The 2014-15 Philadelphia 76ers aren't going to shatter the very low expectations set for them this year by those around the league, not by a long shot. But there is some opportunity for improvement.
Last season, one of the most dismal in franchise history, saw first-round pick Nerlens Noel sidelined for the entire year while rehabilitating a torn ACL. New head coach Brett Brown guided his young team, led by veteran Thaddeus Young and eventual Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams to a 19-63 record, second-worst in the NBA.
The ensuing offseason didn't inspire much optimism for the upcoming year, either. In a draft that was being billed as franchise-defining, the 76ers selected two players in the first round, Kansas center Joel Embiid and Croatian forward Dario Saric, who won't touch the court at all this season.
Embiid and Saric, both talented prospects who could inject serious energy and most importantly talent to a severely diluted roster, will prove their worth over time. But for now, with the upcoming season mere months away and Eastern Conference foes stacking their rosters in preparation for playoff pushes, the 2014-15 76ers' fate looks about as grim as last year's version.
Growth and development may come this season, just don't expect many wins during the process. Here's where they stand in the reconstructed Eastern Conference.
There were certain draft selections who will actually make an impact this season, most notably K.J. McDaniels.
The 6'6" swingman with elite defensive prowess and a developing three-point shot is in line to play major minutes. The former ACC Defensive Player of the Year is a handful on the perimeter. He led the ACC in blocks (2.8) and defensive win shares (3.1) last season per Basketball Reference.
Fellow second-round picks Jerami Grant and Jordan McRae should factor into the new rotation as well. Grant is a rangy forward with explosive athleticism but is still adjusting to the pro game. He struggled mightily at times during summer league but showed flashes of his potential with thunderous dunks and blocked shots.
McRae came out of nowhere to lead the team in scoring while in Las Vegas this summer. The Tennessee product can provide some much-needed offense to a team which finished last in three-point percentage and 28th in field-goal percentage last season.
Local product Ronald Roberts, Jr. from Saint Joseph's University has reportedly signed a three-year deal per Sportando to help bolster the frontcourt. The undrafted Roberts was impressive in Orlando this summer, averaging 10.2 points and 7.4 rebounds a game on 65 percent shooting.
But of course, the most notable addition to this year's roster is Noel, who made it through both summer league stints healthy. He confirmed 18 months' worth of scouting reports read ad nauseam by excited 76ers fans clamoring for a glimpse of him in red, white and blue—elite shot-blocker, a long, explosive defender and a raw offensive repertoire.
Noel, the talented second-rounders and potentially more on the way can only help a frontcourt which finished 26th in blocked shots and 19th in defensive rebounds last year.
It's been a long road back for Noel, who opened up to CBS Sports' James Herbert in an enlightening Q&A last week. He's motivated, and perhaps flying under the radar a bit since he's been out of the spotlight for a year:
There's been a lot of doubters. I've just really been working as hard as I can to be able to prove myself as a young player in this league that can contribute sooner than later. It is what it is, with what's being said now. I understand that I wasn't drafted in this draft class, so I won't be talked about now, but it's fine. I'm just going to go into this season with the mindset of contributing to my team and establishing myself.
His long-term health remains paramount to any big picture plans this organization has. He's one of the cornerstone pieces and needs to make it through the season unscathed.
Wide Open East
This sent shockwaves to all corners of the league, starting a domino effect of player signings. Chris Bosh re-signed with the Miami Heat to max money, with Dwyane Wade and others joining him. Marcin Gortat re-signed with the Washington Wizards, hoping to capitalize on last year's playoff appearances.
The Chicago Bulls signed Pau Gasol and brought over European sensation Nikola Mirotic to pair with Joakim Noah and a healthy—we hope—Derrick Rose. The Charlotte Hornets signed Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams and drafted Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston.
And we didn't even get to the Brooklyn Nets who still sport one of the league's most expensive payrolls, the Toronto Raptors who re-signed Kyle Lowry and the Atlanta Hawks who add a healthy Al Horford to a team which gave the Indiana Pacers fits in the playoffs last season.
The much maligned Eastern Conference no longer has a runaway favorite in Miami thanks to the King's departure and parity abounds. While any team could certainly make a leap into one of the remaining playoff spots—Carmelo Anthony's New York Knicks, the Detroit Pistons under new coach Stan Van Gundy or perhaps the Paul George-less Indiana Pacers hold on to the final spot—it certainly won't be the 76ers.
While most of the East's best reside in the Central (Chicago, Cleveland) and Southeast (Washington, Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte) divisions, even an improved 76ers team doesn't have the talent to compete with the upstart Raptors or the veterans in Brooklyn within the Atlantic division for a playoff spot.
Assuming all the best—continued development of Carter-Williams, 82 games for Noel, the emergence of McDaniels—the 76ers are no more than a 30-win team. That's the best-case, dream scenario for Philly—noticeable improvement, but a record still poor enough to earn another lottery pick.
In reality, I see them more in the 20-25-win range. Carter-Williams will be aided by the presence of Noel, but he'll still go through his growing pains. His 40 percent shooting from the field and 26 percent from three-point range won't turn around overnight.
Noel is an excellent shot-blocker but has a lot to prove with his rebounding and interior offense. We'll learn more about him in the early part of the season with matchups against Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard (twice) and Tim Duncan all before the end of November.
It will be a tough season, another learning experience in the long rebuilding process orchestrated by Sam Hinkie. The good news though, is there will be help on the horizon. A few skilled 7-footers are waiting in the wings. They, and 76ers fans everywhere, are just going to have to wait at least another year.
Projected Record: 22-60, Last in Atlantic division, Last in Eastern Conference
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