It’s been five years since the Philadelphia 76ers made the NBA playoffs, and it’s been even longer since the team made the NBA Finals (2000–01). You want to talk championship rings? Most millennial NBA fans weren’t even born the last time the 76ers hoisted the big banner to the rafters of the (now torn down) Spectrum. So, perhaps, it’s with a bit of blind loyalism that Philadelphia pro basketball fans believe the team that won 47 games over the last three seasons (The Celtics, Heat, and the Hawks all won more than that last year alone) will again make the NBA playoffs for the coming season.
It took 44 wins to make the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference last season — that was the Detroit Pistons, swept in an unspectacular fashion by the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Such a leap for Philly would require a 440% improvement — maybe not the outhouse to the penthouse, but they could make it to the observation deck at least. There are four reasons why the franchise of Wilt, AI, Hal Greer, Chocolate Thunder, and the Round Mount of Rebound will improve across the board, including putting more butts in the seats at the Wells Fargo Arena. (In a city that’s the fourth largest in the U.S., the Philadelphia 76ers were 28th out of 30 in NBA attendance last year.)
Call it the Colangelo effect. The father and son team of Jerry and Bryan Colangelo are the right duo to bring the team back to respectability. After serving as GM for the Phoenix Suns for 11 years — during which the Suns were one of the league’s top teams — Bryan moved on to become President/GM of the Toronto Raptors. During his tenure with the Raps, the team won the Atlantic Division (and the official approval of Drake), making the playoffs for the first time with Bryan named NBA Executive of the Year.
Bryan took his aggressive approach to Philadelphia in April 2016, where he became Head of Basketball Operations. His father, Jerry — the man who brought pro basketball to the desert — stepped down from his executive role when his son was brought in. With the younger Colangelo in place, rebuilding will pick up steam in a big way.
An issue for any young team is chemistry; the ability for players to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. With a strong existing nucleus — primarily of big men the likes of Joel Embiid (finally making his debut) and Jahlil Okafor — the team’s chemistry will improve with the addition of top pick Ben Simmons, who is an adept passer with exceptional court sense.
Adding one highly touted European prospect (Dario Saric) and another with prior NBA experience (Sergio Rodriguez) to the mix, and you have a team that could follow the schemes coach Brett Brown learned when he was part of the San Antonio Spurs.
3. The Sergio factor
Speaking of European players, NBA pundits believe the reemergence of Spanish playmaker Rodriguez could provide the 76ers with that point guard spark the team has lacked for several years. One thing is for certain: Rodriguez is cool under pressure. It was his free throws at the end of the Spain-Australia Olympic game that gave Spain the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio games.
Rodriguez was twice named All-Europe Player of the Year while playing for Real Madrid (not the soccer/football team), where he was known for his passing and three-point shooting. This is not Sergio’s first time in the NBA; he has played for Portland, Sacramento, and the New York Knicks. With six years in Europe after his last NBA stint, he returns a more polished and professional player eager to play point guard for the 76ers.
4. Rest of the Eastern Conference
If you remove Cleveland from the equation, the NBA’s Eastern Conference is nothing to write home about. Looking at the teams who made up the eight playoff spots, the Heat will suffer from the loss of Dwyane Wade, while the Knicks will suffer from the addition of Derrick Rose. The Raptors look solid, and the Hawks have added Dwight Howard, which may be a steal or an albatross, depending on how the big man plays.
As for the remainder of the playoff teams… Detroit, Charlotte, and Indiana have some bright spots, but nothing that will make them playoff locks for the 2016–17 season. For the 76ers, the team will need to come out of the gate strong and get fans excited about the team and fill up the Wells Fargo Arena. The players need to take a page out of the Spurs’ playbook and be totally unselfish on the floor. If Rodriguez plays as expected and Embiid lives up to his billing, anything is possible. Even the playoffs.