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Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Season Previews: Philadelphia 76ers

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Nerlens Noel, at his NBA skinniest. (Getty Images)

After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.

The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.

Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise

Despite the dour outlook at the bottom of this column, I am of the personal opinion that I am giving the Philadelphia 76ers way too much credit with the miserable record I have the team pegged for. The only thing that is getting in the way of wondering out loud whether or not the 76ers could shatter two NBA lows (the nine-win season of the 1973 Philadelphia 76ers, or the lockout-addled 2012 .106 winning percentage of the 2012 Charlotte Bobcats) is the fact that the roster, as presently constructed, appears to be full of hard workers who genuinely want to compete.

The competitors in this case, though, includes Spencer Hawes in the pivot, and eventually the incredibly raw rookie by the name of Nerlens Noel, once he returns from his ACL tear. Lavoy Allen and Thaddeus Young dot the forward spaces, with Royce White possibly being relied on to provide spot minutes, as Michael Carter-Williams (speaking of raw) and Tony Wroten (speaking of shooting every time you see the ball) running the “show.” This is not a good team.

This is not a wrong approach, either, as we’ve applauded the Sixers’ insistence on blowing up the roster since the team shook itself from the top down last summer. New general manager Sam Hinkie saw absolutely no point in sustaining a world where Jrue Holiday and possibly 35 games of Andrew Bynum, alongside a veteran coach, could keep the 76ers around 30 wins or so. In June he dumped Holiday, a fringe All-Star on his second contract, for a possibly center of the future in Noel and what many believe will be a lottery pick from the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2014 draft.

Then he went about doing absolutely nothing. Wroten was picked up off the scrap heap from Memphis, and he will contribute, but he still has plenty to figure out at this level. The team’s depth is so thin that White will be counted on to provide spot minutes while acting as a point forward, but not even Royce knows if he’ll be able to make it from contest to contest in an 82-game season. Jason Richardson is a name player that may not see a minute of action in 2013-14 as he recovers from what sounds a lot like a microfracture-type surgery on his meniscus.

And Evan Turner, who we genuinely like watching more than most NBA players as he spins and twirls his way to one missed 16-footer after another, will be around to desperately attempt to create some sort of market for his services. Because the new 76ers regime, centered around analytics as much as it works through the scouting lens, wants nothing to do with his 2014-15 qualifying offer of over $8.7 million.

Hell, the new regime doesn’t want anything to do with paying just about anyone at this point, and why should they?

Somewhat famously, the Sixers are a good $12 million or so under the NBA’s minimum salary floor. Hinkle is clearly utilizing that space in order to gather assets as a liaison in some sort of three-way trade sometime this winter, picking up draft picks in reward for stashing some veterans for 30 games as they play out their contracts, enough contracts to hopefully push the team over the minimum floor. If the Sixers don’t make the minimum, the team is fined for the amount that stands as the difference between their payroll, and the minimum. Again, though, this is the team (along with its insurers) that paid Andrew Bynum nearly $17 million to not play basketball last season. What do they care?

The “care” is the only thing Philly has going for it, because if the exhibition season is any evidence, the Sixers truly do have a group that wants to compete, but you can only take so many beatings and still want to show up for work the next day. This is why Hinkie, again, will be active in the trade market, hoping to toss Sixers out and bring Sixers in so as not to destroy the basketball hopes and dreams of whoever decides to don the uniform this year.

It will be a bad year. The Sixers may be on the right road, but this will be a bad year.

Legendarily bad? There’s a very, very good chance at this. It will be a struggle to enter double-digits this year, unless the Sixers find a series of teams that are willing to take the night off. In the NBA, that’s sometimes all you have to rely on.

Projected record: 14-68

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Brett Brown is smiling, but only because it's October (Getty Images)


Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine

While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.

Tune into the 76ers for … the oddity of a landlocked island of misfit toys.

If nothing else, the Sixers will offer a viewing experience you won’t find anywhere else in the NBA this year.

