The Philadelphia 76ers are the NBA’s lone win-less team, which is actually one of their goals.
The 76ers have made no secret of their plans to tank. For the third year in a row, they have assembled a bare roster of rookies, young players, and fringe prospects in order to gain a high draft pick next June.
This is all part of a bigger plan to collect as many assets and draft picks as possible, and one day group together the right core of young superstars to dominate for the foreseeable future.
Thus far, that plan hasn’t looked tremendous. While it’s impossible to judge the results yet, the 76ers have little to show for it. Their two talented big men Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor look like good players, but have a highly questionable fit next to each other in the future. The 76ers haven’t had much success finding players on the scrap heap outside of forward Robert Covington. Michael Carter-Williams is now on the Bucks, Joel Embiid hasn’t played a game, and Dario Saric may wait until 2017 to come to the NBA.
The 76ers still have loads of future draft picks to find the next great superstar, but their plan also has one big roadblock that seems to have largely been ignored.
Part of the Sixers’ plan hinges on the idea that they can draft young players, develop them, then retain their rights for years to come in hopes of building a championship contender. However, that logic assumes that players will stick with the 76ers long enough for that plan to pan out.
As CBS’ Ken Berger notes, some people around the NBA already feel that the 76ers’ plan — which has also involved basically sitting out free agency — is creating a bad reputation among players and agents. One agent told Berger, “Their inability to establish a rapport with agents and probably with other teams is definitely going to lead to their demise.”
Berger also reports that Okafor, who is still only 18 games into his career, could be considering the financially risky way out of Philadelphia.
The next big test for Hinkie (if he lasts that long) will involve Okafor, who according to league sources will strongly consider the tactic that Greg Monroe utilised in Detroit last season: signing a one-year qualifying offer and becoming an unrestricted free agent rather than agreeing to extend his rookie deal. That decision is a few years off, but there’s no evidence that the Sixers actually will be competitive by then.
This is a rare, but not unheard of route players can take if they wish to leave the team that drafted them. As noted, Greg Monroe took a one-year, qualifying offer from the Pistons when he was a restricted free agent, forgoing the financial security of long-term extension to get out of Detroit.
Okafor is still a long way away from this. However, it’s a potentially real scenario for Nerlens Noel, who is in his third season. After this season, he only has one more guaranteed year before he can become a restricted free agent. While it’s not clear how Noel’s relationship with the team is, nor is there any proof that it’s strained, it’s not unreasonable to think that he may reject a long-term extension, take the qualifying offer, then become an unrestricted free agent two years from now, when any team could sign him outright.
Again, there’s no clear evidence that any of Philadelphia’s current young players harbour resentment toward the front office for their long-term goal. However, teams don’t control young players forever. The 76ers run the risk of having continual setbacks if players are willing to risk financial security for a chance off of the team. If several of their young prospects skip town when their contracts are up, the 76ers may have a tougher time advancing their rebuild than they imagined.
This could all be changed in one draft if Philadelphia managers to draft several impact players at the same time. Currently, though, the “process” is taking a long time, and it’s fair to wonder how long players are willing to go along with it.
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