Oct 02 2014

Take the Over On the Sixers’ 15.5 Wins

The Westgate SuperBook released its NBA win totals on Tuesday, and to the surprise of no one, the Sixers line is the lowest. And it’s not even close. Philadelphia is at a historically low 15.5 wins while the next worst team, Milwaukee, is at 24.5.

With that in mind, here’s some advice for all you degenerate gamblers: Stop gambling. But before you do, head to the ATM, call your bookie, and take the over.

Sure, Philly isn’t built to win this season. Their most accomplished players – Jason Richardson and Keith Bogans – may not suit up for the team in 2014-15. Their most talented players – Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, and Joel Embiid – have health question marks. The rest of the team consists of second-round picks, D-Leaguers, and fringe NBA talent. It’s a league-low $36-million payroll, and GM Sam Hinkie may get exactly what he paid for.

But, 15 wins? It would take a disastrous season for this team, with this personnel, and this coach, to get there. Only 27 NBA teams (prorating the shortened seasons) have pulled off that feat, and smart money says the Sixers – short on skill, but long on conditioning and athleticism – won’t be the 28th.

For evidence, look no further than last season. The run-and-gun Sixers stormed out of the gate by winning their first three games, and then had a four-game streak to start 12-21. Then Michael Carter-Williams wore down, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes checked out/were exposed (and were traded), and the infamous 26-game losing streak followed. Yet still, thanks to a red-hot 4-6 finish capped off by a 100-87 win over the LeBron/Bosh-less Heat, they finished 19-63. They were who the experts thought they’d be: a bad, but not all-time bad team. Good enough to beat the 16.5 line, which Tom correctly advised on taking the over.

Coach Brett Brown enters this season with a similar roster. Gone are Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and James Anderson; taking their minutes are Nerlens Noel, Henry Sims, and some combination of Alexey Shved, K.J. McDaniels, and D-Leaguers to be named later. The newcomers, arguably, are as good as the departees. The offense, ranked 30th in efficiency last season, can’t get much worse. And with Noel in the paint, McDaniels and Jerami Grant on the perimeter, and MCW back to full strength, the 27th-ranked defense could turn into one that’s merely subpar. That alone could get them to 20 wins.

The Sixers have the makeup of a team that’ll improve as the season goes on. Their players are young, athletic, and in some cases, desperate for NBA employment. They’ll run like crazy, shoot 3-pointers, bust their butts on defense, and play within the system. Occasionally they’ll resemble a competitive NBA team. And unlike last season, their major contributors will still be here after the deadline; there’s no one left to give away. It takes six months of consistently terrible basketball — and organizational dysfunction from the top down — to reach the 67-loss mark. With some 3-point variance, and a dose of hustle, the Sixers should be able to avoid that fate.

Oct 01 2014

K.J. McDaniels Gambles On Himself, Signs One-Year Deal

Before the 2011-12 season, the Houston Rockets signed rookie Chandler Parsons to a four-year, $3.7-million contract, with the first two seasons guaranteed. It seemed like a fair deal at the time. Parsons, a second-round pick (No. 38), was given job security and nearly $2 million of guaranteed money. And Houston got a cheap prospect under team control for the next four seasons.

In hindsight, it was a landslide victory for Daryl Morey and the Rockets. Parsons exceeded expectations, recording 18 Win Shares the past three seasons. Per dollar, he was one of the most valuable players in the NBA. (And now, thanks to the Dallas Mavericks, he’s getting paid accordingly.)

Sixers rookie K.J. McDaniels, a 32nd pick in the 2014 draft, doesn’t want to be the next Chandler Parsons … or the next Jerami Grant, Elliot Williams, Christapher Johnson, Jarvis Varnado, Hollis Thompson, Casper Ware, Jakarr Sampson — all players that the Sixers locked into cheap, multi-year, non-guaranteed contracts.

That’s why instead of signing on for four years, like Grant, he inked a one-year, non-guaranteed deal that could make him a restricted free agent next summer. Per Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the 6-foot-6 swingman from Clemson will make $507,000 this season, which is less than the aforementioned Sixers prospects. But if all goes according to McDaniels’ plans, he’ll be getting more the following years. Philadelphia would have to offer him $1.2 million just to keep him out of unrestricted free agency this summer.

Here’s an explanation from McDaniels’ agent, Mark Bartelstein, via Yahoo Sports:

The 76ers have a philosophy that they’re adhering to, and we totally respect that, but it doesn’t fit for K.J. and us,” Bartelstein said. “I just totally disagree with the idea of doing a four-year deal that includes a structure of two non-guaranteed years. We think K.J. is going to be a good player, and it came down to doing a one-year deal and letting the market determine his value.

