Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: No. 10. Where Are We Now (And Where Are We Going)?

Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: No. 10. Where Are We Now (And Where Are We Going)?

Over the rest of the playoffs, while 16 teams compete for the Larry
O'Brien trophy--none of which are the Philadelphia 76ers--I'll be taking
some time to focus on the long off-season that the Sixers have ahead of
themselves, and the many burning questions that face them as they
attempt to recover from the most disastrous season of the post-Iverson
era. I'll be addressing the ten biggest of those questions, counting
down from ten to one, with the most-biggest hopefully coming around the
time that it's actually time for the wheeling and dealing to begin.


Most of the ten questions are specific ones, but for #10, I wanted
to kick off with something more general, a question that will influence
the decisions behind every other question on this list: What's the deal
with the Philadelphia 76ers? This season was so incredibly confusing,
with so many things going unexpectedly wrong (and a rare couple actually
going unexpectedly right) that it's almost impossible to actually gauge
where this team is at right now. And if you can't gauge where the team
is, it's impossible to have a sense of where the team's going, and how
to get them there.


So let's take a minute to assess what the Sixers have going for them
at the moment--which Michael Levin of Liberty Ballers has gone on
record is just saying "Jrue and short-term contracts," but I think that
sells us a tiny bit short. I'd say that our assets, in both a specific
and overarching sense, are as follows, in descending order of worth:


1. Jrue Holiday
2. Cap space (estimated at about $11 million this off-season, assuming free agents walk)
3. Short-term contracts (only Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson and Jrue Holiday currently last beyond next year)

4. Thaddeus Young
5. High-pedigree players with arguable remaining upside (Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, sorta Arnett Moultrie)
6. A decent pick (#11 if outside the lottery) in the upcoming draft
7. The sign-and-trade rights to Andrew Bynum


It's not a ton, but it's not a terrible place to start from, either.
It's arguably a better situation than the Sixers found themselves in
four years ago, when they had cashed in all their remaining cap space on
signing Elton Brand and extending Andre Iguodala, only to end up as
mediocre as ever. At the very least, the Sixers have options, and can
use some combination of those seven assets (particularly #s 2-7, since
#1 is the most unlikely to be shifted) to move forward in a specific
direction, without finding themselves stuck in the middle with Jrue.


Of course, the question then becomes: What direction do we go in?
The way I see it, teams like the Sixers have three possible answers to
this:

1. Going all in--spending our remaining cap space on the
biggest fishes in free agency, trading our more moveable assets for
firmer core pieces, and attempting to make a run at the Eastern
Conference as soon as next season.

2. Biding time--doing more what we did last off-season, signing
low-cost, low-impact players on short-term deals that help us tread
water in the middle of the pack, keeping our personnel and financial
flexibility as we wait around for another MegaDeal to present itself.

3. Rebuilding completely--stripping down of all but our most essential
player personnel (arguably everyone but Jrue), clearing the books and
hoarding as many young prospects and draft picks as possible, and
looking to be competitive again three or four years down the line.


All three approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, and
none of them are likely to be totally satisfying to the fans, the
players or the front office. And of course, all of it hinges first and
foremost on what the Sixers already know and what they will continue to
find out about the Funny-Looking Kid With the Big Hair, and whether
resigning him is an option that will be a gigantic first domino to fall,
starting an off-season chain reaction that will essentially dictate
every decision the team makes between now and October.


But assuming Bynum's a no-go--and we'll talk about that possibility
more later on, natch--I would hope option #1 is out for the Sixers. You
could say that circumstances were against them this season and they're
not actually as bad as they looked, but I don't think even the most
optimistic of Sixers fans would say that the team could add any one
player likely to be available in free agency besides Bynum (and very
arguably not even Bynum) and instantly become a serious competitor in
the East. They're unlikely to be able to turn any of their low-cost,
medium-upside players into a difference-maker, and very likely, they'd
end up tapping themselves out at the 5th or 6th best team in the East,
while exhausting all their remaining assets to do so. No thanks.


More likely, it seems like the team will either tread water for a
bit or rebuild completely. The latter would be a tough sell to a fanbase
who just last off-season was expecting their team to actually be able
to compete with the Heat, and is already incredible short on good will,
and it's hard to imagine Aron and DiLeo and company quite having the
stomach for it. If I were a betting man, I'd say the team goes with
option #2, eschewing making any long-term commitments, hoping that their
young core either grows into something real or at least ups the trade
value of the respective pieces considerably, and trying to stay
competitive enough to at least be in the playoff hunt for the season.
It's not very sexy, and it might not be the most productive long-term
play, but it's probably the most practical option for this team right
now.


