MUCH OF the optimism that has been engineered by 76ers coach Brett Brown lately has been centered on his belief that the organization is going to be aggressive in the pursuit of free agents this offseason. While Brown admits that Philadelphia probably isn't a desired destination and that premier free agents such as Kevin Durant and LeBron James will end up elsewhere, he believes helpful new talent will be brought in as the next phase, as he calls it, of the rebuild moves forward.
"There is more of an interest and real discussion with ownership, with (director of basketball operations) Bryan (Colangelo), where we're talking now about we've put the past three years behind us and this is what we get out of it, the resources we got out of that period of time," said Brown. The discussion has just flipped to a whole other angle of, 'How do we start winning and what does that mean.'
"I think we're all a little bit intimidated to say that as aggressively as I'm saying it now, when you really don't even know the team. What does it mean? We're all going to step back at the start of the year and assess the team. You'll look at the draft picks and you'll look at the free agents and you'll look who we've attained or traded for and we're going to say we deem this team to be X, as far as how much further along we are than now. Those are the things that are being discussed now. You'd be lying if you didn't step back as the head coach of the program and say, 'Well, this is pretty damn exciting. This is a little different than it has been.' "
Perhaps it's a little early for all the excitement. Or maybe it's justified. That, obviously, will depend on how the draft shapes up and what, if any, free agents will decide to come here.
Just to start out on a positive note, let's take a look at some scenarios that could make this offseason one of terrific success, one that will help fans forget the events that surrounded Sam Hinkie's departure and truly be excited about the product that will be on the floor.
On May 17, the Sixers would have to get two of the first five picks in the draft lottery, meaning their own and that of the Los Angeles Lakers, which is top three protected. Though his stock seems to have dipped a little bit from just a couple of months ago, should the Sixers get LSU's Ben Simmons and then another top five college talent, say Oklahoma shooting guard Buddy Hield or Providence point guard Kris Dunn, he future would be so bright that fans would have to wear sunglasses.
At some point after the draft lottery, the organization will get word on whether Dario Saric will forego his final season under contract in Turkey and come to the United States to play in the world's best league and it will also find out if Joel Embiid's surgically-repaired right foot is healthy enough to withstand the rigors an NBA season has to offer.
If the Sixers don't make any trades their roster would include big men Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Richaun Holmes. The wing men would feature Saric, Jerami Grant and Robert Covington with Dunn or Hield, Ish Smith, Nik Stauskas and T.J. McConnell at the guard spots.
If the team winds up getting Duke stringbean forward Brandon Ingram, the roster will still look very interesting, but in severe need of veteran presence. And that doesn't mean someone like Elton Brand, who was basically brought in to oversee a locker room. They need contributing, purposeful free agents who can help the team play better and add a much-needed dose of veteran know-how.
So who is out there?
Forget a really big name coming here. When you become a top-flight free agent you are looking not only for money, but success. There is nothing at all attractive about the Sixers right now in the success department. So there will be no Durant or James or
Dwyane Wade invading Philadelphia.
If the team isn't able to shore up the point guard position in the draft or trade, then the free-agent target has to be Memphis' Mike Conley. But caution needs to be practiced here as Conley has a history of injuries, is an average shooter at best and isn't a huge scorer or big assist guy. He is 28 and a very good defender, so those are two positives the Sixers would like. Spending a lot of money on him, however, probably wouldn't exactly thrill fans. Rajon Rondo? Pass.
If the point guard spot is adequately handled via trade or draft, then a prime target should be Charlotte's Nicolas Batum. The 6-8 small forward has shown his versatility this season with the Hornets, who acquired him from Portland in the offseason. Brown loves this guy and all the positive energy he can bring to the floor. A multidimensional player with some veteran savvy would do wonders for this club.
Imagine if they could land a sharpshooter like Ryan Anderson from New Orleans, the type of stretch power forward Brown so covets. Or maybe Atlanta's Kent Bazemore and his ridiculous athleticism would be a terrific match in this painfully young roster.
What happens with the ping-pong balls is out of the Sixers' hands. How aggressively they attack the free-agent market is not. From all indications, by Brown and Colangelo, with money really being no object, the Sixers are going to pursue talent with an urgency that hasn't been witnessed around here in quite some time.