There’s no hard feelings. The Sixers’ philosophy has worked for them. It just doesn’t work for us.

Keep in mind, most second-round picks don’t last in the NBA. So this is very much a gamble. If McDaniels plays well, and looks a 3-and-D specialist, he’ll get a big raise. If he doesn’t, he’ll risk having to fight for a roster spot next summer, with only a half-million dollars pocketed. Pressure is on, rookie.

Sep 27 2014

Sixers Acquire Keith Bogans, Second-Round Pick

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Sixers have struck a deal with Cleveland to absorb the fully non-guaranteed contract of Keith Bogans. The Cavs will also send the Sixers a 2018 second-round pick.

For Cleveland, the deal creates a $5.3-million trade exception, which gives them some flexibility in the near-term. (The alternative would’ve been aggregating the non-guaranteed contracts of Bogans and center Brendan Haywood1 next summer as part of a larger deal.)

The Sixers will also send a protected 2015 second-round pick to Cleveland, per USA TODAY. League rules require the Sixers to send something back, so as is customary with Hinkie, it’s a safe bet to say it’s top-55 protected, and will be extinguished.

Since Bogans’ deal isn’t guaranteed, the Sixers can waive him immediately and his $5.3 million salary won’t count against the cap. It’s essentially the same structure as the Hasheem Thabeet trade. They rent out cap space to help other teams create flexibility for themselves in the form of a trade exception, and nab a pick, however valuable, as sweetener.

The picks more than likely will amount to nothing, but an underrated aspect of these types of deals is the relationship Hinkie can form in the process with opposing executives. For Hinkie to be utilizing cap space to do small favors for other teams can only pad his reputation around the league. (There’s also the small chance LeBron ditches Cleveland again, Dan Gilbert wins another lottery, and the Sixers hit the second-round jackpot and land a 31st pick. More likely, this pick will fall in the 50s).

With no word on whether Bogans is here for the time being, or even for training camp, all we have is speculation. The wings are awfully thin, so maybe they’ll choose to keep him. Either way, it’s a nice, zero risk move.

Sep 13 2014

The Sixers’ Future Is Bright(er)

Every six months or so, ESPN Insider publishes its Future Power Rankings projecting how the 30 NBA teams will fare over the next three seasons. And every six months or so, we’re reminded that the 76ers of Philadelphia are destined for eternal mediocrity.

That was, until Sam Hinkie took over as general manager in May 2013, blew up the team, then stocked up on prospects and draft picks. Or so you’d think.

ESPN’s September edition of the rankings has the Sixers at 19th, which is an improvement from last year’s (25th) though more or less exactly where they’ve been since the rankings were launched by Chad Ford and John Hollinger in Nov. 2009.1

But while the Sixers are set for another lottery-bound season, and perhaps another one or two after that, there’s reason for optimism. For one, they are projected to win more games over the next three years than the Celtics (24th), Knicks (25th), and Nets (30th) of the Atlantic Division, and aren’t far behind the Toronto Raptors (11th).

But the better news – if an updated projection is considered news – is that there are indications in the rating system’s metrics (current players, management, cap situation, market, future draft picks) that the Sixers will be on the rise after the 2016-17 season. No team rates higher than the Sixers for the “Draft” and “Money” categories and while they rank middle of the pack in “Management” and “Market,” and are 25th (tied) in “Players” – the category that carries the most weight – there’s reason to believe those areas have room for growth.

Via ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh:

Elsewhere, management led by Hinkie and coach Brett Brown appears to be progressive, but unproven. The city of Philadelphia isn’t a top draw, but it’s a fairly large market waiting to be tapped. The Sixers are trying to be the team of the future, but the target is just so far away at this point that we can’t justify a higher ranking. Sit tight, Philly fans. This is going to be a long, bumpy ride.

A long, bumpy ride indeed. But, if the “19″ holds, it’ll be just as bumpy as the last three seasons, and the three before that, and the three before that. And unlike before, there’s finally a clear plan in place. Because of that, the Sixers will eventually escape mediocrity. In half a decade. Maybe.

1. The Sixers have ranked between 16th and 25th in every edition of the future rankings since its 2009 launch. Fittingly, they have the 21st most wins in that four-year span.

Sep 09 2014

George Karl Goes Off on Sixers’ Rebuild

ESPN’s “Front Office” panel—featuring Tom Penn, Chad Ford, George Karl, Amin Elhassan and Kevin Pelton—took a deep dive in looking at the Sixers’ rebuild on Tuesday, and well, the outlook wasn’t exactly rosy.

