The Philadelphia 76ers have been toiling away at the bottom of the standings for the last few seasons, and that might not change in 2016-17. However, this upcoming campaign should represent a significant step forward for the franchise, even if the results in the win column don’t show it. Ben Simmons is on board as the No. 1 pick. Joel Embiid will allegedly step foot on an NBA court. Dario Saric is coming over from Europe. “The Process” is finally coming together even without Sam Hinkie, and it should be fun to watch the young Sixers grow.
1. Best move of offseason
Bryan Toporek: Drafting Ben Simmons. In theory, it was a no-brainer, but Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress had been leading the crusade for Brandon Ingram as the No. 1 pick for months. Both he and Simmons have the potential to develop into multi-time All-Stars, but Simmons’ ceiling as a once-in-a-generation prospect deservedly gave him the edge. He’ll never escape the LeBron James or Magic Johnson comparisons due to his elite passing ability and vision packed into a 6’10” frame, but those two are the embodiment of why such players are so invaluable. Considering how the Sixers roster looked on draft night — most notably, lacking a high-upside point guard — they’re uniquely positioned to build around Simmons from the ground up.
Jeff Berest: I don’t necessarily think this is a cop-out, but for me, the best move of the offseason for the Sixers is not spending lavishly and excessively in free agency. I think we were all prepared, once Colangelo moved in, for the Sixers to allocate a substantial amount of capital in free agency to speed up the process a bit. Whether that meant maxing out a player like Harrison Barnes, Allen Crabbe, Evan Fournier, etc.
All of those guys would definitely make the Sixers somewhat better, but for them right now what does giving Allen Crabbe $70+ million really do for you? It would’ve been nice in theory for them to make a splash and try to surround Simmons/Embiid with some more perimeter pieces, but in hindsight I’m glad they did not. Spending money just to spend money isn’t really a great strategy. They’re better off letting things play out with their crowded frontcourt (trading Okafor/Noel) and seeing if Embiid can stay healthy, and then next offseason continuing to be vigilant and add pieces that conform to the centerpieces you’re moving forward with.
I also think you could say the Sixers rehabbing and preparing Embiid throughout the season and offseason for him to finally be able to play in actual basketball games is the best move. This two-year rehab period, if successful, will have changed the Sixers’ fortunes for the next 10+ years. A healthy Embiid is a transcendent talent, so regardless of any free-agent move or trade made by the front office, going through the gauntlet and spectrum of doctors, orthopedic specialists and revolutionary rehab treatments is by far the best move the Sixers could ever make if Embiid’s health indeed holds up.
Sean Kennedy: I have to agree with Bryan and go with the burning hot take that the best move was drafting Ben Simmons. Things like getting Gerald Henderson with a non-guaranteed second year on his deal, or a floor spacer like Jerryd Bayless on a reasonable deal, are solid transactions which should help the team in the short term.
But this franchise needed a sure-fire talent to lift them out of the muck and hopefully one day carry them to the lofty status of a contender. From every indication, Ben Simmons looks the part. Sure, you can say he was the consensus No. 1 pick, but there was certainly a faction out there arguing for Brandon Ingram because of fit issues and the glut of big men. Bryan Colangelo didn’t fall victim to that and pass on the guy with the highest ceiling, making it the best move of the offseason.
Kelly Scaletta: Drafting Ben Simmons — probably. In a lot of ways, it made more sense to draft Brandon Ingram, but it seems that Simmons has a better chance of being a franchise-changer with his incredible handles and passing for a 4.
Jason: Taking Ben Simmons No. 1 overall may not have been a no-brainer to everybody, but the move makes sense for the Sixers even with the frontcourt glut. Simmons is simply an incredibly unique talent considering his size and skill set, and Philly needed a playmaker like him.
In a close second is getting Dario Saric over from Europe this summer instead of next when he could’ve gotten more money.
2. Worst move of offseason
Bryan: Forcing Sam Hinkie to resign. Not trading one of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor may be the popular answer here, but ditching the architect of “The Process” just as the bigger picture was coming into focus could have calamitous unintended side effects over the coming months. Hinkie had a clear vision of how to construct a title contender over the long haul, and while he encountered hiccups along the way — particularly Joel Embiid’s foot setback and the Lakers surprisingly drafting D’Angelo Russell over Okafor — the puzzle pieces began to fall into place cleanly this summer.
