May 20, 2014

The Future of Philadelphia 76ers Basketball

The Philadelphia 76ers will be title contenders in five years or less. Yes, reading that may have left you puzzled, but Philadelphia will be reigning supreme in the Eastern Conference fairly soon as they've positioned themselves perfectly to usher in a new dominant era of Philadelphia basketball.

Although I feel a pinch of uneasiness writing about the Sixers (my heart belongs to Lakers Nation,) I am extremely intrigued about their rebuilding process and what procedures will be deployed to finally distance themselves from their mediocre ways and familiarize themselves with triumph.

Living in West Chester (a suburb of Philadelphia,) I keep a close pulse on the Sixers, often attending their games and watching them on TV. I converse regularly with Philly fans, debating and lobbing ideas between each other like a casual Sunday afternoon football catch.

I have a deep admiration and respect for the Sixers and their rich franchise history that includes 3 world championships, and claiming players such as Moses Malone, Wilt Chamberlain, Charles Barkley, Doug Collins, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham as their own.

The 2001 Sixers led by Allen Iverson, prevented my Lakers from claiming a perfect 16-0 postseason record, as Allen torched LA with an unforgettable 48 point performance in Game 1 on the road.
The Philadelphia fans are starved, with a hunger that even the beefiest cheesesteak couldn't fill. The Sixers have only made the playoffs twice in the past five seasons, luckily marching past the Chicago Bulls when star point guard Derrick Rose went down with his notorious ACL injury.

They haven't finished higher than 7th in the conference since 2010, and even throughout that period they were a fringe team that put a marginal scare in the top Eastern Conference teams.

How will Philadelphia return to the glorious days that stemmed from Allen Iverson's stunning play? When will Philadelphia again become a fixture in the playoff scene? Let's get the ball rolling here.

First and foremost, let's confront the current abysmal state of this Sixers franchise. Their year was an intense tussle with infamy, as they finished with their third worst record in franchise history (19-63,) were dead last in attendance, lost 26 games in a row and had 23 different players suit up for their team.

Philly was 29th in offensive field goal percentage, 30th in offensive three point field goal percentage, 28th in defensive field goal percentage, 25th in defensive three point field goal percentage, 29th in opponent rebounds per game and didn't have a player average more than 18 points per game.

How could a basketball team with this many difficulties ever emerge to become a formidable force in the NBA landscape? Well first, let's take a glance at the opposition.

Bypassing the inevitable injuries or trades that are bound to occur, the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference doesn't seem to be in for such a fantastic future. The Indiana Pacers only have George Hill, Paul George and Solomon Hill (team option) locked in past 2016, with Lance Stephenson becoming a free agent this summer and David West and Roy Hibbert becoming free agents in the summer of 2016 if choosing to do so (both have player options.)

West is more likely to exercise his player option than Hibbert, as he'd be making $12,600,000 at 35 years old. Hibbert will be just 29 years old, and possibly entering the prime of his career, so he could go big bucks hunting elsewhere and look for a team to overpay for his erratic services.

The defending champion Miami Heat are an older bunch, as their "Big Three" will all be in their thirties before 2014 concludes. Bosh is 30, Wade is 32, and LeBron will be 30 in December. Current rotation players include Ray Allen (38,) James Jones (33,) Udonis Haslem (33,) Chris "Birdman" Andersen (35,) and Rashard Lewis (34.) None of these players (with the exception of Andersen and Haslem) are under contract past this season.

LeBron, Bosh and Wade could become free agents this summer as they all wield a player option, but the latter won't likely budge from their comfort perch in Miami if the former opts back in looking to lengthen the legacy of South Beach's finest.

In the summer of 2015-16 when their contracts are officially up if they do happen to opt in, an already laboring Dwyane Wade will be 34, LeBron will be 31 years old and Chris Bosh will be 32. James may still be wrecking havoc on the league from an individual standpoint, but his teams success may not be resemblant of Miami's current prosperous ways.

Obviously, LeBron's mere presence in South Beach will entice many high caliber players to gallop straight to Miami, binding forces with one of the games greatest to commence yet another championship pursuit. Pat Riley is a fantastic general manager, and the roster will be filled out accordingly to keep the "contender" status latched onto Miami's name.

Is it out of the realm of possibility for Wade or Bosh to be traded for young, promising assets or draft picks? The Heat may need an infusion of youthful, upstart talent, and the demand for it may make anyone not named LeBron James on the Heat roster expendable. The probability of Wade getting traded I would have to imagine is slim, as him and James have a bond that a grizzly bear would have issues tearing apart.