It's cold comfort to say after a season like the one we just had
that things could always be worse, but for the Sixers, they really
could--they're a team with young, reasonably priced talent and
legitimate maneuverability, which is the second-best place you can be in
in the NBA, next to actually having really good players. If they have
to rebuild, they don't have to totally start again from zero, like the
Magic or Bobcats are doing, and if they decide to go for the playoffs,
they're closer than the Kings or Pistons to getting there. But there's
still a long way to go and not a ton of room for error, and if the
Sixers aren't careful, they could end up staring down another four or
five seasons of basketball with results depressingly similar to this
season.

Nerlens Noel to get one-on-one experience while Sixers on road

Nerlens Noel to get one-on-one experience while Sixers on road

Being immersed in the team is important for Nerlens Noel, and so is continuing his rehab. 

While the Sixers are on the road for three days to play the Grizzlies and Pelicans, Noel will remain in Philadelphia to work out at the training complex in Camden, New Jersey. The team is not scheduled to practice in between games, so staying back allows Noel another day to get on the court.

“[I want him to] just start playing more and have a ball in his hands, get hit, physical, feel people, play one-on-one,” head coach Brett Brown said.

Noel has yet to play this season because of elective arthroscopic left knee surgery in October. He rejoined the Sixers after completing the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Alabama. There still is no timetable for his return. 

Brown has said there is a “classroom” element to Noel’s return. He has to learn a roster with new players and schemes. 

The on-the-court side of it is a reacclimation to the intensity of the league. Regardless of how many games Noel already has played in the NBA, there is an adjustment period getting back into the grind of the competition. Brown believes the time in the gym this week will help Noel prepare for the level of intensity he will face in his return. 

“It’s such fool’s gold to think somebody’s going to jump back into NBA basketball after you haven’t played for so long. I don’t care how athletic he is,” Brown said. “It’s a man’s world, this league, and there’s a physicality and there’s a real-time reaction you have to have to play in the game. You can’t make that up in practice, you can’t make that up playing one-on-one, but you can better position him instead of just going out to get shots. I want him to feel a body, get hit, hit back, play one-on-one, those types of things.”

Noel had been assigned to the Sixers’ Development League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers, to get in practice time when the Sixers had a game. The Sixers may forego another assignment and keep Noel at their facility as the Sevens also have two games in the next three days. 

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

BOX SCORE

Joel Embiid has been making the NBA look easy. Rookie of the Month honors, five double-doubles in 13 games, seven performances of 20 points or more … all having missed the last two years rehabbing from foot injuries.

Embiid, though, still is a player learning the league. Night’s like Monday’s lackluster showing are going to happen, even if it seemed unexpected against the struggling Denver Nuggets. 

“We’ve been used to seeing Jo have superhuman nights,” Brett Brown said after the Sixers’ 106-98 loss (see Instant Replay). “I thought Joel was down tonight.” 

Embiid tallied a total 16 points (5 for 15 from the field, 1 for 3 from three, 5 for 6 from the line) with four rebounds, one assist, a career-high five blocks, three turnovers and three fouls in 25:32. 

He had a quiet first half with six points (2 for 5 from the field) and one rebound in 9:21. The biggest struggle came in the third quarter. Embiid scored a single point off a free throw and shot 0 for 6 from the floor. By the end of three, he was shooting 18.2 percent. 

The big man said he needed to be better at passing out of the double team. He committed two turnovers in the third. 

“I wasn’t getting to my spot and I wasn’t getting what I’m used to getting,” Embiid said of the first three quarters. “I’m going to go back and watch the tape and see what I did wrong.” 

Embiid bounced back for another Embiid-like offensive effort in the fourth. He dropped nine points off an efficient 3 for 4 shooting in 7:31. Still, it wasn’t enough. 

“I made a couple shots,” Embiid said. “It didn’t help us win, so I don’t think it matters.”

Brown noticed Embiid rushing his game. He also thought Embiid’s balance was off, something the big man has been dealing with all season as he continues to find his legs. 

Embiid will not play in Tuesday's game against the Grizzlies. It is part of his workload management in which he does not play both games of a back-to-back. Expect him to hone in on game film until his next matchup, and get back on the roller coaster that can be a first year in the NBA. 

“It's just part of a young man's growth,” Brown said. “It just happens. I don't think we need to read too deeply into it. I think, in many ways, to expect from time to time not as good of a performance as we have been used to is fair enough.”