In less than three weeks, the NBA playoffs will begin in earnest. When they do, the focus, deservingly so, will be on the league’s playoff teams. However, up to five of those teams will be newcomers to the playoff scene who watched from the lottery last season. And all playoff teams were once lottery teams themselves. So before we reach the playoffs, where do the league’s lottery teams stand, and what may they look to do this offseason to approach the playoff precipice? Here’s a look at one of those lottery teams: the Sixers.
Players Under Contract: Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Richaun Holmes, Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry
Free Agents: Robert Covington (Team Option), Jerami Grant (Team Option), Ish Smith, TJ McConnell (Team Option), Hollis Thompson (Team Option), Isaiah Canaan (Restricted), Kendall Marshall (Team Option), Sonny Weems (Team Option), Elton Brand
Poised to potentially lose 70 games, the Sixers are not in a position to contend in 2016-2017. For as important as the NBA Draft is, and as much as we hype high picks, the likelihood of drafting a top tier talent and immediately contending is slim. Even the Timberwolves, with Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in house, are not close to a playoff team.
Still, in hiring Jerry Colangelo to, at most, replace Sam Hinkie, or, at a minimum, work in tandem with him, it appears clear that the Sixers have decided to undertake a strategy shift, and be more aggressive in the free agent market this summer. The Hinkie led regime would not have dumped a young Christian Wood or second round picks for Elton Brand or Ish Smith. Colangelo clearly intends to shift the focus, to a degree, to the present. Sadly for Hinkie, he has become disliked by the agency community and you cannot succeed as a GM without people liking you and wanting to join your franchise – has any post Jordan finalist besides the 2012 Thunder not had a key piece around by virtue of his choice?
In looking to accelerate the timetable, the Sixers should look to add young restricted free agents to augment their current young core: the Chandler Parsons and Cory Joseph signings of last summer are the prototypes, and they should look at pieces like Harrison Barnes and Jordan Clarkson.
But beyond that, if the Sixers do not land Ben Simmons, they must contemplate another question: do we need to deal parts of our young core for a star, if available? Nobody criticizes teams when they rebuild and it’s the ultimate job security salvo, but the Orlando Magic serve as a cautionary tale. Four years into a rebuild, they have many good young players, but no star, and now are headed to a 34-48 (or so) season, and their youth is headed toward (or at the point of) extensions. If you cannot build a contender around your youth, that puts you in a bind, because you can’t pay all of it. The harsh reality of rebuilding is it only works if you land a star, and if the Sixers, after four drafts, do not have one, they need to start considering if they need to package their youth for a star and build another way, before they start underselling on youth out of necessity like the Magic did with Tobias Harris.
This summer should be an interesting one in Philadelphia.