A couple weeks ago, Philadelphia 76ers great Julius Erving stated in an interview on Sirius XM that the Sixers told him they were on a seven-year plan “to be good.” This of course, added more frustration for fans who were already trying to get over the Joel Embiid injury. Are we really going to have to wait seven years to see this rebuild come to fruition?
Not necessarily. Ownership apparently told Erving this when it bought the team almost four years ago. And by “good,” Erving said it meant “to be a contender.” Which is nice to hear when we were so used to the 40-to-45-win, first-round-playoff exits before this rebuilding plan began. So it’s more like a three-year wait then a seven-year one.
But how seriously can you take that statement? Seven years is a long time for anything to go unpredictably right or wrong. And last I checked, weren’t they thinking it’d be more of a one- or two-year plan when they acquired, dare I say, Andrew Bynum?
Of course, those seven years sound much more realistic now that team president and general manager Sam Hinkie is seemingly trying to make this rebuilding process as long as it takes to read War and Peace. But keep in mind the Sixers’ fortunes also lay in the hands of their opponents. If the NBA’s East starts becoming more like the NBA’s West, it’ll be that much tougher for the Sixers to leapfrog teams and reach that contender status.
So let’s take a moment to examine who may be still standing in their way when 2018 rolls around.
– The Cleveland Cavaliers, as long as they have LeBron James, will be the main obstacle. Luckily, he’s 30, and even though they have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, you can’t expect their championship window to last more than four years.
– The Miami Heat look to be much improved next year with a starting lineup that features Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, and the emerging Hassan Whiteside. Wade is on the downside of his career, though, and Bosh and Deng are 31 and 30, respectively. Their prospects are good the next couple years, but they’ll be a huge question mark after that.
– The Milwaukee Bucks have an interesting group with Michael Carter-Williams, Jabari Parker, and the newly-signed Greg Monroe. They’re one of the East’s best teams, but Parker will need to emerge as a legit go-to scorer in order to make serious playoff noise.
– The Atlanta Hawks, coming off a 60-win season, can’t expect to do much better in the years going forward. They have a nice system in place thanks to coach Mike Budenholzer, but they’ll need more star power in order get past Cleveland.
– The Chicago Bulls are struggling to become championship-caliber again, even with the return of Derrick Rose and the emergence of Jimmy Butler. Pau Gasol won’t be the same player by 2018, and they’ll need Nicola Mirotic to take over in order not to take a step back. Fred Hoiberg will also need to prove himself as a coach at the NBA level.
– The Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards both have young players who can continue their success going forward, but they’ll only improve if they get highly-coveted free agents to sign. The Wizards may have a shot at signing Kevin Durant next summer if they can find a way to also afford John Wall and Bradley Beal.
– The Boston Celtics have some nice players but no one to really build around; the Brooklyn Nets will eventually have to start over; and the Indiana Pacers, though they have Paul George, will need to find a new identity.
So by 2018, while Cleveland may still occupy the top of the East, it won’t be for too much longer. The second-tier teams of Chicago, Washington, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Toronto are the ones with enough talent to stay relevant through 2018, or longer. Luckily, it doesn’t look as though their ceilings are high, as of now. Of course, anything can happen over the next few years to steer the tide.
So in order to reach that contender status by 2018, the Sixers will need to reach that second-tier level. Thankfully, the East could become much more open soon after.