Sixers have three ways to fix their problems

ASSOCIATED PRESS Kansas' Andrew Wiggins seems like the best of the top college prospects.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Kansas' Andrew Wiggins seems like the best of the top college prospects.
Posted: March 05, 2014

IF THERE IS something we have learned about Sixers president/general manager Sam Hinkie, it is that he has been true to his word that he operates out of the spotlight and gives little hint to what his next move will be.

So as Hinkie prepares for the next phases of the Sixers' reclamation project this summer, there will be plenty of rumor and speculation about what he will or will not do, but we're not likely to know what he has done until it actually hits the transaction wire.

That said, when a team performs as poorly as the Sixers, who suffered their 14th consecutive loss on Sunday, thinking about how they can improve for the future is more interesting.

With that in mind, let's speculate for fun. Call it musing amid losing.

Just like any other summer, there will be three primary ways for the Sixers to improve their D-League quality roster - the draft, free agency and trades.

The 2014 NBA draft: The recent trend concerning this summer's draft has been to downgrade it from the massive original declaration that it would be a generational-type, as in 2003, which produced superstars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge claims it is "top-heavy."

Frankly, I can't think of an NBA draft that was not "top-heavy."

The last draft to produce three Hall of Fame players was 1987, with David Robinson, Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller.

The drafts in 2003 and 1996 (Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen) are likely the only ones since that will produce three Hall of Famers.

Considering it is improbable that the Sixers will win more than four of their final 22 games, the worst they will do is get the No. 5 pick, and that's in the unlikely event that other teams get more pingpong balls.

From that position, if Hinkie makes the right pick, the 2014 draft will deliver a franchise-altering player to the Sixers.

If Kansas University freshman swingman Andrew Wiggins is on the board wherever the Sixers pick, even No.1 overall, that's whom I'm taking.

Wiggins, who has averaged 16.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 29 NCAA games, has not done enough to live up to the hype that touted him as the next James. Realistically who could have? Still, the 6-8 athletic forward has the highest ceiling of any prospect.

As a 7-footer, Kansas center Joel Embiid is seen by many as first overall, but the Sixers traded All-Star Jrue Holiday for rookie Nerlens Noel, who projects similar to Embiid.

Besides, no matter what Embiid, Duke forward Jabari Parker, Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, Kentucky big man Julius Randle or Australia guard Dante Exum ultimately become, if Wiggins ends up being close to the next James or Kobe Bryant, do you want to be the general manager who passed on him?

Free agency. Hinkie will have a ton of salary-cap space going into free agency. The problem is that few free agents this summer fit the Sixers' current state.

If James opts out of his contract in Miami and wants to save Philadelphia, throw Fort Knox at him.

But short of that, none of the other stars who could be unrestricted free agents - Anthony, Wade, Bosh, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay - would alter the Sixers enough to warrant scrapping long-range building.

Ideally, the Sixers need an All-Star-level free agent who is young enough to still be in his prime if and when things come together two or three seasons from now.

Finding an available player like that is like finding a top-of-the-rotation lefthanded pitcher.

The Sixers will have to overpay to get any good free agent to come to a bad situation. Who would be worth doing that for?

Indiana shooting guard Lance Stephenson, 23, is the best unrestricted free-agent option. But are his career-high 14.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists statistics of a breakout season or a contract-year one?

Utah Jazz restricted free-agent, 23-year-old guard/small forward Gordon Hayward (16.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists) would be a nice get. But he will be in high demand, causing a bidding war that will cost a lot more than normal market value to keep the Jazz from matching an offer.

When you realize departed Sixer Evan Turner is rated as a top-15 free agent, this looks more like an option for role players than for a star.

Trades. It's always silly to discuss summer trades before a season has ended. Only one team will win the championship and that will cause a lot of contenders to re-evaluate their situation.

Come draft night, trades that you might not think were possible could happen - see Holiday for Noel and a first-round draft pick.

If Hinkie is correct about the value of the multiple second-round picks and salary-cap space he has acquired, the Sixers are positioned to potentially make a nice trade.

Just to throw one out for fun: The New Orleans Pelicans have more than $25 million committed next season to players who are blocking each other. Either 25-year-old guard Eric Gordon ($14.8 million) or 24-year-old guard/forward Tyreke Evans ($10.7 million) will likely be available for a trade.

Considering Evans was just signed as a free agent, the Pelicans might deal Gordon, whose career average of 17.6 points would look nice in a long-term backcourt with Sixers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams.

The Pelicans need a productive and professional veteran who can help propel them into the playoffs.

Sixers forward Thaddeus Young ($9.1 million) as the headline piece in a trade for Gordon would make NBA sense for the City of Brotherly Love and The Big Easy.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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