This Is the Final Season of Philadelphia 76ers' Tanking Era

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 12, 2015

Zalgiris Kaunas' Paulius Jankunas (L) vies with Anadolu Efes' Dario Saric during the Euroleague basketball match Zalgiris Kaunas vs Anadolu Efes in Kaunas on December 4, 2014.     AFP PHOTO PETRAS MALUKAS        (Photo credit should read PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP/Getty Images)
PETRAS MALUKAS/Getty Images

Stop us if you've heard this before, but the Philadelphia 76ers once again have the worst record in the Association. 

Though they've played more competitive basketball this season and boast a rotation filled with actual NBA-level talents, the victories haven't been coming. In fact, Philly has gone winless during its first eight outings, and the schedule won't throw a cupcake into the Wells Fargo Center prior to a Dec. 1 matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Nonetheless, there's still reason for optimism, because the tanking should finally yield tangible results in 2016. Not only do the Sixers have some building blocks, but they're set up for more draft-day success and could be joined by Dario Saric for the 2016-17 season. 

Hang in there, Philly fans. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and we can finally see it. 

 

Talents Already in Place

Nov 9, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) palms the ball as he looks for an opening past Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODA
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The 76ers don't really need to worry about adding much more frontcourt talent. 

Between Jahlil Okafor's immense offensive potential and Nerlens Noel's ability to control a game on defense, this team is set at the biggest positions. Ideally, both will grow into two-way contributors, but they already complement each other nicely and should thrive as they gain chemistry. 

Eight games into his professional career, Okafor is averaging 20.6 points and 6.9 rebounds while shooting 50.7 percent from the field. Meanwhile, his teammate from Kentucky is on pace to join Andre Drummond and DeMarcus Cousins as one of just three players to average at least 12.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks over the past two seasons. The versatility of Noel's game is already staggering, and his mid-range jumper is only getting better.

But that's not it in Philadelphia. 

Nik Stauskas should develop into a quality rotation player as his shot becomes more accurate, and he's looked promising when head coach Brett Brown allows him to create off the dribble. The Sacramento Kings gave up on the No. 8 pick of the 2014 NBA draft far too soon, and the Sixers are the lucky beneficiaries. 

Nov 7, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) drives toward the net as Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) defends during the fourth quarter of the game at the Wells Fargo Center. The Orlando Magic won 105-97. Mandatory
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, Jerami Grant, JaKarr Sampson, Hollis Thompson, Richaun Holmes, Robert Covington and Christian Wood have all flashed their talents during short stretches of action. Even if none pan out as anything more than backup options, that litany of legitimate options stands in stark contrast to the myriad D-League talents who received opportunities with the 76ers of yesteryears.

Plus, we have to throw in T.J. McConnell, who has gone from undrafted free agent to taking over as the starting point guard. One year removed from running the show for the Arizona Wildcats, he's dishing out 8.3 assists per contest and looking like a long-term keeper. 

"The Sixers have him [McConnell] locked up for years to come, if they want him to stay," Jacob Rosen wrote for Nylon Calculus. "And a surprising steal like him is exactly what the team hopes to be doing as they build up for brighter days ahead."

 

The Draft

The Sixers will get at least one top pick in the 2016 NBA draft. That much we know, seeing as they're already near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, and general manager Sam Hinkie would never dream of parting with his own first-round selection. 

But they could have so much more: 

Incoming and Outgoing Draft Picks
StatusTeamProtections?Likelihood of Conveyance?
Incoming 1st-Round PickLakers1-3Solid chance
Incoming 1st-Round PickHeat1-10Nearly guaranteed
Incoming 1st-Round PickThunder1-15Nearly guaranteed
1st-Round SwapKings11-30Unlikely
1st-Round SwapWarriorsUnprotectedUnlikely
Incoming 2nd-Round PickNuggetsUnprotectedGuaranteed
Outgoing 2nd-Round PickCelticsUnprotectedGuaranteed
RealGM.com

Barring an utter collapse from the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings going up in flames, the pick swaps probably won't take place. And that's just fine since there's a legitimate chance the Sixers hold their own and grab selections from the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder

If the season ended after Nov. 11's games, Philadelphia would actually have a chance to use two top-five selections—depending on the bounces of ping-pong balls—and add another pair of picks in the 20s.

We don't really know how strong the crop of college talents will be next summer, but just imagine the 76ers adding players like Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray and two more first-round prospects into the mix.

And that still wouldn't be it. 

 

Incoming Talents

Anadolu Efes Istanbul's Croatian forward Dario Saric (L) vies with Real Madrid's US forward Marcus Slaughter during the Euroleague playoff basketball match Real Madrid vs Anadolu Efes Istambul at the Barclaycard Center in Madrid on April 15, 2015.   AFP P
JAVIER SORIANO/Getty Images

"I am in constant contact with the Sixers. They wanted me as soon as possible, but I have a contract with Efes. But in the summer I will still go because I have a way out in the contract," Saric recently explained, via Vecernji list (h/t NBC Sports' Dan Feldman).

The No. 12 pick from the 2014 NBA draft still isn't guaranteed to make the trip across the pond in 2016. He'll remain under contract with Anadolu Efes, and, as Feldman writes, "If Saric waits another year, he'll no longer be tied to the restrictive rookie scale."

But when the Croatian forward does come to the States, he'll make an immediate impact. Think Toni Kukoc—the comparison evoked by Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman in his pre-draft scouting report. 

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 11: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on from the bench prior to a game agianst the Toronto Raptors on November 11, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknow
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

If he's on the roster, joining the incumbent talents, the incoming draft picks and a hopefully healthy Joel Embiid, the ceiling rises drastically for this current bottom feeder. We could be looking at a depth chart like this, assuming NBADraft.net's early mock draft is exactly correct: 

Philadelphia's Projected 2016-17 Depth Chart
PGSGSFPFC
Jamal Murray*Nik StauksasBen Simmons*Nerlens NoelJahlil Okafor
T.J. McConnellHollis ThompsonDario Saric*Richaun HolmesJoel Embiid
Tim Quarterman*Jerami GrantRobert CovingtonThomas Bryant*
*Rookies

That doesn't even factor in the ridiculous number of non-guaranteed players the Philadelphia front office could choose to keep around. Nor does it account for the loads of cap space it should have at its disposal during the coming offseason—money that could be floated toward a big name who would help expedite the seemingly perpetual rebuild.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders calculated that this franchise would have over $52 million to spend next summer, and that's before it cuts ties with non-guaranteed contracts. 

If Saric stays overseas and/or Embiid can't get healthy, the optimism will partially fade away. But if the 76ers are able to add so much talent into the mix while building around the current core, a playoff spot in the weaker half of the Association won't be entirely out of the question, and that would only be the start of something even more special for a young, increasingly stacked squad. 

This possible outcome is exactly why Philadelphia has been all about trusting the process. 

 

Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com and are current heading into Nov. 12's games. 

Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.