The Brooklyn Nets are in a fragile state, as their unofficial one year title plan failed miserably as they fell victim to the Miami Heat in this years postseason.

Paul Pierce may blitz out to beautiful and blissful surroundings of Los Angeles to pair up with Doc Rivers, hoping to recapture the magic of the Boston Celtics 2008 NBA title run. Kevin Garnett may retire, hoping to purge each and every basketball fans mind of the horrendous season he had in 2013-14.

Brooklyn will be paying a 34 year old Joe Johnson and a 31 year old Deron Williams a combined $45 million dollars in 2016 as well. They don't have a draft pick in 2014, 2016 or 2018 after trading them to the Celtics, putting them in a crippled state as they will be shelling out big dollars to two sporadic guards to continue to register playoff disappointment.

The Knicks are in a wretched state, as the franchise is clueless when it comes to Carmelo Anthony's free agent status, in addition to being financially strapped with the mammoth contracts of Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani.

Atlanta is in a topsy-turvy manner, as one of the league's most unheralded players in Al Horford continues to wrestle with health issues, only playing in 114 games in the last 3 seasons.

Kyle Korver is 33 years old, and won't become a free agent until the summer of 2017. His fairly cheap contract (due $6 million dollars next year, $5 million the following two) makes him an interesting trading chip, as teams looking to reach contender status will come calling about Korver and his sweet three point stroke.

The direction Atlanta wants to go in is unclear, but their scheme to claw their way to the top will unfold in front of our very eyes via trades and or free agent signings.

The Chicago Bulls could emerge as an extremely dangerous team in the near future, but that's reliant on Derrick Rose maintaing a high level of health, and some tweaking of the roster (Boozer being amnestied, signing Melo or trading for Kevin Love are all possibilities.)

Chicago always finds a way to maximize their talent level, as they play with a ferociousness that many don't come close to mimicking. That ferociousness could be scaled back in a major manner, as age starts to become a factor for Chicago.

Joakim Noah is already 29, Kirk Hinrich is 33 and Mike Dunleavy Jr. is also 33.

Washington will eventually morph into a team that will be clashing with whomever for a top spot in the Eastern Conference. John Wall has seen a maturation in his game that played a major part in Washington landing squarely in the playoff picture, and even winning a series against the heavily favorited Bulls.

They have an extremely young and talented backcourt with John Wall and Bradley Beal at the helm, having their first playoff experience which will deepen their bond and strengthen their trust.

Another team with a dynamic one-two punch is the Toronto Raptors, as they assault their opponents with the underrated talents of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

Charlotte is a wing scorer and some bench pieces away from truly frightening their opponents, but Al Jefferson is already 29, and Charlotte isn't the most appealing destination, especially with LeBron James and Miami garnering most of the attention in the South.

Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit can all be grouped in the same dreadful bin, as they've all combined for one postseason appearance since 2011.

Kyrie Irving's level of commitment to Cleveland is questionable, Milwaukee is in the midst of a major rebuilding phase and Detroit is extremely disadvantaged in terms of finances, greatly overpaying for Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings.

Cleveland and Detroit go through head coaches with a recklessness that makes many fans inquire if they could do a better job than recent hirees.

Philadelphia, Boston and Orlando are the teams of the future, and Sixers fans got their first full glimpse of the future with their amazing rookie point guard's superb play.

In the 2013 NBA Draft, the Sixers swiped away Michael Carter-Williams from the competition, and he completely justified his 11th overall pick.

Carter-Williams left the basketball world fascinated in his first ever NBA game, drilling the defending NBA champion Miami Heat with a 22 point, 12 assist, 9 steal, 7 rebound performance. He went onto average 16.7 PPG, 6.2 REB, 6.3 APG and 1.9 SPG which was 6th in the league.

MCW joined Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only players to average at least 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in their rookie season. He's the third player since 1950-51 to lead rooks in scoring, rebounding and assists.

In addition to those three, he led all rookies in steals and double-doubles, and notched 2 triple-doubles. This type of statistical superiority led to Carter-Williams being named the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year, becoming the second Sixer in franchise history to win the award.

Philadelphia has been blessed with a extravagant player in Michael Carter-Williams, his size (6'6 at the point guard position) makes him a very troubling cover for opposing point guards, and his confidence and fearlessness contributes to his ability to single handily take over a game.

He must continue to hone his skills, and sharpen his jumper, but with the proper coaching and work ethic, greatness is attainable for MCW.

