Philly holds the 1st pick, trade chips, and lots of pieces, but can they really stand to keep rebuilding?
In last week's point/counterpoint article, Jordan and I talked about the merits of the 76ers trading the #1 overall pick. I was against it. In Jordan's argument, he pointed out that Sixer fans are OK with 15-win season if it means they'll compete down the road. That's where I'm jumping in.
When is enough enough? The Sixers have been legendarily bad over the past three seasons and currently have nothing to show for it. The only hope for the future is that Ben Simmons will be LeBron James reincarnated and some pieces will fit around him, allowing the Sixers to be competitive in a few years. While I'll get into the flaws in that theory, my first issue is this: How can a few years still be OK? You've been hearing that for several years already.
With three truly terrible seasons in the rearview, are Philadelphia fans really willing to endure another bad season, followed by a mediocre season, before (theoretically) a good season? Bear in mind, of course, that good seasons don't mean anything. Everyone's fear is that Philly does all of this and ends up in the middle-of-the-pack, unable to compete in meaningful playoff series. The treadmill of midrange NBA teams is an undeniably frustrating thing, but I contend that it's better than being the worst team in the league by a laughable margin.
Where is the breaking point? How far into the future is OK before the results actually get here?
The nearest comparison I can give is the Cavaliers, who bottomed out and managed the best luck in league history to land back-to-back #1 picks and turned them into...nobody who plays for Cleveland anymore. If LeBron James hadn't started his career in Cleveland, he surely wouldn't have gone there before the 2014 season, meaning their three #1 picks in four years wouldn't have led them to the Finals. Yes, they made some head-scratching decisions with top-5 picks (for the 2nd straight column, hello Anthony Bennett...and Dion Waiters), but that's not the point. The point is that the NBA is such an unbelievable crap-shoot that the "bottom out to get to the top" strategy is a long-shot at best. It worked for them because James grew up and played there but Philly doesn't have that homecoming option. Name another team that successfully bottomed out and is competing for titles regularly.
Point number two in this chaos is that Philly unquestionably needs to sign some decent free agents to help get things going in the next couple of years. However, the Sixers currently have what I'm calling the Philly-tax. Players are going to need extra money to play for this team because there's no certainty that the team has any chance to compete. Solid veterans like David West, James Jones, Richard Jefferson, Mo Speights, LaMarcus Aldridge...all of these guys are willing to take discounts to play on good teams. What kind of player is going to be willing to sign with Philadelphia? My concern is that they'll only be able to attract me-first players who want to sign short-term deals after boosting their stats on a bad team. The good news is that the Sixers (along with almost everyone else) have the money to sign good players.
So who do they chase? Philly desperately needs someone who can shoot from outside, but take a look at the list of free agent 2-guards. Bradley Beal? Courtney Lee? Either of those guys might be a good fit, but the fact remains that it's going to take a few extra dollars for a good player to sign on the league's worst team. Maybe it ends up being a homecoming for Dion Waiters, I don't know.
The last - and overall - point here is that it's time for the Sixers to commit to their own improvement. The losing could go on forever, but they're at the absolute low-point and know that they need to start going up. There are some pieces in place that should help them win a few more games, and spending enough money to hit the salary floor should improve the team by 10+ wins. Some kind of wins-goal should be set for the season because marginal improvement is not going to be enough. The 76ers will immediately lose the goodwill they're finally building if the team comes out flat again this year. There's enough optimism around the presumed #1 pick Ben Simmons and the potential trade-haul for one of their front-court players that this team can't afford to punt it all away. In fact, if they try to tank again, there might be too much talent to finish last.
What a shame that would be.
It's time, Philly. It's time to take that first step forward. It's time to say "we're going to improve by 10 wins per year over the next three." It's time to let the fans see something - anything.
Let's close out with a smile...Q: What happens when the 76ers GM realizes he has no friends?
A: He gets Colangelonely.