After the smoke cleared from the NBA’s hectic trade deadline, many Philadelphia faithfuls were left scratching their heads. Jettisoning the young point guard that seemed to be part of the future, the seemingly-clear path for the 76ers has become opaque. If Sam Hinkie’s goal was to further occult the destiny of the laughing stock of the league, he passed with flying colors.
It all started two years ago, when the new management of the 76ers decided they weren’t content with mediocrity. They traded All-Star Jrue Holiday for raw defensive-presence Nerlens Noel and a first round pick the following season. They also selected an abnormally tall point guard out of Syracuse, who could play lock-down defense and flirt with a triple-double on any given night.
The 76ers, once arguably Philadelphia’s most successful sports team, were dreadful, embarrassing, and borderline unwatchable. The team that was designed to lose games- did. Massive losing streaks were suffered, along with an 0-17 start to the 2014 season (One loss shy of the NBA record).
But progress was being made, and that was all that mattered. In the 2014 draft, they acquired Joel Embiid, a big man who has struggled with injuries yet encompasses stratospheric upside. In the 2nd round, they plucked a diamond in the rough- K.J. McDaniels. His emphatic dunks, freakish athleticism, and effortful defense opened eyes league-wide. ‘Keepers’ emerged on the Sixers’ squad, who’s season was basically one big talent-evaluation for the future. Robert Covington showed a knack for putting the ball in the basket, while Tony Wroten emerged as a potential back court contributor in the grand scheme of things.
Then, Philly started to mesh- maybe a little too well. They went on a 4-4 run right before all-star weekend. Multiple Sixers were invited to participate in the Rising Stars challenge, and Michael Carter-Williams was selected to compete in the Skills Challenge, consisting of the cream-of-the-crop of NBA guards.
Things were turning around, and the promised land of formidability was right around the corner. Right?
Key aforementioned players, including McDaniels and MCW, were exchanged for future draft picks, taking the rebuild project back to square one.
Apparently, Carter-Williams and McDaniels lack the shooting ability required in the inside-out formula Philadelphia seems to be trying to create.
One thing is for sure- the uneasy fans of the Sixers can’t endure too much rebuilding. Hinkie and his crew need to put a viable team on the floor within the next two years.
How does Sam Hinkie, the soft-spoken, ‘basketball mind’, do this?
First off, they need to select an NBA-ready guard who can play now but still has potential in boatloads. That man is D’Angelo Russell. The Ohio State standout has steadily pushed himself into the upper echelon of prospects for this upcoming draft with his eye-popping play. Averaging just under 20-6-6, the 6-5 freshman can do it all on the court. All Philly has to do is either move up inside the top two spots in the lottery or stay in the top-3 and hope the team selecting second is stupid enough to skip on Russell.
Besides youth, Philly has one other huge advantage over almost the whole entire league- cap space. Although they wouldn’t have a chance at luring any huge name into Philly, they could reel in a future star, like Jimmy Butler. A First time All-Star in 2015, Butler is complete offensively and one of the best defenders in the whole league. His presence alone would rocket the 76ers into playoff-contention in the pathetic Eastern Conference.
But why would Butler leave the Bulls, a perennial title-contender, for bottom-dweller Philadelphia?
It’s pretty simple- money. Although Butler is probably just outside of deserving max-level money, the 76ers could slightly over pay him and lock him up as he develops into one of the best wingmen in the league.
Whether they sign the Marquette alumnus or someone else, it’s crucial they do actually sign someone in the next two years. The NBA’s new lucrative TV deal will kick in for the 2016-2017 season, stretching out every team’s wallet and neutralizing Philly’s cap space advantage.
Even with the questionable trade deadline deals, the 76ers still have a very bright future. If you look past the looming fog of today, you can see a solid core of young players with a plethora of draft picks and almost unlimited cap room. They’ve been playing well recently, pushing OKC to the brink in a tough overtime loss and knocking off the Goliath Atlanta Hawks. If the 76ers can get some ping-pong-ball-magic, draft wisely, and take advantage of their money flexibility while they still can, I think they can put a title contender together in two years. Even Mr. Hinkie himself knows the city of Philadelphia deserves that.