Here’s all you need to know about the 2013–14 prospects of the Philadelphia 76ers: They skipped free agency. No, really, they had an eventful draft night, pulled the trigger on two low-impact mid-summer trades, and then didn’t make an official signing until Sept. 13 — well after most other teams had finished spending. They even held out on signing their own draft picks until September.
Were they golfing? Too busy watching the final episodes of Breaking Bad? Just that disinterested in literally every non-76ers NBA player? Or is this the most obvious case of a pro sports team tank job we’ve ever seen?
After a season hijacked by breathless Bynum injury non-updates, the team will return five of its six most-started players from 2012–13 in Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen and Jason Richardson. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. The team ranked 26th in offensive efficiency last season, and that was before they traded away their floor general, all-star Jrue Holiday, who led the team in points and assists.
The team also jettisoned head coach Doug Collins in favour of Brett Brown, who actually felt the need this summer to assure players that the team won’t try to lose on purpose. Given those departures, though, it may be only a matter of time before the team’s other valuable returnees are sent off in exchange for younger guys or picks. And one way or another, it figures to be a long season in Philadelphia.
Additions: Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams, Royce White, Tony Wroten, James Anderson, Daniel Orton, Darius Morris
Departures: Jrue Holiday, Andrew Bynum, Nick Young, Dorell Wright, Damien Wilkins, Royal Ivey, Charles Jenkins
Really, the Sixers are only losing the right to pay Bynum millions for sitting on the bench and trying out new hairdos, as he never once suited up for Philadelphia (unless you count local bowling leagues). The decision to jettison Holiday will hurt a little more, as he was the team MVP last season. At only 23, he ostensibly would’ve been young enough to lead the team into its next phase, but instead he was used as the catalyst to kick-start it.
Replacing him in the starting lineup will be Carter-Williams (picked 11th in the draft), a big guard who sees the floor well but needs to develop a jump shot before he stands to be effective against NBA defences. In a perfect world, the 22-year-old would learn the ropes behind a point guard like Holiday before taking the team’s reins, but alas — the only guys below him on the depth chart (Wroten and Morris) are nearly as green as he is.
- Is this the year Young—Thaddeus, not Nick — finally gets some love? One of the most underrated performers in the league, the combo forward is one of only 29 guys to have a player efficiency rating of 18 or better in each of the past three seasons (15 is league average). A six-foot-eight stat stuffer, he’s coming off a season in which he put up 14.8 points and a career-high 7.5 boards per game (along with usually solid defensive contributions) in 34.6 minutes, and will be leaned on heavily yet again this year.
- Brown — Brett, not Larry — is the latest in a line of Spurs assistant coaches to jump from San Antonio’s bench to a head coach’s chair, following Mike Brown and Jacques Vaughn (fellow assistant Mike Budenholzer also gets his first head-coaching gig this season with the Hawks). NBA watchers will be waiting to see how much of Gregg Popovich’s magic — a mix of gravitas, motivational skills, pre-game strategy and in-game mastery — Brown will bring with him, but it might take a season or two to really get a sense of it on the offensive end. The Sixers lack the combination of size and shooting (not to mention extreme basketball smarts) that make the Spurs’ motion offence the juggernaut that it is.
- Former Kentucky Wildcat Nerlens Noel was a potential No. 1 pick in June’s draft, but fell to No. 6 due to concerns over his season-ending ACL injury and his offensive shortcomings. (The fact that he doesn’t project to pack weight onto his skinny frame might not have helped him either.) Now it looks like he won’t suit up this season at all, making an already thin bench even thinner. One decent silver lining here: second-year big man Arnett Moultrie looked good flushing easy opportunities in extremely limited action last season, and should get extended looks in 2013–14. Plus, at six-foot-11 and still only 22, he could be a cost-effective frontcourt building block going forward — or at least someone who can allow Noel to wade in slowly whenever he does actually suit up for the team.
Evan Turner. While not a terribly consistent or efficient player since getting drafted No. 2 overall in 2009 (he’s a career 43-percent shooter from the field and 33 percent from three), Turner stands to break out via sheer volume: He’s the only small forward on the team. He’ll get all the shots and minutes he can handle, and looks poised to put up career highs across the board — as long as he’s with the team, that is.
Scale of Decency:
Indecent. Last season was a mess as Philly fans waited for Bynum to hit the floor, always with the hope that he’d come out in 2011–12 Lakers form and dominate the paint. But that never came to pass and the team finished 34-48. This team (essentially a worse version of last year’s) has no such illusions of contention, and neither will its fans. This season is about seeing what they’ve got in the young guys already on the roster, and looking ahead to not one, but two first round picks (maybe even two lottery picks) in the 2014 draft. They’ll lose, whether they’re actually trying to or not.
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