Only two of the five—Elhassan and Pelton—expressed any sort of optimism regarding the Sixers’ long-term future, while Penn, Ford and Karl suggested Sam Hinkie’s grand plans had started to spring some holes.

To no one’s surprise, the most emphatic in his disapproval was Karl.

Via ESPN:

What is happening in Philadelphia should not be called ‘tanking’; rather, it should be called ‘destruction.’ The Sixers are at least three to five years away from even being a respectful — respectful — NBA roster. They are worse than they were at the end of last year. Three of the five starters barely played last season. I understand building around talent, but people have to understand that sometimes young players just don’t develop. You put all your eggs in that basket, but if the kids don’t pan out, you’re sunk.

[…]

I think this roster has such a low level of talent they’ll be hard-pressed to win an NBA game. To put this team through another season of turmoil will be devastating. What is being built in Philadelphia is not the development of young players, but instead a culture of losing.

So, there’s that.

Frankly, Penn and Ford raised valid concerns about the Sixers’ long-term plan. Penn questioned whether MCW, Embiid, Noel and Saric represent “true NBA greatness,” while Ford noted that the 2015 draft—in which the Sixers are likely to have another high lottery pick—”isn’t nearly as good as last year’s” and “is loaded with bigs at the top—the one thing Philly doesn’t need.” Hinkie could always trade down later in the lottery—four of the top 10 players on Ford’s 2015 Big Board are all small forwards, which is one of the team’s greatest needs at the moment—but again, these aren’t points to gloss over. They’re legitimate questions about the process.

Karl, on the other hand… well, the only thing I can think of after reading that diatribe is this:

Philly isn’t going to contend this coming season, but to say “they’ll be hard-pressed to win an NBA game” is beyond hyperbole. If the Sixers had all of their long-term salary-cap space tied up in this roster, the skepticism from the former Denver Nuggets’ coach would be warranted. However, they only have about $18.7 million on the books for the 2015-16 season, nearly $14.1 million of which is non-guaranteed (per Spotrac.com). Add a likely top-10 pick, Miami’s first-rounder (which will likely fall in the late-teens/early-20s) and $45-plus million in cap space, and the Sixers will soon be in excellent position to add talent through trades and free agency. These are points that any CBA/cap-conscious analyst would consider.

But Karl, the sixth-winningest coach in NBA history, is looking at the Sixers solely at the short-term; how do I mold these players into a title contender? It’s a narrow-sighted view of the Sixers that’s antithetical to the process that Hinkie and Brett Brown have been preaching.

Sep 04 2014

Dario Saric, future Sixer

Is Dario Saric the next Fran Vazquez? A highly-touted lottery pick who never joins his NBA team and plays international ball forever?

All the evidence (as of now) is pointing towards no. By 2016, he’ll be in Philadelphia, joining a frontcourt with two budding stars in Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. That’s the hope, at least.

Yesterday on his personal blog, Derek Bodner outlined the reasons why the Croatian sensation will opt out of his three year deal with Turkish club, Anadolu Efes, to play with Philly in the 2016-17 season. I recommend reading the whole thing, but to summarize, joining the Sixers would make sense for Saric both financially, and competitively. And by all accounts, he’s actually interested in playing in the big leagues. “I promise, for sure I’ll be here,” he told NBA TV’s Jared Greenberg on draft night.

Now, promises have been broken before. Vazquez, for example, had told his American agent Marc Cornstein that he’d play in the NBA, but signed a lucrative deal with Akasvayu Girona in Spain after the 2005 draft, and avoided the Magic for good. Given that 20-year-olds are unpredictable  and say things they don’t necessarily mean  we shouldn’t rule out Saric having a change of heart too. What if he falls in love with his Turkish club? What if he meets the lady of his dreams, and she doesn’t want to live in the United States? What if he gets cold feet about moving halfway across the world, away from his family, to play for a perennial lottery team? He does, from my understanding, have every right to stay in Europe.

But I don’t see that happening. That’s because of the reasons outlined by Bodner – the cash, the competition – and perhaps, more importantly, the impact that screwing the Sixers would have on his agent, Misko Raznatovic. I suspect that Saric’s rep assured the Sixers (and probably the Magic) that he’d be in the NBA by 2016-17. To renege on that would hurt him in future negotiations with other clients, which include Mirza Teletovic and Pero Antic.

So fear not, Sixers fans. There’s every reason to believe that your favorite European prospect, missing teeth and all, will be taking his talents to the City of Brotherly Love in 2016. If you, like Joel Embiid, can’t wait until then, check out the homie in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Croatia will be taking on Puerto Rico 11:50 a.m. on ESPN3.

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