The 2015-16 season went as designed for the Philadelphia 76ers. For the third and, they hope, final year of these sorts of designs. They’ll have quite the chore ahead of them in distancing the team’s on-court output from the plan set in place by former general manager Sam Hinkie, but that’s a story for another swipe down.
Until that swipe, the Sixers again ranked at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the team again worked as the worst the NBA had to offer for long strains of play, and it was up in the air yet again whether or not the club would set an NBA record for fewest wins in the season.
The team managed 10 victories on the year, but not before setting an all-time mark for consecutive losses (carried over from the year prior, at 27) and not without tying an NBA record for losses to start the season with 18. The franchise entered Christmas having dropped 29 of 30 games, and despite the team’s ownership long ago signing off on a process that wouldn’t start to bear fruit until 2016-17 at the absolute earliest, Philly began settling into the realm of the frantic.
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Though rookie big man Jahlil Okafor was settling into a box score-happy routine of contributions in his first season, there was much deserved discussion as to whether or not his refined offensive game and 17.5-point, seven-rebound efforts actually helped the 76ers win ball games (assuming that was a goal to begin with; and we don’t mean that in a smarmy way). Worse, his off-the-court hiccups piled up to a point that his frightening late season bout with a meniscus tear almost seemed like a welcome relief.
Returning defensive-minded center Nerlens Noel struggled to fit in next to Okafor, despite the drawing that featured a sunny-side depiction of their disparate games working alongside one another. Center Joel Embiid missed the entire season due to ongoing foot injuries, all while the team rattled through a series of role players (again, for the third straight season) that seemed to be vying for a spot as the Sixers’ go-to 10th man once the team became passable again.
The training camp ideal was widely ridiculed yet again as Philly showed up to practice each day featuring a paucity of veterans bent on keeping professionalism in check, one of the lead excuses put in place to justify hiring Jerry Colangelo to oversee the rebuilding of the rebuilding project midseason. General manager Sam Hinkie and the club eventually worked out a parting of the ways that was embarrassing for both sides, as Colangelo’s son Bryan soon took over as chief basketball el jefe.
Through all of this, the basketball was routinely unwatchable. Okafor and Noel were millstones on their least-loved ends of the court, the team ranked dead last in offense and watched (in spite of coach Brett Brown’s best efforts) as the squad’s defensive aptitude dipped from surprisingly stout in 2014-15 to fifth-worst in the league in 2016-17.
The 76ers also failed to make the playoffs.
2015-16 season in 140 characters or less:
Did the summer help at all?
If you were sated with what Sam Hinkie promised, sure. If the idea of abandoning the line of thinking that the Process provided caused your tummy to squirm far more than another 97-82 loss did, then this was not the offseason for you.
This was sort of a Gerald Henderson and Jerryd Bayless offseason. The sort of offseason that sees massive money being thrown at the hopes of paying Manu Ginobili – a guy that missed eight of 10 shots in San Antonio’s season-deciding Game 5 and 6 losses to Oklahoma City last spring, fouling out in his last contest of the season – to bring in some intangible championship mettle.
None of these players will break the bank. And, in Ginobili’s case, he refused to take Philadelphia’s offer of bank. Both Bayless (for three years) and Henderson (around for two) will make $9 million a season on contracts that, one supposes, are tradeable once the professionalism bit takes hold in the locker room and the vets can be exchanged for (here comes that word, forever without a halflife …) assets. Elton Brand, because he deserves to be a part of this league for as long as this giant of a person wants to be, was also retained on a one-year deal.
These pickups won’t steal playing time from a developing crew of youngsters. They won’t needlessly sop up minutes or shots, and both Henderson and Bayless address needs on the wing and in the backcourt. At their current rates (Henderson’s second year is only partially guaranteed), their presence should be welcomed. Meanwhile, 30-year old point guard Sergio Rodriguez will return to the NBA to provide depth and willing passing.
Bryan Colangelo did not overreach. He didn’t go out and litter the team’s roster with good-guy vets just to make a show of embarrassing the previous regime and, eventually, himself. Colangelo certainly had the opportunity and justification to act like a bad sportswriter in doling out deals for those that wowed us with their pluck back in 2008, but he recognized the rebuilding process at hand and attempted to find a middle ground.
