In 1990, the NBA changed the draft lottery format so that the worst team in the league (record-wise) would be given the greatest chance of selecting #1 overall, with a 25% chance. Why? To prevent teams from tanking an entire season to get the first pick.
However, the Philadelphia 76ers are doing precisely that and are hoping they get lucky in the lottery next summer. It’s not a bad game-plan either. The 2014 NBA draft won’t just be the opposite of what was an extremely weak 2013 draft, but it will be the best class since 2003 — which included the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh.
The 76ers have been a fringe playoff team for the past handful of seasons, but have never achieved anything better than a few early exits in the playoffs. This offseason, they hit the reset button. The 2013 draft had just one potential unanimous #1 selection, but he blew out his knee early in 2013, which scared teams away — Nerlens Noel of Kentucky. On draft night, the 76ers shocked the NBA by trading all-star point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for the draft rights to Noel, who ended up being selected 6th overall, and a 2014 first-round draft selection.
The move was shocking because Noel was expected to miss most of his rookie season recovering from major knee surgery while Holiday just put together his finest season of his career. But the 76ers had envisioned a longer plan that could potentially make them one of the best teams in the NBA as soon as next season. Sounds crazy, but here is how that could happen.
76ers new head coach Brett Brown just announced this week that Noel would be held out for the entire season, which was a shocking bit of news for Philly fans who will have to endure another season of a big-ticket big man missing the entire season (Andrew Bynum). Instead, the 76ers’ staff plans on using all of Noel’s first pro season to work on and refine the 19-year-old’s game. He is a 6′ 11″ center and is a freak athlete, weighing in at only 227 lbs., but he never developed the proper skills for a big man due to a rapid and unexpected growth-spurt. While Noel sits this season working on his game, the 76ers will send out one of the weakest lineups the NBA has seen in quite some time. Forward Thaddeus Young and guard Evan Turner are probably the only players that will play this season that are apart of the 76ers long-term vision. Achieving the worst record in the NBA should be easy.
Not only will they have a 25% chance at the first overall pick but they also have the Pelicans first-round pick which will likely end up somewhere in the 10-15 range. However, it wouldn’t be shocking if the Pelicans’ new-look lineup doesn’t pan out and they fork over another top-five pick to the 76ers. For example, if the Pelicans finish with the best record of non playoff-qualifying teams, the 76ers get at least another 0.5% chance of winning the lottery. It doesn’t sound like much, but they’d enter the lottery with the best shot.
So about that 2014 potential draft class. Maybe you’ve heard of Andrew Wiggins by now — he is already being mentioned as the next LeBron James and he is only 18, entering his freshman season with Kansas. He would have gone #1 overall this year in the draft were high school players eligible for it. Barring a severe injury, he will go #1 in 2014. If the 76ers land him next to Noel, they are off to a good start in 2014.
But Wiggins isn’t the only big name in that draft class. They could double-up on the Andrews and try to target Kentucky-committed point guard Andrew Harrison. Or perhaps they look to pair another big body next to former Wildcat Noel and target seven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein or six-foot-nine Julius Randle, both with Kentucky and could be available with the 76ers second overall pick.
There’s also this: the 76ers have just over $21 million committed to salaries in the 2014-2015 season. With a few draft selections, they will bring that number closer to $26 million.
The 2014 offseason will not just have an incredible draft class. The free agent class is just as appealing, if not more, than the summer of 2010 when LeBron James and several others changed teams. Here are a few available names in free agency next year: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh (basically the entire 2003 draft class). While it’s unlikely that the 76ers will land one of these guys (it wouldn’t make sense for any of the Heat players to move to Philly after such a great run in Miami and Carmelo is likely going to stay with the Knicks), there is a huge crop of all-star caliber players and veterans that could fit alongside Wiggins and Noel. If the 76ers miss out on Wiggins, they could go hard after James. If they land Wiggins, they will likely target a veteran point guard to ease his transition into the NBA. Grievis Vasquez, Avery Bradley, Eric Bledsoe and Kyle Lowry could all be available. Darren Collison should be available as well — a great fit, as he is a true pass-first point guard. He would command an annual salary of around $5 million, which will still give the 76ers about $30 million left for either one big-name free agent and several roster fillers or several mid-level candidates.
How the 76ers go about using that money is what will decide the immediate future of this club. If they overpay one player who can’t live up to the contract, the next four seasons could be a waste. One player they could heavily pursue is a hometown product: Kobe Bryant. Bryant will be looking for his last NBA contract and a championship caliber team. The 76ers would have that if they land Wiggins and Noel turns into the player everyone expects him to be. Kobe has played his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers, but he’s shown concern over the team’s direction of late. Seeing him finish his career where he grew up and where his father played would be fitting.
Whether you’re a fan or not of teams tanking seasons to enhance their future is totally justified. But there’s no second-guessing the 76ers on this one — there is big potential here for an amazing team in the near future. There is so much that needs to fall into place, but a starting five of Collison, Bryant, Wiggins, Randle and Noel with players like Young and Turner on the bench would be well worth the wait they’re putting us through.