If Hinkie had done irreparable harm to his relationship with agents, to the point where the Sixers wouldn’t be a realistic free-agency destination even for mid-tier veterans, then the move makes sense. Otherwise, cutting his legs out just as “The Process” began to reap its promised rewards was a shortsighted move that diminishes confidence in the ownership group.
Jeff: The worst move of the offseason is the Sixers not making a trade to rid themselves of the glut of big men in the frontcourt. They may still pull something off before the season starts, but I really doubt it. The closer we come to training camp, the lesser the chance that something does get done. They’re just creating a really difficult situation for Brett Brown when the season starts trying to figure out minutes for all his star players. If the Sixers weren’t getting a return in a trade that was worthy of pulling the trigger I can understand.
But unless there’s a serious injury on some team, I’m not sure how the Sixers are going to be able to gain any more leverage in trade negotiations, and may have bypassed their best opportunity to trade Okafor or Noel. So, again, I can’t blame Colangelo for standing pat if the Sixers were getting absolutely low-balled, but the organization is really creating an internal problem before the season even starts.
Sean: Not trading one of Okafor or Noel certainly isn’t ideal, but I’m not going to hate on Colangelo for waiting for the market to improve and not accepting whatever pupu platter Danny Ainge was throwing out there. As a Nerlens Noel stan, I’m going to say the worst move was not putting effort toward signing Noel to an extension before he hits restricted free agency next summer. I know, pie-in-the-sky, the franchise is banking on Embiid as the starting center down the road.
However, if Embiid doesn’t pan out due to injuries, Noel is the perfect rim protector and rim runner for the modern NBA; if he does, there’s no harm in having a defensive game-changer coming off the bench like the Raptors had with Bismack Biyombo last year. Some team is sure to offer close to a max deal for Noel next year (I promise, it’s happening); I feel the Sixers could have saved themselves some money by working out a deal now.
Kelly: I’m going to cheat a little on this and tap into a pre-offseason move. I don’t like that they forced Hinkie out. He set up all the dominoes for Colangelo, who now only has to tip the first one over and we can all act like he did something amazing. If the Sixers win 40 games this year — which isn’t impossible — I think we should give the EOY to Hinkie, not Colangelo. If you don’t like that, then say failing to find a reasonable Okafor trade is the worst move.
Jason: It’s hard to say “worst” for sure given we don’t know what kind of trade offers were/are on the table, but for now I think it’s a mistake that Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor are still both on the team, even with Joel Embiid being such a question mark. They weren’t a fit together as is, but now with all of the other talent in the frontcourt, it really doesn’t work. Swapping one of those guys for a guard and/or future assets needs to happen at some point.
3. Offseason grade
Bryan: A-. Drafting Simmons was a home run, as was convincing Dario Saric to join the team this year (thus locking him into the rookie scale through 2019-20). Selecting Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Furkan Korkmaz at Nos. 24 and 26, respectively, was the perfect marriage of “best player available” and drafting for need, as both should become fixtures of the Sixers’ wing rotation in the years to come.
Since no top-tier free agents were clamoring to join a 10-win team, getting Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson signed to reasonable short-term deals was also a huge win for the Bryan Colangelo regime, as was expanding the free-agent focus overseas to sign Sergio Rodriguez to a one-year contract. The major blemish of the offseason was not finding a taker for either Noel or Okafor Okafor, but if the market was as tepid as it appears for both, it’s hard to fault Colangelo for refusing to sell low.
Jeff: As someone who never grades the Sixers harsh at all and praises everything they do, I actually surprised myself that I couldn’t muster the courage to give them an A+. But I’m going to give them a solid B+, for a couple reasons, and it’s mainly because some things just deserve an incomplete.
The big mistake is not clearing out the cornucopia of frontcourt players, I really believe it’s going to affect this team in a negative way, and probably create some unhappy campers in the locker room. Colangelo showed restraint in free agency and made some nice value signings with Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez. That’s all well and good, but I can’t consciously say that these are stellar moves that deserve an A grade just because they’re cheap.
