It is difficult for a fan base to head into the start of a fresh season knowing that their team is not capable of contention. After all, contention is a team's top priority, and generally, after a down year, organizations make moves aimed at immediate improvement. However, after a 19-63 campaign that included a 26-game losing streak last season, the Sixers head into 2014-15 not with a vastly improved, or more talented team, but rather with one expected to be equally bad, or worse.
The departure of all of the team's established veterans, coupled with the lack of immediate impact players added through the draft and free agency, has some publications predicting that this year's incarnation of the Sixers will be the league's worst all-time team.
It is too early to tag the team as historically futile, as the roster is full of young talent whose development could lead to some moderate on-court success this season, but still, a struggle is ensured. Yes, the Sixers are all but guaranteed to be out of the playoff picture again, but for the franchise and fan base alike, the success of the Sixers' season in 2014-15 won't be based on the win-loss column, but rather by the development displayed on the court.
Though the on-court struggles will be similar, the main difference between this year and last for the Sixers is that this year a majority of the minutes will be used by players that potentially have a future with the franchise. Last season, most of the minutes were allocated to veterans who remained on the roster from prior contracts, but weren't necessarily going to be part of the franchise going forward.
Sam Hinkie made the direction of the Sixers explicitly clear on draft day in 2013, casting aside established, albeit inefficient, players and placing a premium on young, developing talent with reduced deals. The approach is sound, and should beget the Sixers great financial flexibility coupled with a ton of young talent. The plan couldn't be completed overnight however, and last season veterans that didn't factor into the team's future played major minutes until the team held the NBA-equivalent of a fire sale on trade deadline day. That won't be the case this season, as virtually all of the minutes will be allotted to young, developing players that have a serious shot to stick with the Sixers as they climb back into contention in the coming years. No Evan Turner plodding around the paint for fifteen seconds before taking a contested jumper, no Lavoy Allen coming off of the bench to get beat back-door.
Instead, a majority of the minutes will be meaningful, in the realm of the Sixers' rebuild at least, if not in the realm of an individual contest, spent on development and determining how, or if, individual pieces fit into the long-term puzzle.
How will Michael Carter-Williams look in his sophomore season? Has his shooting improved, both from beyond the arc and overall? Will his assist numbers go up with the addition of a true post presence like Nerlens Noel? What about Noel himself; how does he look? Is he as dominant defensively as he has been advertised to be? What position looks to be the best fit for him? Does he look like he could be a frontcourt fixture of the future?
It is questions like those that will be central to the Sixers in 2014-15 as the franchise continues to keep the future in the forefront despite looming loses this season. Along with the progression, and play, of Carter-Williams and Noel, respectively, a plethora of other players will be given the opportunity to learn through experience, also known as the Michael Carter-Williams-treatment. Draft picks K.J. McDaniels and Jerami Grant will be given ample opportunity to show their stuff throughout the season, and their development and ability at the NBA-level will be equally interesting. Similarly, Tony Wroten and Hollis Thompson are both entering their second season as Sixers, and their performance on-court this season will go a long way in determining their future with the franchise. Add in the guys that the team is sure to bring in on various 10-day contracts, and there is a whole lot to pay attention to, and that's without even mentioning the slim chance that Embiid makes his debut. They probably won't be on Sportscenter much, but there will be no shortage of storylines with the Sixers this season.
The development isn't limited to just players on the Sixers' roster this season however, as the organization has developed a wide-reaching talent pool that spans the globe. Dario Saric will be growing and expanding his game while playing in Turkey, improving his abilities for when it is time for him to come to Philadelphia and contribute to a contender. Same goes for Jordan McRae in Australia and Vasilije Micic in Germany.