To provide the best overview possible I've solicited the help of Roy Burton, Associate Editor at Liberty Ballers and Co-Host of The Broad Street Line. He's the insider, I'm the outsider, and this is our preview of what to expect from the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2014-2015 season.
The Philadelphia 76ers' current slogan is "Together We Build", and make no mistake: This is a team in the midst of a lengthy construction project. While the future cornerstone of the franchise - former Kansas center and current social media expert Joel Embiid - doesn't figure to play at all in 2014-15, the Sixers will still find a way to surprise a few teams next season.
Head coach Brett Brown knows that he's working at a disadvantage when it comes to talent, so he instructed his charges to play at a frenetic pace last year (99.2 possessions per game - 1st in the NBA). The game plan doesn't figure to change all that much, and once again, the offense will be directed by reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams. Carter-Williams experienced his fair share of growing pains last season, but the 6'6" playmaker has all of the tools to be a top-10 point guard once he improves his jump shot and cuts down on the turnovers and mental mistakes.
The Sixers' biggest addition this year just happens to be a player who sat on the bench in street clothes all of last season. Center Nerlens Noel starred in both the Orlando and Vegas Summer League, and if he's fully recovered from the ACL injury he suffered at Kentucky, he'll be the dominant rim protector the 76ers have lacked for several years. Expect to see him quite a bit at the 4 spot this season in preparation for his impending team-up with Embiid.
An under-the-radar player to keep an eye on is rookie forward K.J. McDaniels. He's a bit undersized at 6'6", but there's a decent chance that he'll start at the 3 as soon as Opening Night given the fact that he's the team's best perimeter defender. Fellow first-year players Jerami Grant and Jordan McRae will have every opportunity to carve out a niche in the rotation as well, while a few of the holdovers - namely guard/forward Hollis Thompson and center Henry Sims - figure to play larger roles in 2014-15.
Let's be honest for a moment: When you pony up the money for a League Pass subscription, it's safe to say that you aren't doing so to watch the 76ers. But for a squad that may not surpass the 19 wins that they tallied last season, the Sixers are a young, energetic bunch that will give you 48 minutes worth of effort every time that they take the court. Just be sure to keep your hard hat handy - it's not always pretty around this particular construction site.
Insider or outsider, it's fairly obvious the Sixers will stink this season. However, it's a respectable stench. General manager Sam Hinkie selected back-to-back centers - Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid - because he's sticking to his long-term vision, which seems to be this: be terrible, don't sugarcoat it, and get really high lottery picks to nab the best talent regardless of position. I can respect his commitment to sticking to the initial plan. There's been no deviating in Philadelphia.
Hinkie is all-in on a full rebuild and has no interest in existing within NBA purgatory - bad enough to miss the playoffs, but good enough not to land a top five pick in the draft. Selecting Embiid and Dario Saric in the draft this summer, two prospects that most likely won't suit up for even one NBA game this season, a year after choosing Nerlens Noel who sat out the entire season, reinforces that. Hinkie's not playing any games, his intentions are quite clear.
From the Sixers standpoint, they're still in the process of acquiring assets and seeing how everything comes together. They aren't going to leap out of the cellar for years, and that's exactly what they want. Again, some people might not support it, like George Karl for instance, but I don't have a problem with their strategy.
If they're willing to sacrifice ticket and jersey sales, TV revenue, and risk creating a losing culture in the process, because they firmly believe in their plan to become a perennial contender in 3-5 years once everything pans out, than that's fine. But it will take serious patience from the fans and the organization, which they do seem to have at this point.
The question is: how many 50-60 loss seasons can the fans and organization take before they reach a boiling point?
For now, I'm not sure there's a definitive answer. But being a lifelong Wolves fan, I can tell you that all of the losing will begin to weigh on the franchise, even more so if the four lottery picks they've used over the last two years don't become the players they envisioned. In the end, getting high lottery picks and drafting talented college prospects, or international ones, does not guarantee anything.
As for this season, you have to imagine that Nerlens Noel will be the shining light at the end of another dark, 60 loss, tunnel. Similar to Blake Griffin, Noel will look to take the league by storm in his rookie season, which is actually his second season in the NBA. On the surface, he's an obvious favorite to win Rookie of the Year given the playing time he'll receive in Philly.
Michael Carter-Williams led all rookies in scoring (16.7), rebounding (6.3), assists (6.2), and minutes per game (34.5) last season, and he was the overwhelming choice for NBA Rookie of the Year. I expect Noel to follow suite and play tons of minutes for the Sixers, which certainly helps his chances of winning the ROY. His two main competitors appear to be Milwaukee's Jabari Parker and Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins.
But even if Philadelphia brings home another ROY award, this season won't be pretty. USA Today placed the Sixers at No. 30 in NBA Watchability Rankings, projecting an 8-74 record (which would be the worst 82-game record in NBA history, previously set by... the 1973 Sixers - 9-73). While I don't foresee an 8-win season, I also wouldn't anticipate more than the 19-wins they produced last season.
The Sixers traded away their finest player to the Timberwolves, Thad Young, as a part of the blockbuster Kevin Love trade to Cleveland. In return they received the disappointing Alexey Shved and underwhelming Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, but at least Hinkie stayed true to his plan - that deal was all about getting his hands on Miami's first round pick (lottery protected to No. 10 in the 2015 and 2016 drafts, and unprotected in 2017). And knowing those players they shouldn't have much impact on the win column in Philly anyways, which should sit just fine with Hinkie.
For now, Sixers fans should enjoy Embiid's social media presence, hope Noel shows signs of becoming a star in his first season, and look for MCW to improve his jumper enough for it to become a reliable weapon. If one of their younger players like Tony Wroten or Henry Sims can have a mini breakout, or if they can get positive contributions from first-year players K.J. McDaniels, Jerami Grant, and Jordan McRae, it will be icing on the cake.
A rough season is in store, but there should be bright spots. That's exactly how Hinkie designed it to be.