Importantly for those that lusted after the youngsters that Hinkie accrued, Joel Embiid was finally given a clean bill of health, while long-coveted Dario Saric will being his stateside career in 2016-17. Embiid rehabilitated and burned up cheap rookie contract years on the Sixers’ dime, but Saric properly developed overseas in Turkey for the last two seasons. Both semi-rookies look ready to contribute right away.
Top overall pick Ben Simmons, sadly, cannot say as much. He suffered a Jones fracture during training camp, and depending on the team’s handling of the potent point forward, he could sit out for a healthy chunk of the season. Injuries like these just aren’t worth pushing through, especially in order to add a little light in the midst of what will be yet another mostly lost season .
Potential breakout stud:
Banking on a return to form for Nerlens Noel or an appropriate do-over from Okafor probably wouldn’t be fair to either player. Noel just isn’t a big forward, Okafor needs to occupy space down low, and the pairing looked as terrible on the court last season as it did on paper.
Without a litany of obvious candidates, and with Simmons sidelined at least until 2017, it could fall on rookie Dario Saric to act as not only the stir that straws the drink, but the all-around sort of contributor that somehow makes sense of the flotsam and jetsam working as a result of the team’s eclectic basketball heritage.
A 6-10 power forward with the hoped-for sort of consistent three-point range that has eluded former international prospect Nikola Mirotic during his time in the NBA, Saric only turned 22 last April despite seven years of professional experience. His statistical contributions may not rival that of fellow first-year player Joel Embiid this season, this isn’t a fantasy pick, but his presence could alleviate the sort of on-court pressure that has dogged lacking Sixers lineups of late.
The Sixers will be forced into both shoving him into a small forward slot that they’d hoped not to, while letting up take on those lost Ben Simmons minutes that nobody wanted to see go unclaimed. Still, this is a wonderful luxury to have in the No. 1 overall pick’s absence, and until Philadelphia figures just what the heck it is doing with a front line already featuring Saric, Simmons, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor.
Not only would the Sixers be giddy at the prospect of winning a quarter of their games, but merely acting as the sort of exciting, League Pass favorite that so many losing (yet young and intriguing) rebuilding squads often act as would be a huge step forward. The team’s backcourt remains unappealing even with veterans Bayless and Rodriguez on board, and a potential Rookie of the Year turn from Joel Embiid could get in the way of needed development for Okafor and Noel, but … geez, they’ll take it.
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They’ll take anything. It isn’t as if the 76ers were even worth watching when they somehow found themselves a game away from the Eastern Conference finals back in 2012; as the Doug Collins era was a deserved miss from all that deigned to even consider tuning in. Competence even at this stage, with such a young team full of mismatched parts, is probably out of the realm of the possible; but merely approaching it while still retaining the sort of won/loss record that will no doubt send the team back to the lottery this May will be enough.
If everything falls apart:
The rock, through all of this, is coach Brett Brown. He came in highly regarded, and despite a miserable 47-199 career record as head coach Brown looks and acts the part of a head man worth clinging to.
At this point he also appears to be the sort of coach that would survive a massive front office overhaul. Those are rare even for future Hall of Fame coaches, let alone someone who failed to crack 50 wins in his first three years of running a team. And due to the top-heavy nature of this center-laden roster, Brown should be given all the time in the world to figure out just how to make it work. Especially when his future ball distributor is 1). A 6-10 power forward, and 2). Perhaps out for all of 2016-17.
This is still a bad team, though. And unlike other lottery participants of yore that select a center one year, followed by a point guard and then followed by a swingman, the 76ers loaded up on the best players available regardless of fit. Even when the team is green and out of its element, it still falls short.
There still remains absolutely nothing like this Philadelphia 76ers setup. And while we’re not suggesting that coach Brown will lose his wits, another 82 games worth of great effort (as was the case nearly nightly during Brett’s first three seasons) still could result in the Sixers challenging the record for the worst record in league history.
Even with Embiid and Saric on board. Even if Simmons had made it out of training camp fully healthy.
The team is just that bad. By lasting design.
Kelly Dwyer’s Best Guess at a Record:
14-68, last in the East.
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2016-17 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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