PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:
How much longer will Philadelphia 76ers ownership be okay with this rebuilding process?
Trust the process.
That’s been the mantra in Philadelphia as they have taken the “get bad to get good” rebuilding method to an extreme no other team has attempted. The Sixers won 19 games two seasons ago, 18 last season, and they are widely expected to be once again one of the worst teams in the NBA in 2015-16.
Don’t get me wrong, the Sixers should be better this season — Jahlil Okafor is the kind of franchise cornerstone player that GM Sam Hinkie has been looking for, but he is still a rookie and showed in Summer League he has some work to do. Last season coach Brett Brown built a good defensive mindset around Nerlens Noel in the paint and the Sixers were 12th in the NBA in defensive rating and that should continue. Other young players for the Sixers — such as Robert Covington and Nik Stauskas — should show some improvement and progression.
Still, this is going to be a bad team. The playoffs are about as likely as building a colony on Mars by next April. Even something like the 30-win barrier seems impossible to clear.
Trust the process.
The Sixers will head into the 2016 NBA draft with as many as four first-round picks: Theirs, the Lakers (top three protected), the Heat’s (top 10 protected), and the Thunder’s (lottery protected). They still have Dario Saric stashed overseas — he showed a little promise but looked a bit raw at EuroBasket — and he is expected to come over next summer. Plus they have Joel Embiid, who was a top three pick and highly rated, but who is about to miss his second full season due to a second foot surgery (never a good sign with big men).
How Sam Hinkie and the Sixers have gone about building this roster rubs a lot of people in a competitive NBA the wrong way, but no doubt they have the potential if they draft well — or use those draft assets well in trades — to build a quality roster. It’s just going to take more time.
The real question for the Sixers is this:
How much longer will owner Joshua Harris trust the process?
Owners are notoriously impatient — in no other aspect of their business life do they sit on the sidelines and suffer short-term losses for long-term profits for very long (if at all). To his credit Harris has been patient. He bought in from the start on the Hinkie plan and has stayed out of his way. But it’s fair to ask after a third straight ugly season ends next April for the Sixers, will he continue to be that patient?
A lot of it likely comes down to progress shown — this season do we see a step forward for the Sixers? With Okafor in the paint (despite a lack of good point guards to feed him the rock), does their offense improve from an abomination in the eyes of the Lord to just plain bad? Does Brown’s defensive culture continue to take root?
Can Harris and the rest of us see the foundation for future success starting to solidify?
If so, and if the Sixers can draft well in 2016 (or at least appear to, it’s always hard to judge a class until a few years out), then there is good reason to stick with the plan. But starting now there needs to be some tangible annual improvement — by 2017-18 this needs to be a team over .500 that makes the playoffs (or is at least close, if the East improves). That’s still a couple years away, but it would be the fifth year of this rebuilding effort and a reasonable target considering how far the Sixers have to go.
Hinkie can’t use a perpetual rebuild for perpetual job security forever — at some point there needs to be real, tangible progress. That needs to start this season, even if it only slightly registers in the win column.
If not, he could find himself dealing with an impatient owner.