Philadelphia 76ers' Needs During 2014 Offseason
You'd have a much easier time figuring out what the Philadelphia 76ers don't need than you would determining what they do. At present, the Sixers "boast" a forward-thinking general manager (Sam Hinkie), a patient head coach (Brett Brown), two promising point guards (Michael Carter Williams, Tony Wroten Jr.), a productive wing-forward (Thaddeus Young) and a tantalizing unknown up front (Nerlens Noel).
Other than that, the cupboard in Philly is nigh on bare. Of course, that's been the plan all along. Hinkie dealt All-Star Jrue Holiday on draft day last year and parted ways with Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes prior to this season's trade deadline as part of a wider effort to strip-mine the roster and start from scratch again.
To that end, the Sixers' 2013-14 season was a roaring success, insofar as any campaign marked by a NBA-record-tying 26-game losing streak can be characterized as such. As recompense for the misery incurred during their 17-65 slog through the schedule, the Sixers will have their own high lottery pick to spend in what's expected to be a loaded 2014 NBA draft, in addition to the selection they acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans by way of the Holiday trade and the myriad of second-rounders in Hinkie's stash.
Philly, then, will enter the summer of 2014 with an impressive war chest of picks and cap space to spend on their studs-up rebuild. Plenty of pain remains in the Sixers' immediate future, but with some smart moves—including those suggested herein—the City of Brotherly Love could have a competitive club to embrace in relatively short order.
A Decision on Thaddeus Young's Future
Before Hinkie and his staff can determine with any certainty what the Sixers need, they'll have to evaluate what exactly they have on hand. That process should (and probably will) begin with Thaddeus Young.
The 25-year-old forward lobbied for a trade out of town at the beginning of the season and sulked a bit shortly after the trade deadline came and went but put together a productive campaign nonetheless. He took more shots (16.2) and scored more points (17.9) than ever before, albeit amidst a dip in his field-goal percentage to a new career low (.454). Those numbers, along with his six rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.1 steals, were ultimately inflated by the Sixers' breakneck pace (a league-leading 101.7 possessions per game) and the sheer dearth of NBA-caliber talent with whom Young had to share the spotlight.
Still, good on Young for continuing to compete, even after he was left out of the Sixers' midseason fire sale. In fact, Young upped the ante—good and bad—after the Feb. 20 deadline, averaging 19.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.2 steals while shooting 41.6 percent from the field, including 30.5 percent on a whopping 5.2 three-point attempts per game.
Not surprisingly, the experience of this lost season for the Sixers hasn't deterred Young from contemplating his future. "One thing I've always said: Just like upstairs, they put their GM hats on. I put mine on also," he told CSNPhilly.com's Jason Smith. "It's not just about basketball. It's about me as a player. This is a business, and it's about doing what's best for my family. It may be here, or it may not be here."
It'll be up to the Sixers to decide where that will be, at least until 2015. Young is under contract next season for a reasonable salary of $9.4 million, with an early termination option for 2015-16. Philly will likely consider abiding by Young's wishes in some capacity, but would do well to consider keeping him around unless it can get something substantial in return for him. Young's age still fits his name relatively well, to the extent that he can grow with and be a leader of whatever core the Sixers cobble together this summer.
Moreover, Young's shown himself capable of filling in all manners of blanks with his wide-ranging skill set. He's far from the caliber of player around whom Philly would want to reorganize its rebuilding efforts, but his contributions would be valuable to that effort nonetheless.
Progress from the Rookies
Young's future with the Sixers may be up in the air, but folks in Philly can rest assured at least two current members of the club—Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel—won't be going anywhere for a while.
Carter-Williams, the 11th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, finished up as one of the favorites in the Rookie of the Year race. He averaged 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.9 steals in 34.5 minutes while starting every game in which he appeared during his first year as a pro.
To be sure, Carter-Williams has plenty of work to do to improve his game and, in turn, brighten Philly's future. Like many young guards, MCW is prone to miscues, as his 3.5 turnovers per game—the fifth-most in the league—would suggest. Moreover, according to NBA.com, his turnover ratio (12.9 turnovers per 100 possessions) was the 14th-highest (out of a possible 108) among guards who averaged at least 20 minutes across no fewer than 30 games this season.
