Dear Philadelphia 76ers,
We’re one month away from the 2014 NBA draft on June 26 and we find you sitting at a precarious crossroads. Go left and your franchise could be set for years; go right and you could be walking deeper into an abyss of losing and fan disenfranchisement. I recall a time when the Philadelphia 76ers were the very elite that the NBA had to offer. Way back when Moses Malone was screaming "fo’ fo’ fo’" and Dr. J’s afro-swag was in full swing; Charles Barkley was getting into bar fights and not apologizing for it, and then The Answer came along in ’96 and the streets of Philly were alive with hopes of basketball glory once again.
With the pitiful season you just turned in, it’s a wonder your fans don’t riot in the streets and burn the GM in effigy. The season was so bad that there were conspiracy theories surrounding the team’s lack of effort circulating throughout the blogosphere since October, and it looks like you’ve finally done it, huh. Don’t be coy. You know exactly what I’m talking about. After starting the 2013-14 NBA season with a record of 3-0, your fan base reluctantly raised an eyebrow of hope with wins against the Miami Heat, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls. Rookie point guard Michael Carter Williams roared out of the gate with 31, 14 and 26 respectively. Evan Turner was ballin’ and Thaddeus Young was the model of consistency as well.
But that story ended – as stories do – and reality stepped into view. Your team would never win three games in a row again for the remainder of the season and would suffer and toil through a hellacious 26-game losing streak that threatened the NBA record for futility. Halfway through your losing streak, general manager San Hinkie started getting rid of any and everything deemed of value with the exception of MCW and Thaddeus Young, though Big Thad wished he was sent packing to a playoff contender as well.
The whispers that had dogged the Sixers since the first of the year had risen into a deafening crescendo, “They’re riggin’ for Wiggins! They’re riggin’ for Wiggins!” is what was heard on virtually every sports medium that covered your once proud franchise. After your season came to a merciful end back in April it became apparent that there was some truth to it, although no self-respecting manager or coach would ever admit to it beforehand. But the writing was on the wall since October 2013 when Comcast SportsNet published a headline that read “The Sixers’ unofficial plan: Riggin’ it for Wiggins”. You finished the season with a record of 19-63, but your place in the NBA draft lottery had been etched in stone for months prior to the end of the season as your once proud franchise could not stop ants from invading a picnic, could not stop a nose bleed, nor persuade a vegetarian from eating a hamburger and most certainly could not stop opposing teams from scoring at will. But I don’t mean to weigh in too heavy on you guys. After all, sbnation.com had you guys finishing as the worst team in the league in their preseason predictions back in July 2013 and, if it’s any consolation, the Sacramento Kings did finish with a worst record. Okay, being the second worst team in the league may not be much of a consolation at all, but you’re sitting in the cat bird seat right now with two lottery picks and seven overall draft picks in the upcoming NBA draft.
Things are looking all good in the hood. Just don’t blow it.
You’ve got a young point guard who pretty much locked up the rookie of the year award two months before the season ended. You’ve got a former lottery pick in Nerlens Noel from Kentucky who has never played a lick of pro basketball and you have two chances to get it right in the first round. I would say that it’s almost a guarantee that you guys get one of three so-called once in a lifetime players who are in the draft this year; SG Andrew Wiggins from Kansas, who is said to have a Jordan-esque upside, Joel Embiid, an athletic center from KU, who draws comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon, and SF Jabari Parker of Duke, who analysts are comparing to a young Carmelo Anthony. Then, with the four remaining draft picks in the second round, it’s not too much to ask that one of the four selected could contribute immediately, is it?
Probably. After all, you are the Sixers for crying out loud. You guys drafted a 6-foot-7 inch, 226-pound small forward who has no perimeter skills with the 54th overall pick in 2013 and traded 38th overall pick Nate Wolters, a poor man’s Jimmer Fredette with more size who actually saw more minutes than Jimmer last season, to the Milwaukee Bucks. A big reason for the Sixers struggles last season was their inability to get scoring from supporting cast members. Say what you want about Nate as a point guard, but he does get buckets. In 2012 you guys selected Mo Harkless out of St. John’s University. The lengthy small forward was then traded to the Orlando Magic. That pick would have come in handy, don’t ya think? (Well, duh!) Again, I’m not trying to beat you guys over the head any more than your championship-hungry fan base already has, but your draft history has been abhorrent dating back to 1999, with Thaddeus Young being the only player drafted since 2005 who is still a Sixer.
Understandably, the NBA draft lottery is not an exact science and it's difficult to predict what a player will become after the draft and how he will mesh with his teammates, but this one is too easy to get wrong, which is precisely what we’re worried about. Look, chances are Andrew Wiggins will not slide down to you with the third overall pick unless the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks have lost their bleeping minds. But if they do pass on him, Wiggins and MCW would make one helluva backcourt.
If you don’t get Wiggins then it may be a good idea to go with Jabari Parker. "NBA Ready" is the descriptive term of the day whenever his name is mentioned. Then, if all else fails, you can lock up Joel Embiid, who is only being described as the most athletic center prospect the NBA has seen in five years. Either way you slice it, the 76ers have the opportunity to change their fortunes for the next 10 seasons with the right pick or continue their moribund fortunes much to the dismay of season ticketholders.
You just can’t be stupid with two lottery picks. One of them has to be a winner. Athletic forward Aaron Gordon from the University of Arizona may still be available when it’s your turn again at the 10th pick and he’s a no brainer if he’s there. Doug (McBuckets) McDermott put up major baskets at Creighton but he’s a little smallish and lacks the athleticism needed to play small forward in the NBA. I’m looking for the next American-born, white NBA great just like the next prognosticator – unfortunately, he ain’t it.
Considering the Eastern Conference has a chance of being as bad top-to-bottom this upcoming season as it was last year, there’s a good chance that the Philadelphia Sixers “MIGHT” be able to scratch their way into the playoffs if all things fall into place. Even if “some” things fall into place, the future is bright for an NBA franchise that has not come close to matching its glory days since Allen Iverson’s one-man mission of shock and awe started back in 1996 and culminated in a NBA Finals appearance back in 2001. Even if each of your seven picks turns out to be a keeper, just remember- Rome wasn’t built in a day. Just stick to the blueprint, and don't screw it up by trading away your future for a bag of magic beans.