So here we are again. Another final third of the season and another chance to root for nightly progress from the individual members of the Sixers that results in collective failure by the team.
But Philadelphia isn’t the only team you should be keeping an eye on. Hinkie’s collection of protected 1st round picks (Miami T-10, OKC T-18, LAL T-5) gives fans a legitimate stake and rooting interest in two playoff races and the ability to go heavy on the nostalgia and cheer on Swaggy P heat checks. I’m not sure any other fanbase has more reason to go all in on that late season League Pass discount than the Philly faithful. What more could you ask for?
If you were seeking clarity on where your allegiance should lie moving forward, look no further:
I. Sixers Pick (relinquished if not T-14. Ha!)
Even those of us who take an unusual amount of joy in rooting for improved draft position will still occasionally grimace at desperately searching our feed in hopes of a Knicks or Lakers victory. Alas, this is the fate of a Sixers fan in the modern world.
Despite the Lakers win on Sunday night against the Celtics, the Timberwolves, who pulled out a victory Friday night, seem to be the most likely of this terrible trio to amass a respectable amount of wins post All-Star break. The Jeannie Buss-Phil Jackson two-headed monster is basically a dumpster fire and any win that the Lakers or Knicks get the rest of the way should be treated like a holiday in Philly.
What the numbers say: Hollinger’s odds project 18 wins for the Knicks, 19 for the Sixers, 20 for the Timberwolves, and 23 for the Lakers.
New York Knicks
Los Angeles Lakers
II. Lakers Pick (Protected 1-5 in 2015)
Here are the Lakers again, this time via that sweet sweet Top-5 protected nectar that Hinkie acquired for reigning ROTY MCW. There’s no team that 76ers fans should be rooting for more than the Los Angeles Lakers. Words I never thought I would speak or write, but there’s a lot at stake here in the way of instant 2015 draft pick gratification.
If the Lakers finish third, they have a 96 percent shot of keeping that pick. It drops to 83 percent if they’re fourth, and 55 percent if they’re fifth. That means the Knicks, Timberwolves, and 76ers will need to stay down and someone else needs to lose… a lot. Of the candidates my vote goes to Denver as most likely. Things are getting ugly for Brian Shaw and the Nuggets and trading Aaron Afflalo won’t help anything. The Sacramento Demarcus Cousins’ are always a good dark horse candidate for a serious losing streak/meltdown as well. (Bonus: A full Sacramento breakdown could also double as the final straw for the Cousins-Sacramento relationship and guess who’s better equipped than anyone else in the league to put together a package of picks for a young superstar?) A complete collapse, however, seems less likely with George Karl on the sidelines.
What the numbers say, via ESPN’s Kevin Pelton ($): “My simulations of the remainder of the season (factoring in lottery odds) have the Lakers keeping it nearly 84 percent of the time, with a small chance of the pick falling to sixth (14 percent) or rarely seventh (2 percent) and going to Philadelphia.”
Los Angeles Lakers
New York Knicks
III. Miami Heat Pick (Protected 1-10 in 2015)
Before getting to anything else, the news that Chris Bosh will miss the rest of the season due to a serious lung condition is awful. Bosh is a tremendous player and by all accounts, a class act. The league is better when Bosh is taking the floor for Miami, so here’s to a speedy recovery.
Shifting to the pick, the Goran Dragic acquisition certainly puts a dent in the chances that Miami drops out of the playoffs, especially given that none of the contenders to take their spot are particularly impressive. And Pelton’s recent projections ($) seem to indicate that even without Bosh, Miami should be a playoff team in the lowly Eastern Conference.
Look out for the Magic!
If Reggie Jackson goes crazy with his newfound responsibilities in Detroit, the Pistons could make a run. Indiana also has an incentive to hold it together if Paul George comes back this season at anything close to his old self. Current reports have him targeting a mid-March return. But let’s be honest: the race for the final two playoff spots in the East is a war of attrition. Who loses the least rather than who will win the most is the best way to think of it.