Their best playmakers might be a once-mulleted, Segway-riding center and an anxiety-stricken (and apparently -inducing) power forward. Their shooting guard mix -- minus the injured and apparently swollen Jason Richardson -- is a who’s who of surefire “Who He Play For?” All-Stars; come to think of it, I’m not sure anyone on this roster can actually shoot better than the standard league average of 36 percent or so from deep, which is, y’know, kind of a problem. Their best player, a two-way wonder who routinely (if quietly) makes his team better on both ends of the floor, is an often overlooked sort who kind of plays in between positions and doesn’t profile as the sort of individual talent who can drag a poor cellar-dweller very far north. (Sound familiar, Philly?)

One lottery pick isn’t going to play anytime soon; the other might have his confidence destroyed before he even knows what hit him. Their expected backup point guard is a lefty live-wire who can “resurrect the gym,” but about whom otherwise, as one person who covered his former team wrote as recently as this summer, we know nothing.” Similarly, three years later, we still don’t really know what Evan Turner is – which actually means we probably have a pretty good idea of what Evan Turner is – and he’s a decent bet to lead this team in minutes as he strives to prove he’s “not a loser” on a team that is 100 percent built to lose.

Given the relative lack of known quantities, the number of players whose size/skill-set could slot them into multiple roles dependent on individual matchups, and the inherent commitment to experimentation and figuring out what you’ve got in the cupboard that comes with a season aimed at bottoming out in hopes of rising to the top, it’s entirely possible that two separate instances of watching the 76ers could produce two completely different lineups, rotations, styles of play and experiences. (Probably not two different outcomes, though.) It will also likely include a wide variety of young players and nomadic inexpensive veterans trying their damnedest to put enough on film to prove they’re worth keeping around, whether in Philly or elsewhere; this could result in a fair amount of frantic, hustling, risk-reward play, especially if new head coach Brett Brown employs the sort of swarming defensive scheme he favored when heading up the Australian national team, which sought to force turnovers and unlock the kind of transition game a young, inexperienced, undermanned team will need to have any shot of thriving. Steals and running: they’re fun!

If none of that’s sold you on tuning into the Sixers, maybe this will: Whenever your favorite team plays them, you’ll stand a better-than-even shot of watching ‘em come away with the W. That’s worth sticking around for, isn’t it?

Honorable mentions: Royce White running the fast break; the chance that Nerlens Noel shows the same sort of shot-blocking prowess against pro competition that he did against collegians; … I think that’s all I have.

Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion

NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.

The Sixers are going to be a terrible team this season, perhaps even bad enough to challenge the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats’ all-time mark for futility. However, there will still be hope in the City of Brotherly Love, if only because this June’s draft figures to be one of the best in recent memory. In particular, Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins has virtually every lottery-bound squad dreaming of the league’s next great superstar. Sixers fans will be able to put up with this season to the extent that this dream persists.

In other words, Wiggins is going to have to be very impressive at Kansas. A season-long course of strategic losing can be an effective course for a franchise, but it can only skirt soul-crushing despair if everyone believes it’s going to work. If Wiggins doesn’t prove to be all he’s cracked up to be, then Sixers fans could start to wonder why they ever signed up for such a depressing plan. This is less about the likelihood that the plan works — the draft is an inexact process, and for all we know Wiggins will prove to be a bust — than the degree to which everyone surrounding the Sixers buys into the front office’s vision for the franchise.

Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2013-14 NBA Season Previews:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlanta HawksBoston CelticsBrooklyn NetsCharlotte BobcatsChicago BullsCleveland CavaliersDetroit PistonsIndiana PacersMiami HeatMilwaukee BucksNew York KnicksOrlando MagicPhiladelphia 76ersToronto RaptorsWashington Wizards

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Dallas MavericksDenver NuggetsGolden State WarriorsHouston RocketsLos Angeles ClippersLos Angeles LakersMemphis GrizzliesMinnesota TimberwolvesNew Orleans PelicansOklahoma City ThunderPhoenix SunsPortland Trail BlazersSacramento KingsSan Antonio SpursUtah Jazz

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