Sixers’ Draft Makes It Seem Like They’ll Be Tanking Again Next Season

The Sixers' top two picks were Joel Embiid, who just had foot surgery, and Dario Šarić, who will play in Europe for two seasons.

Kansas Jayhawks center Joel Embiid celebrates after scoring in the first half of a Feb 22, 2014, game against the Texas Longhorns. Photo | Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas Jayhawks center Joel Embiid celebrates after scoring in the first half of a February 22, 2014, game against the Texas Longhorns. Photo | Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

As a fan, you want to believe the Sixers did this draft right.

But it’s hard. This is Philadelphia, after all, and you’ve gotten burned so many times before. In 1993, the Sixers took Shawn Bradley over Penny Hardaway and Jamal Mashburn. In 1994, they took Sharone Wright at No. 6 — and ended up picking in the No. 3 and No. 1 spots the next two seasons. One year the Sixers took two guys who’d go on to make the majors — in baseball. Between 1999 and 2003, the best player the Sixers drafted was Samuel Dalembert. The Sixers had the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft and took Evan Turner, who had just completed one of the best college seasons of all time. He was a disappointment here.

The Sixers’ new brain trust is in its second year on the job, and they are not responsible for picks like Jiří Welsch (taken 16th in 2002, immediately traded for a future first round pick) or Speedy Claxton (an ostensible Iverson replacement taken in 2001 who missed his entire first year with an injury). But each NBA Draft always leaves you memories of getting burned in years past. The nature of basketball allows one player to alter a franchise’s history, and in my lifetime the Sixers have acquired one (1) such player in the draft, Allen Iverson.

Put this in the Sixers favor: Whatever you think about the merits of tanking, the Sixers did a bang-up job of it. In just one season, general manager Sam Hinkie and the front office completely re-did the roster. The team’s salary cap situation is incredible — if the two wanted to come here, the team could sign LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony this offseason. The team turned Jrue Holiday into Nerlens Noel, Dario Šarić, a second-round pick next year and a first-round pick in 2017. That’s incredible — unless Noel and Saric are stiffs, in which case it’s just sad.

The Sixers’ draft last night showed that this tanking plan isn’t over (though they’ll likely be better next year). For the third straight season, as the Daily News put it, the team acquired an injured big man. This time it was Kansas center Joel Embiid, who — before needing surgery on his foot right before the draft — appeared to be the consensus No. 1 overall pick. It’s the exact same situation as last year, when the team acquired an injured Nerlens Noel, who sat out the first season. Embiid is a 7-footer who has been compared to Hakeem Olajuwon. But he also missed the NCAA tournament this year with a stress fracture in his back, and now had surgery to fix one in his foot.

The good thing is that the Sixers know how to bring along a rookie who’s essentially redshirting his first season. They did it just last year with Noel. The bad thing, if you like to see your basketball team win, is that Embiid is unlikely to contribute much this year. (He needs at least a few months after foot surgery.) Their second first-round pick won’t contribute either. The Sixers swapped the 10th pick to the Magic for the 12th to get 20-year-old Dario Šarić and picked up a first-round pick way down the line (2017) and a second-rounder next year to boot. Šarić, a 6-foot-10 power forward from Croatia, recently signed a three-year contract with a team in Turkey. He’s expected to stay with powerhouse Anadolu Efes for two seasons.

The Sixers acquired an incredible five players in the second round of this year’s draft. Two seem ready to play right away: Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels, a 6′ 6″ swingman who’s an off-the-charts athlete, and they also picked up defensive wizard Jerami Grant from Syracuse. These are two players who could have been taken in the late first round, but the Sixers scooped them up on more team-friendly deals. The team also acquired Tennessee’s Jordan McRae, who was one of the most efficient players in the NCAA last season. (The team also, oddly enough, picked Louisville’s Russ Smith — another efficient player — but shipped him to the Pelicans for Pierre Jackson. The Sixers had selected Jackson last year and traded him to the Pellys; he scored a record 58 points in one D-League game last year.) The Sixers also got Serbia’s Vasilije Micic, who they’ll be stashing overseas. And, who knows! There could still be more moves.

Yes, the Sixers appear prepared for another season of big losses (and, hopefully, two wins over the Heat again). But they also took incredible prospects who dropped because of reasons unrelated to their play on the court. If Noel, Embiid and Šarić are the NBA’s most fearsome frontcourt in a few years, Sam Hinkie will look like a genius. The Sixers have a ton of unproven guys right now — but the one player they picked last season who actually played for them turned out to be the Rookie of the Year. It’s intriguing. You want to believe.

But it’s also the Sixers, and fans are used to disappointment. Is this the start of a new era, or just more of the same? Can it be 2016 already so we can start to find out?

Follow @dhm on Twitter.