With basketball season beginning once again, Philadelphia 76ers fans will soon be able to witness another year of the rebuilding process.
Former General Manager Sam Hinkie controversially sent the team into “tanking” mode just a few years ago, with numerous trades for young talent and a load of draft picks. These moves essentially sacrificed the present for a developed, star-filled team of the future. His rationale was centered around the idea of giving up whatever assets the Sixers had now to acquire draft picks or players that would blossom in years to come.
Over the last few years, the Sixers have drafted players with great potential like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Ben Simmons. The picks were “earned” after the Sixers won less than 20 games in each of the last three seasons, meaning the draft lottery was statistically more likely to favor the team. They also drafted foreign talent, like Croatian star Dario Saric, and French player Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Sixers fans have been notably divided on these decisions, with some saying drafting solely by potential and not by fit for the team could hurt the team’s chemistry. Proponents, like Sam Hinkie, suggest that piling up an arsenal of talent will not only improve the team, but also improve leverage at the trade negotiating table when it would become necessary.
This offseason also saw numerous moves by the new managing team headed by GM Bryan Colangelo. The most well-known of these was the selection of Ben Simmons with the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. A 6’10” forward with unique ball-handling skills, exceptional passing ability, and the power to get to the basket, Simmons’ selection has generated hype among Sixers fans that has not been present since the days of a Philadelphia folk-heroes like Allen Iverson. In preparation for the season, Simmons visibly embraced the city of Philadelphia just as the city embraced him, frequently posting pictures on social media recognizing the city and his future there. However, at the beginning of preseason workouts, Simmons broke his foot, meaning he would not be able to return until months into the season. This injury may put the spotlight on other new faces on the team.
Then, the Sixers acquired Spanish star Sergio Rodriguez, in hopes to fill some of the void at the point guard position. NBA Veteran Gerald Henderson signed with a Sixers in a move that returned him to his hometown. Jerryd Bayless, formerly a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, joined the team as another veteran guard to provide some firepower in the lineup. The 2014 draft pick out of Croatia, Dario Saric, also officially joined the team this summer, ending the long wait for his arrival in Philadelphia. Although these moves may not have immediate impact, many admire them for their significance in building a more complete roster. Still a current issue, the Sixers have generally drafted only post players and centers, creating an abundance at one or two positions while leaving holes at the others. Now, with the addition of these pieces, the Sixers have greater depth.
Another key storyline of this offseason that will continue into the regular season is the emergence of previously injured Joel Embiid. He was drafted in 2014 out of Kansas, but has not seen any action on the court after two years fighting injury. Recently, Embiid was finally cleared to play, thus beginning his true rookie season in the league. In the time he was sidelined, Embiid developed his skills, gained muscle, and (perhaps prematurely) drew comparisons to NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon. He even went so far as to nickname himself “The Process”, after the slogan used among Sixers fans “Trust the Process” in his progression from injury to a future of success.
It seems as if there is no direction at this point for the Sixers but up. Their record of 10 wins and 72 losses this previous season almost broke an NBA record for least wins in an 82 game season. The team looks to win games while also building a cohesive unit that can mesh well as it becomes more relevant over time. Players like Embiid, Saric, and other still young talents like Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, will have the opportunity to develop this NBA season. Even without Simmons, the Sixers look to find some experience as a group that will ultimately set them up for years to come. Fans are optimistic about how the franchise will grow over this rebuilding process. The Sixers will certainly not turn it around completely this year, but steady improvement is what the process was all about from the beginning.