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John Schuhmann

Nerlens Noel Michael Carter-Williams portrait 2013
Nerlens Noel (left) and the Sixers will be leaning heavily on Michael Carter-Williams this season.

Sixers looking at rock bottom as a way to spring back to top


Posted Aug 15, 2013 10:43 AM

This is the latest in a series of articles on the teams that did not make the playoffs last season, previewing their prospects of making it to the postseason in 2013-14. For a look at other teams in the series, click here.

"It's just a league that doesn't reward treading water."

Those are the words of new Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie, as told to TNT's David Aldridge. And in an offseason when several teams are content with losing a lot of games and increasing their chances in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes, no team has embraced the idea that it's better to be bad than decent (again) more than the Sixers.

Putting the whole Andrew Bynum fiasco aside, the Sixers had two very good players -- Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young -- when Hinkie took over. And rather than build around them, Hinkie traded Holiday to New Orleans for the rights to Nerlens Noel (who's still recovering from ACL surgery) and the Pelicans' 2014 pick (protected 1-3).

With the idea that the Sixers' own pick in 2014 is the key to their rebuild, Hinkie is going young ... and bad. And only time will tell if a plan that will almost assuredly result in immediate failure will ultimately lead to success.

"So sometimes you have to take some risks," Hinkie continued, "and sometimes some risks are smarter to take for some teams, and less smart for other teams."

Where they've been

2012-13 record: 34-48

Division finish in 2012-13 (and place in conference): 4th (9th)

Offensive rating in 2012-13 (NBA rank): 99.5 (26th); defensive rating (NBA rank): 103.0 (15th)

Following the (first) departure of Allen Iverson, the Sixers made the playoffs four out of five seasons, but as a bottom-3 seed each time. They've won just one playoff series in the last 10 years, but have also had just one top-10 Draft pick (Evan Turner, No. 2 overall in 2010) in the last nine. Though they've been fun to watch at times, they've basically been the picture of mediocrity over that span.

Two seasons ago (the lockout year), the Sixers had the NBA's fifth-best point differential, but were the No. 8 seed because they stunk in close games. Then they made it to Game 7 of the conference semifinals, because Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah got hurt in the first round and because the Celtics were just as bad offensively as the Sixers were.

Though their core was relatively young at the time, the Sixers shook things up last summer, trading Andre Iguodala and Nik Vucevic for Bynum while saying goodbye to Elton Brand and Lou Williams. Bynum didn't play a minute last season and only one team -- Chicago -- regressed more in terms of point differential. The Sixers still didn't get a top-10 pick.

Where they are now

So they traded for one, and maybe two first-round picks, and pretty much ensured that their own 2014 pick will land in the top five. In all likelihood (unless New Orleans makes the playoffs or lands a top-three pick), the Sixers will have two more lottery picks next year to go with their two from this year.

The two from this year each come with questions. Noel won't be ready until at least January, is raw offensively, and will need time to adjust to the NBA on defense. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams, selected with the Sixers' No. 11 pick, is also a long way from being an impact player. And he'll be the guy controlling the Sixers' offense for 30-35 minutes a night.

That, obviously, will be a struggle at times. But they're planning on that.

Biggest hurdle

If the objective is to give themselves their best possible chance at the No. 1 overall pick next summer, the Sixers are in great shape. The problem is that they're going to embrace a losing culture for the next year, and maybe longer. And while there's certainly a potential for success down the line, nothing is guaranteed.

If all four lottery picks work out, Hinkie will look like a genius. He will have plenty of cap space to add veterans (via trade or free agency) in the next couple of years, and new coach Brett Brown is onboard to instill a Spurs-like culture.

But being bad isn't necessarily easy to recover from. Neither John Wall nor Kyrie Irving -- No. 1 picks in 2010 and 2011 -- has yet to make the playoffs, and both the Wizards and Cavs are at least two more big pieces away from contending for a championship.

Hinkie has given the Sixers a higher potential ceiling, but to do that, he's taken them down to the floor. It's unclear if they'll even be able to get back to where they were 15 months ago.

Where they're going

The Sixers are going to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, where they will compete with the Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic for lottery combinations. Thaddeus Young is the best player on any of those three teams, but he will be playing for his fifth different coach in his seventh season and counting on a rookie point guard to get him the ball.

Really, how many games the Sixers win (and where they pick in the 2014 Draft) will largely be determined by Carter-Williams. He could have the ball in his hands as much as any young player in the league. Though they had no other point guards on their roster, the Sixers sat idly for the first month and a half of free agency.

So it will be the Carter-Williams Show this season. Beyond that, we just don't know. The Sixers could turn things around quickly next summer. They could also struggle well beyond that.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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