The 76ers have taken tanking to a new level. Last year's team was the second-worst in franchise history, but that club looks better on paper than the 2014-15 version. Will the 76ers finish with the worst record? Bovada's NBA odds now offer that prop.
Tanks Very Much!
It almost seems laughable now, but the 76ers were a playoff team as recently as 2012. They upset the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the postseason when Derrick Rose went down in Game 1 with his first serious knee injury. The Philadelphia franchise has gone quite backward since then. It started with the terrible trade for Andrew Bynum in August 2012. Philly thought perhaps it was getting a franchise player and the best center in the Eastern Conference with Dwight Howard shipped out to the West in that four-team deal. Alas, Bynum never played a second for Philly and it gave up All-Star Andre Iguodala, young center Nik Vucevic and forward Maurice Harkless. Vucevic has become a very good player with Orlando, averaging 14.2 points and 11.0 rebounds last year. Harkless is a solid role player. It was, quite simply, a disaster of a trade.
At that point, GM Sam Hinkie essentially decided that tanking was the way to go last season. He was going to trade as many players as he could to assure a terrible record and the most ping-pong balls in the draft lottery. Yet Philly actually started 3-0, beating playoff teams Miami, Washington and Chicago in its first three games. That was fool's gold as the team finished 19-63, the second-worst record behind Milwaukee. The 76ers would also tie the NBA record with a 26-game losing streak and only a few of them were even close.
The starting five for the opener against the Heat featured guards Michael Carter-Williams (last year's first-round pick) and James Anderson, forwards Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, and center Spencer Hawes. The only one of those guys left is Carter-Williams, the Rookie of the Year.
Hawes and Turner were traded during last season to Cleveland and Indiana, respectively. Last week, Young was sent out to Minnesota in the three-way trade with the Cavaliers that landed them Kevin Love. Philly got not much of note for any of those guys and they are all capable players. Young averaged 17.9 points and 6.0 rebounds yet only brought back a 2015 first-round draft pick, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved. The draft pick won't be a lottery one because it's from Miami via Cleveland --- the Heat will still be a playoff team even after losing LeBron James. Shved barely played for Minnesota last year, while Mbah a Moute didn't play much more. This was a salary dump, pure and simple as the contracts of Shved and Mbah a Moute expire after this season, while Young had two years left at a total of $19.4 million.
It's not like Philly will be getting much help from its 2014 draft class, either. The team dropped one spot in the lottery to No. 3, missing out on the two guys the Sixers badly wanted, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, and settling for Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid. He's not likely to play this year after having foot surgery. If healthy, Embiid could be a monster. But his health has to be a worry because he also had back problems at KU. Greg Oden anyone? The other 2014 first-round pick, acquired in a trade with Orlando, was Dario Saric and he's staying in Europe at least one more season.
That's not to say the 76ers are totally hopeless. Carter-Williams looks like a good player, although he's not a very good shooter. That can come with time. Last year's first-round pick, former Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, is now fully healthy after his ACL tear suffered at UK kept him out all last year. He looked terrific in the Summer League. The other starters are likely to be Tony Wroten (shooting guard), Hollis Thompson (small forward) and Mbah a Moute (power forward). This group will play some defense -- Mbah a Moute can do that well and Noel should be an immediate shot-blocking force -- but, man, will the Sixers struggle to score.
Among last season's worst teams, the Bucks should be much better with the addition of Parker, the return to health of Larry Sanders and the continued game growth of the "Greek Freak," Giannis Antetokounmpo. I think Orlando also will be better with the additions of Channing Frye and Evan Fournier plus 2014 first-round picks Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton (acquired from Sixers for rights to Saric). Boston presumably will have a full season of Rajon Rondo or whatever assets it acquires should Rondo be dealt. Utah will be much better than a 25-win team. The Lakers won't lose 55 games again with Kobe Bryant healthy. The team that may give the Sixers a run for the money are the now Love-less Minnesota Timberwolves, but Philly is still the smart bet given the NBA Odds. I'd also be willing to wager that Philly finishes last in the NBA in scoring.