Let me preface all of this by saying I am lifelong fan who has been watching the “process” unfold every year. The 76ers began their fall to the bottom of the NBA after coming to the conclusion that perennially losing in the first round of the playoffs cannot be the ceiling for a team with a city so invested in their success. Philadelphia will not accept mediocrity.
The teams that play in Philly shoulder the hopes and dreams of every member of the city, so when the 76ers began their rebuilding process I was fully on board. It is easy to dismiss the abysmal record and seemingly awful play the 76ers have produced the last 3 years but as fan I must point out its return.
The 76ers now have a plethora of frontcourt talent. Nerlens Noel has continued to improve on both ends of the floor and has established himself as a solid defensive player for any NBA team. Jahlil Okafor lived up to all of his hype after his freshman year at Duke. The 3rd overall pick last year averaged 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, and shot just over 50% from the field. He has a polished offensive game and post moves the NBA has not seen since perhaps Hakeem Olajuwon. Now the 76ers will also be debuting their other 3rd overall pick.
Joel Embiid picked 3rd in 2014 has been plagued by a broken navicular bone in his foot and two surgeries have kept him from ever touching the floor. Injuries were the only thing keeping the former Kansas Center from being drafted #1 overall in his draft, and now he is poised to finally make his NBA debut next year. Also drafted in 2014 was Croatian forward Dario Saric who has shown skilled passing, efficient shooting, and tenacity on defense overseas, and is likely to debut for the Sixers next year as well.
Coaching has remained stable for this young team. Brett Brown, a Greg Popovich disciple, has proven to be skilled in player development and player relations and has done the best he can with what can be described as some very lackluster rosters. The instability for this franchise has fallen on management. Sam Hinkie, the engineer of the process, resigned this last year after the 76ers brought in Jerry Colangelo at the behest of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to improve the quality of basketball in Philadelphia. Jerry’s son Bryan has now been named the new GM and many fans that were invested in Hinkie’s process have soured to the perceived nepotism in the move.
Bryan Colangelo has a decent track record of his own. He was responsible for assembling the Toronto Raptor’s core after the departure of Vince Carter as well as putting together the 7 seconds or less Suns team that featured Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire. He has some blemishes on his record however including drafting Andrea Bargnani #1 overall while in Toronto. The 2016 draft is extremely important for the 76ers. They have the number 1 pick which will likely be either LSU’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram.
The 76ers must start to put together a team that can compete in the East but if you consider their potential, next year’s lineup could be very interesting. Assuming they do not trade anyone and stay at their picks at 1, 24 and 26 in the first round, The Sixers could be debuting Simmons or Ingram, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric as well as developing Jahlil Okafor another year. The struggle for the Sixers lies in their backcourt. They reacquired journeyman Ish Smith half way through the 2015-2016 season, but need to improve from Smith and Isiah Cannon if they hope to compete in the East. An interesting scenario then comes in to play as teams like Phoenix and Boston have both expressed interest in Okafor. Imagine the 76ers trade Jahlil to Boston for the 3rd pick and Avery Bradley, or to the Suns for the 4th pick and Brandon Knight or Eric Bledsoe.
Both the Celtics and Suns have an excess in guard talent but are in need of a Center giving the Sixers the opportunity to solve a backcourt need and get back into the top five to take a player like Kris Dunn, Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield. The rebuilding process has led Philadelphia to precisely this point. All of their trades and acquiring assets have put them in a unique position.
With the #1 overall pick, the Sixers have the opportunity to draft their superstar of the future, and now they can begin to display some of the talent they have acquired and stashed for this point. It has been an abysmal few years, but the process called for just that, and it is looking more and more like the time to start showcasing some talent in Philadelphia.