Despite the optimism brought by rookie sensation Joel Embiid and the promise of Ben Simmons, what happens if the Philadelphia 76ers fail to win 20 games or more this season?
The Philadelphia 76ers are now 0-5. That comes on the heels of losing four straight games to close out the 2015-2016 season. Nine consecutive NBA games without tasting success.
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I prefer an optimistic outlook on the team this season. Despite the struggle to score, and the surprising struggles to generate rebounds, the team has improved.
In the first five games of the 2015-2016 season, the team lost by a total point differential of 74 points. So far this year? The 76ers have lost by 52 points. Among the five losses, one was by two points while the most recent contest was decided by one.
Closely contested or blowouts, both register as a one up in the loss column once more for the Philadelphia 76ers. Right now, those losses are piling up once more. So what happens if the team never pulls the nose up? What if the team continues to struggle, and fails to break out of the NBA basement for one more season?
What would the team look like at the end of the season?
Oct 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown (L) and Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan (R) prior to action at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Head Coach Brett Brown Fired
From the moment the team replaced Sam Hinkie with Bryan Colangelo, the timer on head coach Brett Brown’s tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers was set. Hesitant to make a move so quickly to change the only coach many of the young 76ers players knew in the NBA, the Colangelos played the wisest card available to them by extending Brown.
But the tone of the fanbase, long patient and complacent under Sam Hinkie and the #TrustTheProcess period, has begun to turn on the team, and particularly coach Brown, in recent weeks. The discontent is becoming loud enough to reach the ears of Sixers sports writers like Max Rappaport, who addressed the issue on twitter recently:
Can we all agree that regardless of our thoughts on Brett Brown’s future if/when the team gets good, dumping him in-season is not the move?
Keep this in the context of the season so far: three key players of Jerryd Bayless, Ben Simmons, and Nerlens Noel have yet to step onto the basketball court. Of the remaining 12 players, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, and Gerald Henderson have been playing with minutes restrictions.
Jun 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo during an introduction press conference at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Team Will Trade Assets
Following the removal of head coach Brett Brown, the team will begin to change philosophy almost immediately.
Gone will be the emphasis on the NBA draft, finding elite rookie talent, and composing a symphony of young skillsets to grown together. Brett Brown has been the voice of patience, and of reason, for the team. While that may have positioned him at odds to the new president Bryan Colangelo, it ensured the team would not make hasty decisions in free agency in 2016.
But without that voice of reason? All bets are off. You see, Bryan Colangelo likes veterans. In his tenure with the Toronto Raptors, Colangelo frequently traded draft picks for players. It was his late arrival into the season which necessitated giving Brown a year to see what he could do with a new roster.
Keep in mind the roster is a handicap to Brown right now.
Much like his time in Toronto, Colangelo will look for the “quick fix” strategy, and therein lies the future. With four draft picks in the 2017 NBA Draft, and two of the four likely high lottery picks, The team will be awash with valuable assets once more. With his struggles in free agency, the emphasis will be to convert those assets into proven talent for this roster.
Nov 5, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) controls the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Cleveland Cavaliers won 102-101. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Team Will Overpay Veterans
Another Toronto tendency of Bryan Colangelo is his proclivity to overvalue and overpay veteran players. He felt the need to do so from the inability to attract big name players to the Raptors due to the cold climate over the winter months.
As of this moment, two of the team’s most promising players are in their contract year: Sergio Rodriguez and Ersan Ilyasova. The team must also decide whether to place qualifying offers with Nerlens Noel, which would fall to 125% of his prior salary. Finally, the team will need to decide upon the future of point guard T.J. McConnell and shooting guard Hollis Thompson.
The team has been pleasantly surprised with the performances of Rodriguez and Ilyasova so far. While still early in the season, Rodriguez has jumped to sixth in the NBA with 8.2 assists per game, while making the top 100 in the league with an average score of 11.0 points per game. Despite making $8.0 million this season, Rodriguez could be in line for a hefty increase in pay next season, perhaps in the $13 million range.
Similarly, Ersan Ilyasova is putting down 17.5 points per game since donning a Philadelphia 76ers jersey. His current salary is $8.4 Million. If he continues to help the team’s front court, his would also be looking in the $13 Million per year neighborhood.
Of course, it will be easier to pry that type of contract from Colangelo if the team finds success this year. But even if the team falls to the basement of the NBA, Colangelo has a track record of paying the premium for experience over potential. The team which enjoyed huge cap space each year, may find itself with no space next year. Bryan Colangelo came to Philadelphia to bring the team back into the fold. The surest way to do that will be to fatten the coffers of agents.
Jun 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers number one overall draft pick Ben Simmons (R) is greeted by center Joel Embiid (L) during a press conference at the Philadelphia College Of Osteopathic Medicine. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Simmons and Embiid And Veterans, Oh My!
For three years, former president Sam Hinkie gave little stock to the present state of the team. Instead, his vigilance was on the synchronization of elite players with affordable and productive teammates to develop simultaneously on the roster of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The present state of the team eroded from a competitive status under his watch.
Now the team is professing to do both. But can it succeed at both? Ultimately, the commission of Colangelo is to improve the team noticeable today. If that fails this season, he will do what anyone would do.
He will go back to what he knows best. What he knows best is veteran play.
Colangelo has cleaned house before when he took over the roster of the Toronto Raptors. He enjoyed success at building a playoff team his first year. That luck will tempt him to attempt a similar strategy, and outcome, in Philadelphia.
As of today, only 8 of 15 players on the roster are returning from last year’s roster. Of that, Joel Embiid coming from the inactive to active. Colangelo has converted 50% of last years roster, and done no better so far than his predecessor. If the team falters this year, Colangelo likely takes just the best pieces from the roster, and starts over.
The results of resetting the rebuild would cripple the team. Efforts to keep Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons while trying to compliment them with NBA veterans means trade or free agency. In the end, failing this year will not mean better draft picks at all.
In ultimate analysis, failing this season could return the team to the insanity of pre-Hinkie periods.