Benching The Conversation: Putting the 2016-2017 Sixers Season Into Perspective

This blog took an extended vacation this summer for a variety of reasons, but in many ways, the same could be said of Bryan Colangelo and the Sixers front office.

Following the draft and a few “Olympic divers plunging into Brazilian green pools” sized splashes in free agency, Colangelo and company have been awfully quiet. The Sixers will bring a swath of new faces into camp, with four players who were recent first round picks making highly anticipated debuts and three mid-to-low level free agents coming to Philly.

This all seemed fine due to the state of the roster before all of these moves, until Colangelo re-signed Elton Brand, a 37 year old antique who has not had both feet off the ground at the same time since the Bush administration. The Brand signing acted as a tipping point for much of Sixers Twitter and the blogosphere. Brand shouldn’t have much of a role on the court, but the Sixers gave him guaranteed money to return. This was particularly odd because he is now the 16th Sixer under contract for next season.

current-6ers-redo

For the laymen out there, that is notable because NBA rosters only allow for 15 players. Now for weeks since, every Sixers fan has feared their favorite Process Era bench guy is on the outs. Even though I love the contributions the Sixers have received from TJ McConnell, Hollis Thompson, Nik Stauskas, Jerami Grant and Richaun Holmes in the dark years, there’s a hard truth about the next stage of The Process:

None of them will truly factor into the Sixers future.

That could be a jarring sentence for some people to read. Sure, all five of those guys have shown flashes of potential in their time with the Sixers or before. Each could become a productive and meaningful back of rotation player for the right team. Yet it’s quite clear that the 2016-17 Sixers are not that team and there’s no true indication that the Sixers of two, three, or even five years from now are that team.

The Process is not over. Sam Hinkie is gone, but for the Sixers to aim to contend for championships in the relatively near future, the patience Hinkie preached must remain.

Until the team is approaching a time when a serious playoff run is possible, the goal should not be to win individual games or to achieve a particular record each year. The goal remains finding players capable of being franchise changing cornerstones. The best teams in the NBA have at least two or three players of this caliber, and most are not satisfied with the current number of superstars they have under contract.

There is “good” news in that regard: the Sixers will not win more than 30 games this year. The largest jump any team made between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 was 15 games. For the Sixers to match that would be quite impressive, and despite all the changes, that’s still a high bar.

via Bill Streicher-USA TODAY
via Bill Streicher-USA TODAY

God willing, Joel Embiid will play for the Sixers this season. Though expectations for his rookie season should be tempered. He’ll likely play less than 20 minutes per contest and skip many of the team’s back-to-back games or odd scheduling and traveling quirks. On top of that, the period of time since Embiid has played competitive basketball is roughly equivalent to the amount of time in his life he’s played basketball. Period. To say there should be some rust, learning curves, or adjustments is an understatement. I want him to come out firing as much as anyone, but flashes of brilliance as he assimilates should be the goal this year.

Ben Simmons is capable of a spectacular rookie campaign, though the keyword there is rookie. Luwawu-Cabarrot will have a culture shock and a serious leap in competition coming to the NBA, and could even spend time in the D-League. Dario Saric’s great Olympics does not overshadow the fact that he will be a minus defender this season and could struggle to fit with Simmons.

And, of course, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel are both still on the roster. The two centers struggled to play together last season and continuing to have both on the team makes less sense with each passing day.

So, expectations for this season should be tempered. And that’s absolutely alright. With a loaded draft class next season and oodles of cap room again rolling to next summer, the Sixers will be in a great position to add more potentially-franchise changing talent.

Which brings us back to the players on the chopping block this year. As I mentioned, each has shown flashes or consistent skills that could lead to success. None are franchise cornerstones, or anything close. As the chances to acquire special players continue to arise, players like McConnell, Stauskas, and Grant will be squeezed further toward the end of the bench or the cut line.

Every potential gamechanger the Sixers acquire won’t become the best player they are capable of being. Some will develop into role players. Others will be busts. But all will be more worthy of a roster spot than the guys currently populating the Sixers’ roster. Until those cornerstones are in place, role players and low ceiling projects take a backseat on the priorities list. For now, that means developing Simmons, Embiid, and potentially Saric, while figuring out something to do with Noel and Okafor.

Certainly cutting Richaun Holmes or Nik Stauskas or trading either for pennies could feel disheartening, but it results in a mere blip on the future of the franchise (and that’s being generous). There’s a world in which the current back end Sixers play a part in the ascent to contention. Though in reality, there’s a much bigger chance the team can simply find some other Richaun Holmes when they need one, rather than hold on to the one they’ve got now.

**

Header image via Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to palestraback@gmail.com.

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