CBSSports.com's Eye On Basketball is taking a team-by-team look at the 2014 NBA offseason. We continue with the intentional doormat in the East, the Philadelphia 76ers. Check out the rest of the offseason reports here.
How they finished 2014: The Philadelphia 76ers finished off the 2013-14 season strongly. They won three out of their final eight games. That doesn't sound strong for almost any other team, but considering they went 1-26 in the months of February and March, 3-5 doesn't look too bad at all. The Sixers had some early success in the beginning of the season by jumping all over teams with a hectic style of basketball. New coach Brett Brown unleashed a chaotic pace in which Michael Carter-Williams, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and other role players were flying around the court on both ends. It helped them start 3-0 in a season in which they were supposed to hope to break double-digit wins.
Once the rest of the NBA caught up to the style of play and knew what to expect, the losses started coming in droves. And that's exactly what Sixers' president and general manager Sam Hinkie wanted to happen. He put together a roster that didn't have a great chance at winning games over the long haul of the 82-game campaign. He put together a roster that was going to try hard, have exciting moments, and rack up losses. The plan was to get bad for a couple of years and stockpile great young talent through high draft picks.
The Sixers ended up winning 19 games, the second worst record in the NBA behind (ahead of?) the Milwaukee Bucks. In Philadelphia's 63 losses, there was a league record tying 26 in a row at one point. They couldn't quite capture the Power Tankings honor, but they did end up with the third pick in the draft. The plan worked well, but not perfectly.
Offseason needs: The goal of the entire season was trying to get either Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Joel Embiid. Wiggins was the biggest target for Hinkie and the Sixers, but as long as they didn't fall out of those top 3, they were going to have ended up with a successful execution of the plan. For the offseason, the Sixers needed to possibly find a home for Thaddeus Young while continuing to draft well with top prospects who can help them down the road but not help them win many games next season.
They also needed to get Nerlens Noel back on the court after he sat out his first year with rehabbing his ACL injury. That simply meant manage him in the Summer League sessions and make sure he walked away looking like a good player and a healthy player at that. The goal of adding wins to the roster didn't seem to be immediately necessary.
The draft: Thanks to their own horrible record and the 2013 draft night trade that sent Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first round pick, the Sixers entered the 2014 draft with two lottery picks. Their pick ended up at No. 3 during the lottery and the Pelicans' pick conveyed to them was No. 10. They also had five second round picks to use or move around.
Despite the foot fracture and the back fracture leading up to the draft, the Sixers selected Joel Embiid out of Kansas with the third pick. It seems they'll go a similar route with Embiid that they did with Noel. They'll make sure he's ready to have a long career while probably keeping him out of what would be his first season in the NBA. The Sixers selected Elfrid Payton with the 10th pick and traded him to the Orlando Magic for the draft rights to Dario Saric (No. 12) and two future draft picks.
In the second round, they selected K.J. McDaniels out of Clemson with the 32nd pick and then used the 39th pick (acquired from Cleveland for Spencer Hawes) on Jerami Grant out of Syracuse. They selected Russ Smith out of Louisville with the 47th pick and traded him to the Pelicans for Pierre Jackson. They selected Vasilije Micic out of Serbia with the 52nd pick and Nemanja Dangubic out of Serbia with the 54th pick. They shipped Dangubic to the Spurs for the draft rights to Cory Jefferson out of Baylor and Jordan McRae out of Tennessee. They sent Jefferson to the Brooklyn Nets for cash considerations.
Free agency and trades: All of that action on draft night has pretty much been the only action they've had during this offseason. They're rumored to be a part of the Andrew Wiggins-Kevin Love trade in some way -- either by being a third team in the deal and moving Thaddeus Young to the Wolves for either Anthony Bennett or in a separate trade acquiring the protected first round pick from the Heat involved in the trade and expiring contracts from the Wolves (someone like J.J. Barea or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or both?). That's simply a rumor though.
They're about halfway committed to the 2014-15 salary cap with a salary of $31.8 million. The cap is $63.065 million and the salary floor (90 percent of the cap) is $56.759 million for next season. The Sixers will sign Embiid to his rookie deal, which will add about $3.7 million to committed salary. If they sign McDaniels, Grant, and McRae to second round pick deals, you can add roughly $2.5 million to the total, as well. That brings them to about $38 million for a roster of 15 players. That's nearly $19 million under the salary floor and $25 million under the salary cap. If they're under the floor by the end of the season, they simply divide up the money that should have been spent on their roster to the players who exist on that roster. It's like a bonus for not being competitive on a cheap roster.
In theory, they could put pressure on both the Detroit Pistons and Phoenix Suns by offering maximum offer sheets to both Greg Monroe and Eric Bledsoe, cut a few of their non-guaranteed contracts on the roster, and possibly steal two very valuable young restricted free agents moving forward. However, that's not part of the plan. The plan is to be very bad for a couple of years, and keep acquiring young talent. Then they'll be in position to win with a great young core or move part of that core for key veteran stars to jumpstart the organization.
Overall grade and accomplishments -- Incomplete: I'm not sure you can judge what the Sixers do in terms of giving them a grade for the offseason because so much of it is unknown. You can say that about a lot of organizations because we don't really know how teams will come together and draft picks will pan out. It's all guessing. It's educated guessing much of the time, but it's still just guessing. With the Sixers, their plan is not going to be about this coming season or even the next two seasons. Their plan is to be bad now, bad in the near future, and in a position to rule the land four or five years from the beginning of this complete rebuild.
It's a risk by Sam Hinkie and the Sixers' organization, but they've never been very bashful about their plan. You look at their roster and their unwillingness to spend now, even on cheap, one-year deals to bad veterans. It's a slap in the face of the system, but it's more of a slap challenging the system to a duel. It's a calculated risk instead of the farce that some people make it out to be during a time in which tanking has confusingly become one of the top enemies of those who love the league.
Philadelphia is taking advantage of the system that promotes tanking by weighting the lottery odds in favor of the worst teams. Until the system is changed to prevent that, they're probably going to do it next season too. They're acquiring cheap, talented labor that will develop on rookie deals. Their fans know they're going to be terrible, so it will take some creative marketing to put foam fingers in the seats. They were 29th in the NBA in attendance last season, just ahead of the Detroit Pistons.
Perhaps touting exciting second round picks, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, and the debut of Noel this season can bring fans into games a little bit more. They also won't have to suffer through months of waiting for Evan Turner to be traded. We can complain about what the Sixers are doing, but they're still paying the money one way or another, while risking making money without a solid attendance.
They believe it will pay off in the long run. Until we see whether or not it does, they're receiving an incomplete both on the court and in the grades.