Factor in the freakishly athletic and defensive stalwart Nerlens Noel, and the Sixers have addressed arguably the two biggest needs on a basketball team; the point guard and center position.

Although Noel didn't participate in a single contest in the 2013-14 regular season due to recovery from an ACL tear, he worked diligently on his road to recovery. Noel added 21 pounds of muscle to his frame, hoping this to provide him with the durability that is imperative to having a successful NBA career.

He has fantastic length and mobility, enabling him to turn scoring into a treacherous task for other teams.

His offensive game is spotty, but he has zeroed in on improving his jump shooting ability, looking to squirm away from the "defensive specialist" label and simply be recognized as an all around player.

Noel will have plenty of opportunity to refine his offensive game, as the Sixers will rely heavily on him to produce for a roster that as of right now is underwhelming from a talent standpoint. Also, catching passes from the mesmerizing Michael Carter-Williams makes the transition from commanding the paint in college to the pros a tad bit easier, as he's sure to provide Noel with some easy buckets.

These two young studs aren't the only things at the Sixers disposal, as veteran forward Thaddeus Young still provides Philly with his solid services. Young averaged 17.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 2.1 SPG. Although he was the focal point of this ghastly 76ers team, Thad was still a stellar and reliable performer, giving Philly his all through possibly the roughest patch of his career.

Many general managers and organizations rant and rave about Thad's professionalism, and believe his talent could greatly alter a basketball team's status. Young is only 25 years old, and his contract isn't too frightful as he's due $9 million next year and $9 million the next.

For a team looking for an immediate boost in their front court, Young could be a reasonable answer. If the Sixers in fact look to ship Thad out of Philly, many suitors will come calling, with several being of the "playoff team" variety.

Young could be traded for additional draft picks, cheap, expiring contracts, or veteran players that could provide Carter-Williams, Noel and the Sixers future rookies with a deep and extensive knowledge of the NBA and what steps needed to be taken to make that leap from good to great.

Or, the 76ers could simply hold onto Thaddeus Young, which isn't a bad alternative by any means. He's a talented player who can help keep the youthful Sixers locker room focused and cohesive in addition to his contributions on the court.

Now, it's time to account for what most 76ers fans have been salivating over; the opportunity to acquire the services of Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker.

The Sixers are *projected to pick 2nd in the 2014 NBA Draft, presenting them with the opportunity to draft either Wiggins or Parker if both are still available.

A lot of Sixers fans I've spoken to, have verbalized their fantasies of Wiggins dawning the white, red and blue of the Philadelphia 76ers. Wiggins is a 6'8 small forward, with the explosiveness of the world's largest stick of dynamite.

Wiggins averaged 17.1 PPG and 5.9 RPG in his one year tenure as a Kansas Jayhawk. Although some exclaimed he needed to show a higher level of aggression and intensity, Wiggins displayed a great deal of promise, showcasing why he could be a franchise altering figure.

Andrew has been dawned as the greatest prospect since LeBron James or Kevin Durant, who are currently the league's two best players.

Many ridiculed Wiggins for his porous performance in the NCAA Tournament, as he only poured in 4 points on 1-6 shooting in a loss to 10th seeded Stanford in Kansas' second round contest. Some started giving rise to the notion that Wiggins is "overrated" or simply not a marquee player.

We can't fault Wiggins for having a poor game, it's bound to happen throughout a players career, it's just unfortunate that it came on such a colossal stage. Those type of disappointing performances, serve as learning experiences that play a huge part in molding a player into a star.

If I was a Sixers fan, I wouldn't be concerned about Wiggins struggling to puncture a 1-3-1 or 2-3 zone that he will rarely (if ever,) see in the professional ranks. My worry about him being "overrated" would be slight, as people have walked away from the Andrew Wiggins Kansas basketball experience dissatisfied because his play failed to match that of someone who's talent level resembles a LeBron James or Kevin Durant.

People fail to realize that LeBron James is one of the greatest players of all time, and Kevin Durant could very well join that discussion. It's very difficult to emulate LBJ or KD and be constantly successful, and having players of that caliber in the NBA isn't a commonality, that's why their games are consistently celebrated.

It's alright for Wiggins to do things in his own manner. It's alright for Wiggins not to be the next LeBron James or Kevin Durant, as most 76ers fans hope he's simply just the next Andrew Wiggins. Watching is career transpire in Philly is a very exciting idea, but at the same time leave some petrified as they wonder if Wiggins could be a bust.

That's when discussions of Jabari Parker becoming a Philadelphia 76er begin.