But as shaky as Carter-Williams was with the ball in his hands, his jump shot may well be of greater concern. As Grantland's Zach Lowe noted, Carter-Williams fell within a few misses of becoming just the seventh player in NBA history to launch at least 100 threes while shooting under 40 percent from the field and 25 percent from deep.
To that end, MCW might benefit from the sort of shooting-stroke reconstruction Noel has undergone. The sixth pick in the 2013 draft spent what would've otherwise been his rookie season rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered while at Kentucky and filling out his rail-thin frame.
According to Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times, Sixers coach Brett Brown sounds very conservative in his expectations for the two crucial rookies: "It's too early to say anything about Michael or what you can project Nerlens out to be."
On the plus side, Noel rated his knee at "100 percent" in speaking with reporters on April 8, per ESPN, so he should be at full strength for next season.
Determinations on the Sixers' Assorted Youngsters
The Sixers sorted through a laundry list of young no-names among the 28 guys who suited up for the team this season. Selecting the right guys with whom to move forward could make all the difference as Philly looks to accelerate its rebuild.
According to ShamSports.com, Tony Wroten (age 21) and Arnett Moultrie (23) are each signed through next season, with team options in 2014-15. Wroten, the 25th pick in the 2012 draft, shined after coming over from the Memphis Grizzlies, putting up 13.2 points in 24.5 minutes per game over 71 outings. Moultrie was a non-factor and saw just a dozen games.
A host of other youngsters are twisting in the wind as the Sixers turn their focus toward a more competitive campaign. James Anderson (25), Henry Sims (24), Elliot Williams (24), Hollis Thompson (23), Brandon Davies (22), and Jarvis Varnado (26) each have non-guaranteed contracts for the 2014-15 season.
Anderson saw 61 starts, the third-highest total on the team behind Young and MCW. He averaged 10.1 points per game, but failed to establish himself as an efficient three-point threat (32 percent from deep).
He did manage to distinguish himself in several games, including a pair of 30-point efforts against the Houston Rockets, but his consistency was an issue, especially down the stretch of the season. Anderson shot just 29 percent from the field over his final eight games.
Sims played in only 25 games for Philly, but he stepped in nicely in the wake of the Spencer Hawes trade. A former D-Leaguer in the New York Knicks' system, Sims proved to be a disciplined player with a nose for the hoop and a willingness to battle on the boards.
Sims flashed his potential during a back-to-back on March 21 and 22 against the Knicks and Chicago Bulls, with 34 points and 28 rebounds combined across those two games. The Georgetown product could be a part of the future, and there's a qualifying offer waiting for 2015-16.
Williams, Thompson and Davies each posted player efficiency ratings in the single digits, via ESPN. A PER of 15 is average. Varnado didn't do much offensively, but he showed promise as a rim-protector with 1.3 blocks in 14.6 minutes per game.
In constructing the new-look Sixers, Anderson could stay put simply because of his experience in the starting role. Sims would potentially make for a competent backup to Noel, but the rest of the youngsters may well wind up on the scrap heap.
(Slide by Sean Hojnacki)
A (Near) Perfect Draft Day
Coach Brett Brown has a vision for the Sixers, and as he told the Bucks County Courier Times' Tom Moore, "It's really important" the team lands a star in the 2014 draft.
ESPN's Chad Ford has a playable mock draft for the lottery teams which processes "2,184 lottery scenarios," and the Sixers have a 19.9 percent chance of winning. With a little luck in the lotto, the Sixers would be more than happy to select any of the top-five prospects in the draft.
Even with Noel, Kansas center Joel Embiid is a legitimate target for Philly. The freshman from Cameroon prompted comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon, and he could play at the 5 with his larger frame as Noel slides to the 4. It would make for a nightmarish defensive pairing in the frontcourt, and Embiid can even step out to hit jumpers from midrange and long range. His balky back is the only concern.
Andrew Wiggins, Embiid's fellow Kansas teammate, began the season as the diaper dandy du jour, and backed that up by pouring in 17.1 points per game as a freshman. At his best, Wiggins is an electric talent with vexing quickness, awesome leaping ability and excellent range. The 6'8 wing also happens to be a top-notch defender.
