Philadelphia sports fans have many reasons to be content. The Eagles, Phillies and Flyers have all been in the mix in recent years, they have a quarterback who will play for more than 10 games a season, and they can now stop trying to find a hidden tunnel from some hotel into Citizens Bank Park because It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has shown us that this doesn’t exist (See: World Series Defense episode).
The one area where the Philly faithful are most likely holding their heads is when it comes to their poor, poor 76ers. They lost Andre Igoudala a couple years ago, got absolutely nothing from Andrew “no knees” Bynum, were absolutely terrible last year but still missed out on Parker and Wiggins, and now they may lose Thaddeus Young in this Kevin Love blockbuster. Things couldn’t be going worse for the lowly 6ers, could they Philly? I will admit, Philadelphia has had a couple rough years in the basketball section of things, and outside of Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young, there weren’t many bright spots on that team last year. What I refuse to believe is that all hope is lost for Philadelphia basketball hopefuls; I still think your team has a bit of promise, and with the right moves and a little bit of luck, things may turn around sooner rather than later for all those fans who still think Allen Iverson could be the best player on their roster right now (just kidding MCW).
I’ve decided to present a best case scenario and a worst case scenario for the 76ers future. One might say, “You could do that with any team”, but I think the 76ers have a special situation. Things could go extremely right for them and turn them into a, dare I say it, contender in the next couple of years, or things could go terribly wrong; putting them at the bottom for quite some time. Here goes nothing; I’ll start off with the toughest task, finding a realistic scenario where the future actually turns the 6ers into contenders.
Philly has a starting lineup right now of Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten, Hollis Thompson, Thaddeus Young and Nerlens Noel. Their only bench guys even worth mentioning are an over the hill/mountain Jason Richardson, and possibly Elliot Williams (I cringe as I call him “worth mentioning”).
Thaddeus’ name has been thrown around in the Kevin Love trade talks, most recently I have heard him being part of a package that ultimately sends him packing in Philadelphia and bringing in 2013 #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett. Any basic NBA fan might cry when hearing this news due to the fact that Bennett was absolutely terrible last season, averaging 4 PPG and 3 RPG in 12 minutes while shooting 36 % from the field. Not necessarily numbers you would want to see from a guy that you are giving up Thaddeus Young to bring in, but this is a view from a fan simply looking at the surface. Although I’ll be the first to admit that Anthony Bennett was atrocious last year, I’ll also be the first to admit that all hope isn’t lost with him. Bennett was injured for a good portion of the season (52 Games Played), showed some great promise in the NBA Summer League this July (take that with a grain of salt), and the kid just turned 21 years old. Bennett averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds in the Summer League, showing much more energy, and looking like he had lost about 15 lbs during the offseason. Bennett will most likely never be a superstar at the NBA level, but he could be a decent starting 3/4, or if he continues to grow, potentially a great 6th man coming off the bench. Now, while losing Thaddeus Young for a “potential” guy may not seem like something to be positive about, after it’s all put together you will see what I’m getting at, it’s like a puzzle, let me lay out all the pieces first and then it can be put together (lame analogies are my thing).
The first piece is bringing in Anthony Bennett; the second involves the draft pick from this current draft. Joel Embiid, who if you haven’t followed on Twitter yet you need to go do that right away; don’t even finish reading this article, follow Embiid on Twitter and then come back to this, you’ll thank me later, is the next piece to this puzzle that Philadelphia is attempting to build. Embiid was widely believed to be the #1 choice in the draft before he had some back problems, and ultimately an unfortunate broken foot right before the draft. Even after these injuries, the 76ers decided that they would still take a chance on Joel even though he had some worrisome injuries. Embiid showed amazing athleticism for his height, is an amazing rim protector, and his offensive game showed a huge upside during his one year stint at Kansas; he actually carried more of the offensive load than Andrew Wiggins before going down with his back injury. The 7 foot Cameroonian most likely won’t play this season, but if he lives up to his potential, Philly fans will forget about that within 3 years. Embiid has the potential to be a game-changer IF he can stay healthy, and although that’s a big if, it’s something that the 76ers management decided was worth it before selecting him #3 in this years draft.
After talking about the 2013 #1 pick, and the 2014 #3 pick potentially playing together on the 76ers in the near future, we must not forget about another high draft pick that the 6ers already have on their roster; and who WILL be playing this year. Nerlens Noel, just like Embiid, was thought by many to be the consensus #1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft before he went down with an ACL tear midway through his first year at Kentucky. The 76ers ended up picking him #6, and should consider themselves lucky. Noel was clearly the most talented player in that draft pre-injury, and after watching the Summer League, he seems to have returned to that form. We will have to wait to see how his season plays out, the jury is still out on him, but if Summer League and past experience is any indication, Noel will be a shot blocking monster at the least, with a seemingly polished offensive game to go along with it.
If all scenarios play out like described, starting in the 2015 season, the 76ers starting lineup would look something like this; Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten (who although not mentioned, showed some promise last year), Anthony Bennett, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. The bench would still look atrocious, but all of their starters would be on rookie contracts (pending any extensions that most likely won’t come quite yet), they would have a probable top 5 pick coming in from the 2014-15 draft, and a ton of cap space to bring in at least one more high profile guy and some solid role players to surround all their youth. This is a huge if scenario, but crazier things have happened in sports, and that is why it’s called a BEST CASE SCENARIO. If all of this did happen, the 76ers would have one of the better frontcourts in the league, and a plethora of talented youth learning to play together, I’m hoping for it, because they could be fun to watch. We’ve discovered what could happen if all goes right, but what if all goes wrong for this young team?
I won’t make this one quite as drawn out as the best case scenario, because quite frankly, it’s much easier to explain. To clarify so I don’t have any idiot tell me that my scenario isn’t actually worst case, I am describing a realistic worst case scenario, so please don’t email me and say “well, it would be worse if they all died in a plane crash, so you didn’t actually say the WORST CASE SCENARIO”, this is a realistic sports column where I consider things that could realistically go right/wrong for this franchise. In a worst case scenario, we could see Anthony Bennett turn out to be another #1 pick bust, Joel Embiid could be injury plagued for his entire career, Nerlens Noel could get pushed around on his surgically repaired knee, and the 76ers could end up with the 7th or 8th pick next year which would most likely stop them from getting anybody to effective. If this happened, then Philly fans might be waiting a while to bring back a contender to Philadelphia in the basketball world. This wasn’t a very drawn out scenario, but that is something that could realistically happen, I’m not saying it will, but it wouldn’t surprise me the least bit if it did.
Honestly, the best case scenario probably won’t play out in the city of brotherly love, so that sucks. On a brighter note, the worst case scenario probably won’t happen either. What will most likely happen is something right in the middle (hopefully closer to best case than worst case). I could see Bennett turning out to be a 13 and 6 guy while Embiid plays great while on the court, but is oft-injured. I can see Noel and MCW creating a good little link after a couple years, but still not being able to find the consistency to be considered truly elite. That is how I actually see it playing out for the 76ers organization in the near future, but whether my best or worst case scenario plays out, they will still have a massive amount of cap space going into next season, will they spend it on guys who want to come into a young potentially great group, or will they not be able to find anyone who wants to play with a bunch of injury riddled big men? That’s something that we will most likely have to wait to find out, I’m rooting for you Philly, I want to see a front court of a healthy Embiid and Noel gel together; I’m just not sure it plays out that way.