Watching this season’s 76ers team has been taxing to say the least. Even before shipping off Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner, the Sixers have been a struggle to watch all season. Head coach Brett Brown‘s team is on the cusp of a record-stretch of attrition and there is very little to indicate that the 76ers will emerge from their losing streak any time soon.
Despite sporting a losing streak that is challenging the worst in league history, 76ers fans have been able to hitch their wagon to the assumption that their temporary futility will ultimately be rewarded in the form of a potentially franchise-altering draft pick. Dating back to last offseason’s draft, Philadelphia has geared their entire philosophy toward the notion that they would be selecting towards the top, if not at the top of the potentially loaded 2014 NBA draft. Names such as Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, and Julius Randle have satiated the talent-starved 76ers fan-base as the losses have piled up. The organization has been less than subtle disguising their aspirations to attain one of these prolific freshman’s services.
But what if the unthinkable happened? What if Jabari Parker & Andrew Wiggins, the two prospects most-catered towards the 76ers rebuilding efforts, are unable to stomach their humiliating season-ending losses in the NCAA tournament and opted to go back to school? Though unlikely, one or both of the two projected top draft picks returning to their respective universities would set forth a series of panic attacks among the greater Delaware Valley. It is as plain as day that the 76ers have been positioning themselves to bring in a top-end wing player to round out their selections of point guard Michael Carter-Williams and center/forward Nerlens Noel. If the organization’s gamble to acquire such a player ended up being a fruitless attempt, patience within the fanbase would start wearing thin rather quickly, I would think.
Although the organization has clearly made it their number one desire to land one of these prospects (perhaps throw Julius Randle’s name in the mix as well), they have left themselves outs should this disaster scenario come to fruition. After parting ways with Evan Turner & Spencer Hawes (who was going to become a free agent anyway), as well as buying out the contract of Danny Granger, whom they acquired for Turner, the 76ers will be loaded with salary cap space. Toss in the possibility that there is still talk that the organization might want to move Thaddeus Young at some point, and Hinkie could see himself with the type of flexibility to go on a free agent shopping spree. Philadelphia could have as much as $30 million in cap space entering the offseason. Factor in the money allotted to draft picks, and the team will still be able to sign multiple max deals. Few people expect blue-chippers LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to opt out of their deals with their current teams, but if they did, the 76ers would have the space to sign them. I would imagine this is not the desired result of the front office, but it is something they are capable of. I figure the amount of cap room built up is currently intended to supplement the team’s top draft picks with higher-end role players. A few interesting names who could be seen as more marquee type players in the upcoming unrestricted free agency class include: Lance Stephenson (IND), Kyle Lowry (TOR), and Luol Deng (CLE). Stephenson is probably the only player on this list that could step in as a top option for the 76ers, but the team would have more than enough money to throw top dollar at any number of players.
Much of the fuss is made regarding the 76ers top two picks in the upcoming NBA draft, but their impressive stockpile of 2nd round picks might be more astounding. The 76ers have a potential seven picks in the draft, including five in the second round. In a draft that is supposed to be not only loaded with high-end talent, but deep enough to see some very strong players fall into the second round, the 76ers have positioned themselves to be among the most aggressive teams in acquiring the right pieces. Sam Hinkie clearly sees the value in these often overlooked selections, and has a chance to fortify his supplementary pieces through the draft rather than picking through the spare pieces of the NBA. These picks can be used as trade chips to move up and down the ladder, they are great for taking some of the ‘draft and stash’ International players that the 76ers look to value a great deal, and this year in particular can yield some very impressive players. Even if Parker and Wiggins do not declare for the draft, Hinkie has made it his top priority that the 76ers will dominate the 2014 Draft, and with the picks he has he can do so in a number of ways.
Obviously, a third factor to keep in mind as far as the 76ers top picks are concerned is the players that most likely WILL enter the draft. Even without Parker & Wiggins, many would still consider this year’s draft to be a substantial improvement over last year’s class. If Julius Randle commits, he will join Australian prospect Dante Exum, and potentially Joel Embiid as viable #1 overall pick options. Last year’s top choice Anthony Bennett didn’t exactly set the bar high, and the three aforementioned names surpass many of the 2013 class in both potential and proven skill. Players such as Michigan State duo Gary Harris & Adreian Payne, high-flying Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh, uber-athlete Aaron Gordon of Arizona, and a laundry list of other college and international prospects who have either already declared or are expected to enter their name in for the 2014 draft. Wiggins & Parker are elite prospects, there is no doubting that. Still. the prospective class without the two touted freshman would still boast an impressive crop of tantalizing talents that would fit in nicely with what the 76ers are doing.
Although it would be devastating as a fan, I would love to see the look on Sam Hinkie’s face if these two super-prospects decided to return to school. Hinkie is a smart guy and, as I’ve mentioned, has left himself scenarios to deal with such an unexpected result. Still, it would probably irk him to no end that he would have to essentially run damage control with seven draft picks and $30 million in cap room. It is almost a foregone conclusion that Wiggins will enter the draft, and everything that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has indicated regarding Parker is that 2013-2014 would be his only opportunity to coach him as a Blue Devil. Even if the unthinkable happens, as long as the fanbase didn’t lay siege to the Wells Fargo Center in revolt, the brain trust at the head of the organization has prepared themselves for any and all scenarios.