The 76ers Look Ready to Finally Make a Move

Will the long-term team-building be worth the wait?

(Photo Left) New Sixers training facility on the Camden waterfront. Photo by Sarah J. Glover.

In the history of sports, seemingly no team has deliberately lost hundreds of games over a longer period of time while immorally tainting the integrity of the game than the Philadelphia 76ers. The Philadelphia 76ers brass, under architect and former general manager Sam Hinkie, admittedly and purposefully “tanked” for three seasons in hopes of becoming a perennial power for years to come. Starting this fall, the 76ers, now under the guise of Brian Colangelo, look primed to capitalize on four years of some of the worst basketball the NBA has ever seen.

“We think we are ready to make a forward progression this year,” said Colangelo, earlier this summer. “Our fans have anxiously awaited an opportunity to be competitive on the court and I think we have some good young pieces to start building.” So, something the fans, the media and the sports world has wrestled with over the past four seasons now seems to be a thing of the past. The 76ers, all of a sudden, could be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

Indeed, the Sixers do have pieces. However, injury concerns with the three brightest stars — Joe Embiid, second-year man Ben Simmons and rookie shooter Markelle Fultz — could make or break what Hinkie once dubbed “the process” four years ago. It all starts with the agile center Embiid, who missed two full seasons with feet issues. He played in only 31 games last year because of a new knee malady that the team initially failed to disclose to the media. However, in those 31 games, he looked like he could eventually be the best player in the NBA not named Lebron James. Embiid dazzled with scoring, rebounding, shot blocking, defending, passing, leadership, three-point shooting, free throw shooting and charisma. He became a national celebrity with his tweets, some which even suggested a dream date with Rihanna. Others involved a word battle with controversial father Lavar Ball. Many pundits feel if the 7-foot-1-inch center stays out of the training room, he could be the most dominant big man in the league since Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon.

“I want to be the best player out there,” said Embiid, at a summer league press conference. “After all this time not playing, I am ready to lead my team deep into the playoffs. I think we would have gone last year if I hadn’t gotten hurt.”

So do many 76ers faithful. The 76ers said publicly that they have pre-sold over 14,000 season tickets and many pundits and fans alike think the losing is over. Off-season signings of sharpshooter J.J Redick and power forward Amir Johnson add to the excitement. So do the return of Dario Saric, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.

“I think the 76ers have gone from one of the worst rosters in the league to one with the youngest and brightest core,” said a NBA scout who asked for anonymity. “I think there is the most young talent on this team since the Charles Barkley teams or even the teams with Dr. J. in the 1980s.”

In Simmons, the 76ers have a 6-10 point guard who may play the three- or even the four-position. Who exactly he will guard will be determined by coach Bret Brown, who has endured the past four seasons with a depleted and hole-filled squad. Now, he will have a chance to coach with a clump of talent, finally.

Fultz, who became the fifth rookie during this process to get hurt — he sprained an ankle in a summer league game — looks like the real deal. The 76ers gave up a conditional potential-top-five pick, in a future draft, to move up two spots and acquire Fultz with the first pick, in a trade from Boston, in June’s draft. He averaged over 16 points in three summer league games.

His shooting range is remarkable. He was “bombing in” three-pointers in the summer league in Utah, filling in a desperate need the team has suffered with for the past four seasons. He shot over 42 percent on three-pointers in his one season at Washington and also scored 24 points a game. Amazingly, the 76ers “process” appears to have turned a corner. While also shipping one of its first pieces under Hinkie, Nerlens Noel, to Dallas, they were, at the same time, reportedly looking to trade Jahlil Okafor as well.

“Imagine if they hit on those two picks also,” said the scout. “At the time, they seemed to be the right picks, but they won’t get much of a return. But the team’s core is bright now anyway, and they still have first round picks to play with in the next two seasons.” On paper, if Embiid and Simmons, who also missed all of his rookie year with a foot injury, play and perform like future all-stars, the team could be looking at playoffs for the first time since 2012. The 76ers could surpass the Eagles, Phillies and Flyers as the most popular team in town. The basketball team in this area has not created this much excitement since Allen Iverson and his 5-foot-10-inch body was diving all over the Wells Fargo Center in the 2001 Finals against the Lakers.

Still, there are many who don’t like how the 76ers went about things to make them a commodity in the NBA. That starts with the league, who interfered with the team’s intentional losing three years ago and forced the home team to hire Jerry Colangelo to bring integrity to the front office. Hinkie eventually left when Jerry’s son, Brian, was added into the front office causing a power struggle. The organization’s stripping of its team to its core had sent ripple effects around basketball and sports. The team was fodder for national comedians on their late night shows.

Basketball purists didn’t like it either. “That’s not the right thing to do, to deliberately trade good players and play bad players, in order to lose, to get high draft picks every year,” said a former 76ers rival and current television color commentator in the league. “That being said, you look at Embiid, Fultz, Simmons, Saric and Redick and you can see a really good team on the horizon. They could be scary.” And that was the whole idea of the process in the first place.

Stay tuned. The story of the 2017-2018 76ers may be the best — or worst if Embiid or Simmons gets hurt — in the entire sports world this year.




The 76ers Look Ready to Finally Make a Move
Jeremy Treatman - Contributor

Jeremy Treatman is the founder and co-director of the Scholastic Play-by-Play Classics and Sports Broadcasting Camps. Over 50 NBA players, including Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Rajon Rondo played in his events when they were in high school. Jeremy wrote high school sports for the INQUIRER for 10 years, and was the first TV reporter for the HIgh School Sports Show on Channel 29 from 1994-2001. He currently is Comcast's announcer for all high school games.


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