Let's call a spade a spade—the 2014-15 season for the Philadelphia 76ers is really just the second season in general manager Sam Hinkie's long-term rebuilding plan.
A season ago, the Sixers were one of the worst teams in the league, finishing 19-63 and at one point tying an NBA record by losing 26 straight games. It was hardly a surprise—the team had traded off many of their veteran assets either before the season or during it, and what remained was a roster that only a mother could love.
But Sixers fans understood the process, as Hinkie noted in his press conference after this year's NBA draft, per Philly.com:
Last year I was pleasantly surprised, I have been borderline shocked in the last month at how smart our fans are and the price you have to pay to go to where you want to go. It has been remarkable to me to watch the level of intrigue and the level of patience and understanding... It's been remarkable to see just how thoughtful our fans have been about what we're trying to do.
And it wasn't all negative, of course. They managed to unearth the eventual Rookie of the Year in the 2013 draft, Michael Carter-Williams, and their losing ways turned into two lottery picks, landing them Joel Embiid and Dario Saric this June.
While it remains to be seen if Embiid will play this season, Sixers fans will have to wait two years to see Saric, who will remain in Europe until then. Of course, patience has become the norm for this team—their first pick last year, Nerlens Noel, missed the entire year due to injury.
But he looked excellent in the summer league, raising expectations that he might turn into a star for the Sixers. Zach Harper of CBS Sports has more:
'Watch him on defense and you begin wondering how he wasn't the top pick in that draft,' another scout offered up about Noel. 'Sure, you had concerns with the knee and those legs are so thin it's worrisome. If New Orleans doesn't make the playoffs soon or struggles to find a guy to put next to [Anthony Davis], how do they justify that trade?'
Noel is a prowler on defense. His instincts aren't perfect but they're pretty close for someone with such little experience. His activity is noticeable. As he rotates over to someone looking to drive to the rim, the anticipation in the building increases. Any and everybody in the building with an eye on the game are waiting for the shot to be sent back at the shooter.
So, in a sense, his return this year is like the team drafting another rookie. Fans will be hoping to see development from MCW, a strong first season from Noel, pretty much anything from Embiid if he's healthy enough to play and, of course, whether the team can squeeze any production out of several other incoming rookies, including K.J. McDaniels, Jerami Grant and Jordan McRae.
In other words, Sixers fans have to play the long game with this team and the management, not the short game, because it appears the Sixers are in for another long, difficult season.
Below is a look at their schedule, a few key matchups and prediction of their final record.
Full schedule available at NBA.com.
For Sixers fans this year, the key games are going to be when the league's best teams come to town. Let's be honest—for the moment, Philly fans will be looking forward to seeing another team's superstars in action until their own develop.
LeBron James leading the Cleveland Cavaliers into town Jan. 5 will be a major draw. Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks will fill the seats. Though the rivalry between the Sixers and Boston Celtics has cooled significantly over the years, fans still enjoy getting one over their northern rivals. Plus, now they can boo Evan Turner wearing green. A healthy Derrick Rose will be worth the price of admission.
Western Conference teams will be an even bigger draw. The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs are always worth watching. Watching Nerlens Noel bang bodies with Dwight Howard will intrigue folks. Checking in on Jrue Holiday (and burgeoning superstar Anthony Davis) with the New Orleans Pelicans should provide a treat. Kobe Bryant coming into town is always fun.
In years past, when the Sixers were a better team, there were definable rivalries for the fans to enjoy. But with the team in rebuilding mode, watching the development of the young players—and waiting for next year's draft—is the real draw for this team.
No one in Philadelphia has any illusions about this team being good this year. Entertaining, perhaps. But certainly not good.
It's going to be another tough year in Philadelphia, and before the end of the season, another veteran in Thad Young could very well be traded. But everything will be done with an eye toward the future.
Predicted Record: 24-58