It's time for the Philadelphia 76ers' rise up the Eastern Conference standings to begin. Although the franchise remains years away from potential championship contention, the front office will hope last season's 10 wins are a thing of the past.
Of course, there are benefits to bottoming out. Finishing in the basement of the standings and winning the ensuing draft lottery gave the Sixers the right to draft top prospect Ben Simmons, who has the skill set to become a legitimate franchise cornerstone.
Watching Simmons develop will be one of the main talking points for the fanbase as the focus shifts to the new campaign following the league's schedule release. Let's check out all of the important information before taking a closer look at how the season could play out for Philly.
Season Opener: Oct. 26 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Championship Odds: 300-1 (per Odds Shark)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Los Angeles Lakers (Dec. 16 and March 12)
Games between the top two selections in any draft always generate plenty of attention. That should be taken to another level this season as Simmons and the Sixers battle Brandon Ingram and the Lakers.
Fans received an early glimpse of what's on the horizon when the highly touted prospects faced off in the Las Vegas Summer League. Simmons put up eight points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, while Ingram tallied seven points and four rebounds in a one-point Los Angeles victory.
NBA Stats provided a look at how both players performed in the offseason showcase:
Those numbers coincide with the expectation that Simmons is more prepared to make an instant impact, thanks to his well-rounded skill set. He needs to refine his jump shot to become a more reliable scorer, but the other areas of his game are beyond typical rookie standards.
Both players are facing similar situations, though. The fanbases in Philadelphia and Los Angeles are eager to start seeing some progress after stretches of frustrating seasons. The onus will be on Simmons and Ingram to help lead the resurgences.
Brooklyn Nets (Dec. 18, Jan. 8, March 28 and April 4)
The road back to the playoffs after a 10-win campaign is a long one. The Sixers would be best served viewing the challenge as an incremental battle, which would be trying to leapfrog at least one team in the Eastern Conference standings this season.
Brooklyn is the most likely candidate in 2016-17. The Nets won 11 more games than the 76ers last season, finishing 21-61. They are in for what should be a similar down year after an offseason filled with mostly minor roster moves.
David Solar of Sports Insights noted they are estimated to win four fewer games than Philly:
While an argument could be made that the Sixers should once again try to win the race to the bottom to improve their lottery odds, at some point, the focus must turn to winning. They should still be in good draft position, even if it's not another first overall pick.
Beating out the Nets to end their time in the Eastern Conference basement would be a step, albeit minor, in the right direction. It also adds a little intrigue to their head-to-head meetings this season, as one or two games could be the difference in the end.
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Although it's faint, a light at the end of the tunnel is finally showing up for the Sixers. Given the importance of high-end star power in the NBA, getting the opportunity to draft somebody with the terrific upside of Simmons is massive.
The roster features several other promising pieces, too. The frontcourt is littered with potential in the form of Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Dario Saric. A few of those players may eventually get traded, but the front office may want to get a longer look at them first.
The backcourt is still a work in progress, as veterans like Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson are likely to play key roles this season. That said, there's still some promising youth on the depth chart in Timothe Luwawu and T.J. McConnell.
It's going to take some time for the 76ers to fit all the of the pieces together. In the meantime, one thing's for sure: They don't want Simmons to feel the pressure of trying to carry the entire franchise on his shoulders, as general manager Bryan Colangelo noted, per Jack McCaffery of the Trentonian:
It's important that we don't put Ben in a position where he feels the weight of everything. I talk about us having a young, developing core. And we have talent on this team. So not all of the thrust will be on Ben Simmons. We have to make sure to distribute that effort across the board and build this thing with measured steps.
All told, it took Philadelphia six years to go from a 41-win playoff team to a 10-win rebuilding project. It's probably going to take an equal amount of time to get the team back into the contender category, though it should get back to .500 quicker than that.
Around 25 victories seems like a reasonable goal this year. It's not a strong record by any means, but it would represent a serious uptick from last season. And at a time when the two crucial words are process and progress, signs of improvement are vital.