Will the Sixers Find Their Hero in the Draft?

Missanelli: Ready for a return to the playoffs.



The ping pong balls were neither unkind nor kind to the Philadelphia 76ers the other night at the NBA draft lottery.

The Sixers, armed with lucky charms up the ying-yang, Nerlens Noel, and Sudden Sam Hinkie hiding in the shadows, got the third pick in the upcoming NBA draft. That likely means they will take one of the two top rated point-guards in the draft, either D’Angelo Russell of Ohio State, or Emmanuel Mudiay, a high school kid who last year played in a professional league in China rather than play his freshman year for Larry Brown at SMU.

That of course is presuming that the first two teams who will draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves and then the Los Angeles Lakers, take the best two big men in the draft, Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky and Jahlil Okafor of Duke.

Fan consensus is that Russell, a smooth left-hander with a nice shooting stroke, will be the Sixers’ selection over Mudiay, a more physical player who gets to the basket a little better, but is a bit behind with the shooting touch.

The good part is that the Sixers next year will likely add two players better than those they put out of the floor this past season — presumably Russell and Joel Embiid, the intriguing seven-footer who sat out this season recovering from a foot injury. The bad part is that Hinkie’s gambit of trading Michael Carter-Williams for a possible high draft pick failed miserably. The Sixers positioned themselves to maybe get three lottery picks in this year’s draft. They got only one, their own, and now the future picks look like they will be much worse.

When Hinkie got the Lakers pick for Carter-Williams (via Milwaukee), he was hoping that the Lakers would fall out of the top five picks of the draft and the Sixers would get two picks stacked in the top six. Instead, the ping-pong balls gave the Lakers pick No. 2 this year. So the pick they get from the Lakers will go into next year as a top-three protected. But consider that the Lakers are on a mission to improve their team with Kobe Bryant coming back. Not only will they have Bryant, but also forward Julius Randle, a top pick from last year who was injured all year. They are likely also to get Okafor, and surely will be serious bidders for a couple of talented free agents – say LaMarcus Aldridge from the Trail Blazers and/or Kevin Love from the Cavaliers. If that Lakers pick next year is a top 10, I’ll eat a basketball. In fact, the pick the Sixers do wind up getting might be worse than the 11th pick that they used for Carter-Williams.

They’ll also have the Heat’s pick next year, but that’s top 10 protected. And they have the pick of the Oklahoma City Thunder, but that’s top 14 protected. If the Thunder finishes in the top 14, that pick turns into second round selections in subsequent years, which mean very little.

Hinkie can make it up to all of us, of course, by cobra striking in the off season. The Sixers are under the NBA’s salary cap, which means they too can buy a free agent. There are two restricted free agents who would look wonderful in a Sixers uniform, and fit in perfectly with Hinkie’s plan to grow into a championship team with young, talented, growing players: Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs, and Jimmy Butler of the Bulls.

A contract offered to a restricted free agent can be matched by the player’s current teams. But the Sixers are in a position where they can actually structure a deal the Spurs and Bulls can’t match.

There is one thing NBA owners dread: the league’s luxury tax. That is a dollar for dollar tax the team must pay to the league if they reach a certainly threshold of their team’s collective salaries. In the 2015-16 season, the NBA luxury tax is projected to be at $81.6 million.  The Spurs are over that figure right now. Signing Leonard would push them close to $100 million in team salary – an extra $20 million they would have to pay the league. The Bulls, meanwhile, are about $8 million over the salary cap and have a total salary of $75 million. Signing Butler will put them in the same tax neighborhood.

How’s this for a starting lineup this coming season: Russell and Butler in the backcourt, with Noel and Embiid up front. The year after that, the Sixers get the services of European dynamo Dario Saric, who’s currently playing professionally in Turkey after being drafted by the Sixers a year ago. Not bad.

Gee, I wish I could fast forward time. I can’t stand seeing these other great teams in the NBA playoffs while the Sixers fiddle with draft lotteries.

Follow Mike Missanelli on Twitter.