The summer of 2016 has been very welcoming for Sixer fans, who have more optimism going into a season for the first time since August of 2012, when the franchise thought they traded for then-Lakers’ center Andrew Bynum, who at the time was thought to be a centerpiece (pun intended) for the future.
Then the additional injuries happened, and they went on to boast a woeful 34-48 record.
So why has it been such a happy and generally more hopeful summer for fans than the last two summers (remember the Tank-a-thon didn’t start until the summer of 2013 when Former-GM Sam Hinkie came in)?
Other than the obvious fact that the team landed Ben Simmons with the first overall pick, there are plenty of reasons. I’ll give you my personal top 5 things I’ve enjoyed from the Sixers this past summer.
1. Watching Ben Simmons in Summer league
Ben Simmons suiting up for the NBA Summer league was the first of many enjoyable steps towards seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. He posted averages of 10.8 points per game, 7.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists, and with every dazzling pass with top spin, and every rebound that kick started a transition opportunity, Sixer fans collectively shouted “HINKIE!”. When Simmons was selected with the first overall pick, it was a signal that the franchise had a foundational piece that they could finally start building off of, but not only that, it’s a foundational piece that can play right away unlike some of the draft picks made in the last three years. Coupled with 2014 lottery pick Joel Embiid, Simmons has given Sixer fans hope for a surefire franchise cornerstone for the first time since drafting Allen Iverson with the number 1 pick back in 1996.
Speaking of Joel Embiid.
2. All of the Embiid news this summer has been…fantastic
It’s almost hard to the believe, but we are two weeks away from watching Joel Embiid play basketball for the first time in more than 2 years. For those who don’t remember, Embiid would’ve been the number 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft (even over his Kansas teammate Andrew Wiggins) had he not broke the Navicular bone in his right foot. Instead, he fell to number 3, and while he was considered a risk even at that spot, the physical features and the immense potential was something that could not be ignored. He initially started his 2013-14 college campaign on the bench, and improved so much every game that he eventually started in mid-December (keep in mind Embiid didn’t start playing basketball until he was 16) and then he began adding new elements to his game with each passing matchup (the Ringer’s Kevin O’Conner wrote a great memory brush-up piece on Embiid). When he needed a second surgery on that troublesome foot in the summer of 2015 it almost put a permanent dent in the hopes of fans like myself who enjoyed watching him grow at Kansas. By all accounts now Embiid is fully healthy, has been playing in scrimmages all summer, and is expected to be ready for the first game of the pre-season.
In the time Embiid has been out, he has grown to 7’2, and now weighs in the 270-275 pound range and has been establishing himself as one of the best social media follows in the NBA (seriously his Twitter and Instagram feeds are amazing). Embiid was one of the most highly touted big man prospects in the last 5 years (a list that includes Anthony Davis and Karl Anthony-Towns) and while he will spend the first few months likely knocking off two years’ worth of rust while also on a minutes restriction, it’s great to finally see that he will be able to step on the floor, especially since he is apparently already best friends with Ben Simmons, which should make for some nice on-court chemistry.
3. Olympic Basketball in Rio
Another forgotten gem from the 2014 draft was Dario Saric, who was selected by Orlando with the 12th pick but was ultimately traded for the rights to Elfrid Peyton who the Sixers selected with the 10th pick. The trade was a complete Sam Hinkie move because Saric has been stashed overseas the last two seasons, and when news broke that he was going to come over to the NBA for the 2016-2017 season, every Sixer fan immediately googled “Croatian Men’s Basketball Olympic schedule” to watch him play. In six games Saric posted a stat-line of 11.8 points per game, 6.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists.
The most impressive game of those six was the very first game of the tournament, where Croatia upset Spain 72-70 (a game sealed by Saric’s block on Pau Gasol) Saric didn’t shoot particularly well only scoring 5 points on 1-7 shooting, but he did grab 7 rebounds, and dished out 5 assists, along with great defensive effort. He displayed his toughness in that game, a couple of possessions before the block heard around the Sixer-world, he dropped to the floor after he collided knees with a player, (which almost made me faint) and then he got back up and made 1 out of 2 free throws to push the lead to two points.
Saric is another versatile 6’10 big man that can dribble, pass, lead a fast break, but more importantly has potential as a three-point shooter, and you can bet that head coach Brett Brown has been in the lab thinking of all the possible lineups he can throw out on the court this season with the influx of talent coming in.
4. Bryan Colangelo has been good so far.
Despite what Jerry or Bryan Colangelo have said to the media, we can all figure out how Bryan got the general manager job after Hinkie was effectively forced out, which was through obvious nepotism. While it was certainly a move at the time that was dubious and also crappy, it’s also the dark side of the NBA business put on display. I can only judge how a GM does solely based on what he has done so far, instead of how he got the job in the first place, even if it meant forcing another GM whose plans I completely understood and was willing to endure.
Hinkie’s tanking plan was flawed, that much can be said, but the assets that Hinkie left for Colangleo as a result of stockpiling assets and draft picks can’t be just thrown to the wayside. There were fears that Colangelo would’ve made hasty, “quick-fix” trades or free agent signings that would’ve depleted the stash of assets, moves that he made while he was the GM of the Raptors.
However this summer he has made measured moves and has used his past experiences to make sure this rebuilding process is seen through. Those moves include signing Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez on team friendly deals, which in turn keeps the team’s cap flexibility for the future. Granted the circumstances Colangelo walked into would have benefited any other GM candidate, he has resisted the tendency of trying to instantly undo three years of tanking. Good job Bryan.
5. Allen Iverson being inducted into the Hall of Fame
You know a franchise is turning the proverbial corner when a legend of said franchise gets inducted into the hall of fame in the same summer.
Allen Iverson (my favorite player of all time and the reason I love basketball) was inducted on September 9th and his speech personified why so many fans fell in love with him. It was real. He thanked his friends, he shouted out 2pac and Biggie Smalls for being his pregame theme music, he even referenced the infamous Rick James skit from the Dave Chappelle Show when he described his first time stepping on the court to face Michael Jordan.
The Answer’s speech easily stole the night (which featured Shaq, and Yao Ming), and it was showered with chants of “M-V-P” from Sixer fans in attendance. I’m not saying tears were almost shed… but tears were almost shed that night.
Will the 76ers make the playoffs this upcoming season? Of course not, however instead of being bad because of intentional tanking, the Sixers can now be bad because they are young and inexperienced, but with inexperience comes growth from the players we acquired as a result of the process. Winning 25-28 games seems reasonable while also seeing our future cornerstones develop.