Also, if the Heat begin to lose too much and all four of the playoff contenders listed below threaten to overtake them, be prepared to flip allegiance and root for Heat victories. Remember, being a 76ers fan in 2015 is all about facing and rationalizing a new reality every few weeks anyway. (Alternatively, you could hope the pick gets protected, so the Sixers will have a chance at hitting the jackpot in 2017.)
What the numbers say: “Increasingly likely,” Hinkie said at the Feb. 20 press conference.
Miami Heat (for now)
IV. Oklahoma City Thunder Pick (Protected 1-18 in 2015)
Who says Sam Hinkie doesn’t care about bringing high-caliber NBA basketball to 76ers fans? It may not be in Philadelphia, but the protection placed on the Thunder’s pick certainly gives fans another reason to pay close attention to the Western Conference playoff race. If the Thunder can overtake San Antonio (they’re three back) to claim the seventh seed it is a virtual lock that this pick gets conveyed to the Sixers. They’d also hand over the pick if they passed the bottom four Eastern Conference teams. If Thursday night’s Thunder-Mavs game was any indication the Thunder have a whole lot of W’s coming their way down the stretch. News that Durant will miss time to replace a screw in his surgically repaired foot is not good for Thunder or 76ers fans, but Russell Westbrook and the new additions still seem intent on going on a significant run and Durant is not expected to miss the rest of the regular season.
Thunder would need to pass two of those teams.
What the numbers say: Hinkie estimated 30 percent at the press conference, though things have since changed (for the better). Hollinger have Thunder at 47 wins, Bucks at 46, Wizards at 46, and Spurs at 49.
Oklahoma City Thunder
San Antonio Spurs
New Orleans Pelicans
V. Bonus Round: 2nd Round Picks
Orlando Magic 2nd Round Pick (Currently 35th)
Orlando is already in the mix as a team whose collapse could help send the Lakers Top-5 protected 1st the 76ers’ way, and that scenario would be made even sweeter by the fact that Hinkie has Orlando’s 2nd rounder. Every spot matters when you’re looking for the next 2nd round lottery ticket.
Root For: Los Angeles Lakers. Root Against: Orlando Magic.
Worse of Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets 2nd Round Pick (Currently Denver’s at 37th)
Another opportunity to root for the Lakers! As mentioned earlier, Denver is a serious down-the-stretch-collapse candidate, and this pick moving up to 34th if Minnesota stays bad and Denver gets worse is certainly in play.
Root For: Los Angeles Lakers. Root Against: Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets.
New Orleans Pelicans 2nd Round Pick (Currently 45th)
The Pelicans also make their second appearance on the list, again in a “root against” scenario. The reality is that with the Thunder likely to run away with at least the 8th seed, and the rest of the Eastern Conference non-playoff teams well below .500, the Pelicans pick is likely to be fairly static. Keeping with our “every spot counts” mantra 76ers fans can still comb Suns and Pelicans box scores to ensure that pick doesn’t drop to 46.
Root For: Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns (but less than the Thunder). Root Against: New Orleans Pelicans.
Houston Rockets 2nd Round Pick (Currently 56th)
Don’t laugh, but this one is actually worth watching. It actually has the opportunity to change significantly. The Rockets sit at 37-18, tied with Toronto and slightly ahead of Portland, the Clippers, Dallas, and the surging Cavs. That’s a full five positions the pick could move. It also opens up this exercise to the heretofore undisturbed elite upper echelon of the Western Conference playoff race.
Root For: Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trailblazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks. Root Against: Houston Rockets.
Golden State Warriors 2nd Round Pick (Currently 60th)
Yes, this one could move up two spots if the Warriors find a way to fall behind Atlanta and Memphis. And yes, our mantra has been “every spot counts” all along. But, wouldn’t it be fitting given the plan, all the talk of assets, all the media attention that Hinkie and the 76ers have gotten this year if the 76ers had the 1st and last pick in the 2015 draft. Isn’t this really the 76ers draft? If the idea of this exercise is to have it all, shouldn’t that include the right to start June 26th off and shut Madison Square Garden down when it’s all over?
Root For: Golden State.