Jabari Parker is a 6'8 forward from Duke University, that has a knack for scoring the ball and a very diverse offensive arsenal. Parker averaged 19.1 PPG on 47% shooting and corralled 8.7 RPG. He was named an All-American, and his offensive versatility drew him comparisons to Carmelo Anthony.

Parker's game features a high dosage of silky smoothness that would immediately translate to the NBA level, making him a solid rotation player for any lottery team. His well rounded offensive attack sliced up the toughest of college defenses, forcing them to make adjustments to cease his onslaught from every area of the court.

In addition to the possibility of picking 1st, 2nd or 3rd, Philadelphia is also staring down the barrel of another top 10 pick, as they acquired the New Orleans Pelicans pick (top-five protected) from the Jrue Holiday deal last summer.

If the Pelicans are to finish the draft lottery in the top 5, they would get to keep the pick, and Philadelphia would be left in utter shock and awe, with only one top 10 pick in this years draft. The probability of this occurring is slim to none, as the Pelicans only have a 4% chance of creeping into the top 5.

So if the odds pan out accordingly, Philly is looking at two top ten players in this draft, two players that could steer the direction of the franchise in a new, encouraging route.

Philadelphia could simply horde their young talent, or choose to make some moves to give their  roster a healthy balance of youth and experience. They could dangle their prospects in front of rival GM's, gauge their interest and see what they could possibly get in return for these thought to be future studs.

If they choose to hold onto these rookies and second year players, they would be in extremely promising hands, dueling other NBA teams with a starting five that includes Michael-Carter Williams, James Anderson, Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins, Thaddeus Young and Nerlens Noel.

If each and every one of these players can maintain health and live up to or possibly even exceed the lofty expectations that are sure to follow them, the Sixers scrapping for a playoff spot isn't the most unfeasible thing in the universe.

The Eastern Conference as currently constructed is weak, and the Sixers would only be getting better via the draft. Of course, skeptics will point out that the 76ers will again want to "tank" to further strengthen their roster with top college talent in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Philadelphia also has a boatload of cap space, giving them the ability to actively pursue some quality free agents. The 76ers currently have 9 players under contract for the 2014-15 season, getting paid a combined $26,893,499. Compare that to the likes of Indiana and Miami, who are paying their players a combined $65,708,778 and $69,446,678 respectively.

Obviously Miami and Indiana are paying players who are some of the finest this league has to offer, but even the Milwaukee Bucks (a team that finished with a lower record than Philly) is paying it's players a combined $42,960,121 in 2014-15.

The Sixers are situated comfortably, as they can try and sway a big named free agent to join Philly having the ability to convince them with big bucks and the idea of future star power in the 76ers organization.

Some unrestricted free agents this summer include Loul Deng, Pau Gasol, Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza, Shaun Livingston and Carmelo Anthony when he opts out of his contract.

Some restricted free agents include Avery Bradley, Gordon Hayward, Greg Monroe, and Eric Bledsoe.

If LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay exercise their player options, they too will become free agents, fortifying the free agent field.

Free agents in 2015 include Paul Millsap, Brook Lopez (player option,) Kyrie Irving (restricted,) Klay Thompson (restricted,) Kevin Love (player option,) Goran Dragic (player option,) Wes Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Sixers could try and snag one of these players away from their ball clubs, as the "big dollars attract big names" tactic has worked way more than once in this league.

Pair the huge amount of money that can be tossed at a FA the passionate fan base that Philly sports seems to specialize in, and some young talent and a free agent may seriously ponder signing with Philadelphia in free agency.
The future is brighter than ever in Philadelphia and fans should be ecstatic. Gloomy clouds currently glide across the sky in Philadelphia, but powerful and blinding rays of light could be on the way in the form of Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker.

The Sixers have some impressive young players, a splendid coach in Brett Brown who is a strong branch from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree (Brown worked for San Antonio from 1998-99, then again from 2002-13 and also won a ring with the team in 2007.) 

The Draft Lottery today is a gigantic deal in the city of Philly and rightfully so. Many fans eagerly await their fate, wanting to know which player will be recognized as a future Sixer, and potentially the franchise's savior. 

If the outcome is a favorable one, the Sixers strut back towards contention will be one that's fast paced and filled to the brim with aggression and excitement. 

Will the 76ers be title contenders in 5 years or less? Which other teams are teams of the future? Share thoughts and opinions with me on Twitter (@wcboyer24) and continue to support The Basketball Society. 

*Draft projections from 
Philadelphia ended up with the 3rd and 10th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. 

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