extension from the Pistons, and allegedly plans to test free agency. So who knows — this time next year we could conceivably be looking at a core of Monroe, Noel, MCW, and a lotto pick.

But before we get there, there’s a lot of ugly basketball to be played. At least with Harris and Hinkie steering the ship, there’s a sense of purpose behind all the misery that’s to come. Stay tuned, suckers.