Duke's Jabari Parker collected the Tisdale Award as the nation's top freshman on Monday, but didn't announce his decision to enter the 2014 draft until Thursday in an article for Sports Illustrated. Parker has the scoring polish to succeed right away in the NBA, and like all Blue Devils, he's a high-IQ guy on the court.
Australian point guard Dante Exum has widely been projected as a top-five pick and would fit well in just about any backcourt thanks to his size (6'6") and versatility. Kentucky power forward Julius Randle rounds out the first five. He recorded 24 double-doubles as a freshman, the second-most ever for a frosh behind only Michael Beasley, per ESPN Stats and Info.
If the 76ers somehow fall out of the top five, point guard Marcus Smart would be an unlikely target due to MCW, but Arizona power forward Aaron Gordon would be a good fit in the frontcourt with his athleticism.
According to Real GM, the Sixers will also receive the New Orleans Pelicans' first-round selection if NOLA fails to land a top-five pick. Possible selections later in the lottery include Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh, Creighton small forward Doug McDermott, Michigan State shooting guard Gary Harris and Duke shooting guard Rodney Hood.
(Slide by Sean Hojnacki)
Some Savvy Veterans
At 33 years old, Jason Richardson is seven years older than any other player on the roster. He has a player option for $6.6 million in 2014-15, per ShamSports.com, and he should probably opt for that cash.
With Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes dealt at the deadline, the Sixers have very few players on the roster with any starting experience whatsoever, let alone enough to have anything approaching savvy.
The team's total salary for next season including cap holds and options is $31.4 million heading into the offseason, so there is money to be spent in free agency.
The Sixers could look to add a potent offensive presence with pro experience to join MCW and Noel as the core of the team. Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward and Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson are both scoring threats with versatile skill sets, and both will be unrestricted free agents in the summer.
However, Philly really needs a sage in the locker room, a wise veteran who has been on winning teams and can help change the culture of the franchise as a new era begins.
Dallas Mavericks veterans Shawn Marion and Vince Carter continue to be productive in multiple categories. Marion will be 36 when the 2014-15 season starts, but he is coming off another strong campaign: 48 percent shooting, 10.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 31.7 minutes per game.
Carter, 37, has transformed from an electrifying dunker into a jump-shooting specialist. He shot 39.5 percent from beyond the arc and posted a dozen points per game. Either Marion or Carter would be a great presence in Philly.
Paul Pierce is very familiar with the Northeast after playing his entire career with the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets. Coming off a $15 million contract, he would likely opt either to retire or join a title contender as a reserve, but he is the definition of veteran savvy.
Younger veteran options include Washington Wizards swingman Trevor Ariza, who is also hitting free agency after a season of 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He turns 29 in June and can bring a defensive mindset to a team that allowed 109.9 points per game, the most in the league.
Staying with the theme of desperately needing a veteran to teach these kids some defense, longtime Oklahoma City Thunder shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha may be set for a change of scenery. He will be 30 at the start of next season, and would be a nice complement for a team with offensive-minded players.
(Slide by Sean Hojnacki)
Patience...and Lots of It
While the 76ers have obvious cause to be hopeful, with Carter-Williams and Noel painting a bright portrait of the future alongside the team's 2014 picks, the playoffs remain a long, long way away.
This is a team that lost 63 games this season, including a record-tying 26 in a row. The eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks finished at 38-44, meaning the Sixers would have to at least double this season's win total just to reach the bottom of the postseason bracket and suffer through a likely loss in the first round.
There is cause for optimism in Philly, though. Just look at two of this year's playoff teams in the East: the No. 5 Washington Wizards and No. 7 Charlotte Bobcats. In 2011-12, those teams combined for 27 wins and finished at the bottom of the conference. Both improved in 2012-13 but finished well shy of the postseason. Now, they each look capable of making some noise in the first round, and both are led by budding young point guards.
The Sixers' overall lack of experience should also serve to temper expectations. Carter-Williams endured the usual rookie growing pains over the course of his first pro campaign. Noel has yet to play a single minute in the NBA.
Realistically speaking, turning this team into a legitimate contender will require multiple seasons of grooming and hardening for Philly's youngsters against NBA competition.
However, with the right decisions on existing players, astute drafting and the additions of some quality veterans, the 76ers could be a pesky presence in 2014-15.
(Slide by Sean Hojnacki)