In the draft they obviously hit a home run with Ben Simmons, and I refuse to believe there was an actual debate internally about drafting Ingram instead. Simmons is by far a better a prospect and it doesn’t take that much courage or strategy taking the best player in the draft at No. 1. The Sixers also added Timothe Luwawu and stashed Furkan Korkmaz; both are interesting prospects and I’m excited to see them grow and then eventually contribute, but neither are impact players this year. I really do like the way Colangelo and the organization operated this offseason, but giving them an A grade for me just seems a little too much of a homer move.
Sean: A. The others have already hit the key points here, but the draft went about as well as could be expected with Simmons, a talented young wing in TLC and a solid shooting prospect in Korkmaz who the team can stash for a year or two while the roster situation gets sorted out.
Meanwhile, free agency also was a win for Colangelo, with veteran acquisitions in Bayless, Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez, who will complement the young stars, brought on board on shorter-term, reasonable contracts. Also, props to Colangelo for not falling into the Harrison Barnes honey trap. A+ would have been convincing someone to give up something of value for Okafor and keep the basketball community from having to read one more Okafor or Noel article.
Kelly: C. While the Sixers will be massively improved next year, it’s because of things that happened in offseasons before this one. Joel Embiid looks like he’s finally ready to play, Dario Saric is coming over. The Sixers’ tanking paid off and they got the No. 1 pick. Jerami Grant has evolved from a D-League player to a legitimate NBA defensive specialist. A lot of stuff is coming together, but it doesn’t have a lot to do with this summer.
Jason: A-. The draft was a home run and the bargain free-agent acquisitions should fit in nicely. The only reason this isn’t a full-blown A or A+ is the lack of a frontcourt trade.
4. Early prediction for 2016-17
Bryan: The Sixers finish 26-56, ahead of only the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference. Ben Simmons wins Rookie of the Year. Nerlens Noel gets traded to Boston. Jahlil Okafor isn’t as awful defensively and begins to win over the “Nokafor” faction of Sixers fans. Joel Embiid plays 15-20 minutes per night in 60 games and shows flashes of being a franchise-caliber big man, similar to Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis. Robert Covington becomes a household name after averaging 15 points, two threes and two steals per game. Nik Stauskas plays defense on three possessions all year. The Sixers wind up with two top-five picks in the 2017 draft, courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers finishing with the league’s fifth-worst record.
Jeff: I am actually very optimistic for the Sixers this season and believe there’s a very strong likelihood they reach 25 wins, and I would not be shocked if they reached at most 30-32 wins (but that’s absolute best-case scenario). I don’t believe the Eastern Conference is very dominant outside of the Cavaliers, but also I can envision Ben Simmons really taking over the NBA by storm. The Sixers have surrounded him with competent talent and solid players like Bayless and Henderson, and they obviously have one of the better frontcourts to go along with proven shooters like Robert Covington and Hollis Thompson.
I guess the early part of the season could be a little bit of a struggle as the team tries to build chemistry, and there will a lot of different lineups Brett Brown will be able to experiment with. But the more Simmons and Embiid play, the better the Sixers will be. By midseason you could be seeing flashes of how great the future is in Philadelphia.
Sean: Lukewarm take: Jahlil Okafor receives less and less playing time as the season goes on. Based on Brett Brown’s comments at the media luncheon this week, all three of Okafor, Noel and Embiid are playing exclusively at the 5, and Brown is going to play the guys who compete. Everything about the roster screams needing an athletic, rim protector at center, and one of those three is not like the others. I think the “Jahlil rolls out of bed and gets 20 & 10” crowd is going to be creating “Free Jahlil” memes in a matter of months.
Bonus Prediction: Simmons wins Rookie of the Year while leading the rookie class in assists.
Kelly: If everything goes right, the Sixers could win 35-40 games this year and chase a playoff spot. With Embiid, Simmons and Saric all coming on board, that’s just too much raw talent not to improve significantly.
Jason: While the Sixers should be better and more fun to watch, they’ll still also be pretty bad. They’re just too young and experienced to make any legitimate noise. But if they can add 10-15 wins to their total from last year (10), that’s a success.