Bottom-feeding Philadelphia 76ers will soon rule the Eastern Conference

Dan Schultz

After being consistently awful for the past half-decade, the Philadelphia 76ers are poised to take over the East in the next couple of years

The Philadelphia 76ers have been a laughing stock in the NBA for what seems like an eternity now. With a combined record of 109-301 (.362 win percentage) during the last five years, many have wondered if they would ever be competitive again.

They have not been bashful when it comes to “tanking” in order to get higher draft picks. Former General Manager Sam Hinkie was especially aggressive when it came to this tactic, often trading away promising prospects (Michael Carter-Williams, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, etc.) for future picks.

This in turn ushered in a flat-out miserable chapter in the history of the Sixers. A lot of fans became alienated – understandably furious that their team’s management wasn’t even TRYING to win games, but instead focusing on losing as many as they could in order to get better prospects through the draft.

Well that’s all about to change.

The Sixers agreed to trade the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, as well as an additional first round pick to the Boston Celtics in exchange for the No. 1 selection in this year’s draft. Many believe the Sixers intend to select point guard Markelle Fultz with their selection. Fultz would fill a huge need that the Sixers have been trying to take care of for the last few years.

Combine Fultz with major players like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric, and the Sixers are in tremendous shape moving forward. Of course, a lot of their success will depend on guys like Embiid and Simmons remaining healthy. But as long as that happens, the Sixers should be heavyweights in the East for a long, long time.

Embiid has proven to be a singular talent. The soft-shooting, athletic big man from Cameroon has “franchise player” written all over him. Simmons is arguably the most talented prospect since LeBron James. His athleticism, size (he grew a couple inches over the last year – he now stands at a reported seven-feet tall), and passing ability has plenty of people buzzing with excitement. And Saric, who by all accounts should be the Rookie of the Year for 2016-17, is basically a taller Manu Ginobili who can play either forward position.

And speaking of James, the Sixers should be catching him at the tail-end of his prime. In addition to this, rumors are beginning to swirl that he could potentially move to Los Angeles to play for either the Lakers or Clippers when he becomes a free agent after next season. Outside of James and his Cavaliers, the East is starving for more competition. And the Sixers very much want to be winning games and recapturing respect from their peers and fans once again.

They also have an outstanding coach in Brett Brown who has been there since the very beginning of this rebuilding process. You know he’s hungry and ready to prove he can guide this team to success now that he has some guys to work with.

The way the Sixers have built this team is somewhat similar to what the Oklahoma City Thunder did a decade ago. The Thunder built through the draft, and struck gold getting Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden in three consecutive years. The Sixers drafted Embiid in 2014, Simmons last year, and (most likely) Fultz this year.

It took the Thunder some time, but once they got some experience under their belt, they finally broke through in 2012 when they reached the NBA Finals (ultimately losing to the Miami Heat in five games). The Sixers should look to the Thunder’s model moving ahead in terms of remaining patient and developing their young talent.

Just like the Thunder, this Sixers squad will need some seasoning (expect them to make a playoff appearance this year – at the very least), as well as some quality free agents like a legitimate shooting guard, but the future is bright.

And don’t be shocked when they become the team to beat in the East in the matter of a couple seasons.

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