The NBA- the Eastern Conference especially- has been under the reign of King James for a little under a decade now, and it is expected to remain that way for at least a couple more years. Whether he’s on the Heat or the Cavaliers, LeBron has carried his team to seven straight Finals appearances, but at age 32 it’s fair to wonder how much longer his reign will last. An even bigger question is what team will inhabit the kingdom when James hangs his jersey. After examining rosters around the league, I’m confident that barring health the Sixers can dominate the Eastern conference, and eventually the NBA.
One of the main reasons the Sixers are considered one of the heirs to the throne is the youth the team possesses. Joel Embiid already stated that the team is “Gearing up at the right time” and that when the team starts winning “LeBron and the Cavaliers will start going down.” The Sixers have 12 players currently under contract who are 25 years or younger, so they should be able to simply outlast James’ career. The team will get another infusion of youth after the NBA draft and the young core will get the opportunity to learn and grow together. Continuity in sports does wonders for franchises, and if the Sixers can keep the young, talented group together I think they will reap the benefits once LeBron retires.
Another reason the Sixers are one of the few franchises in position to take over in the future are the assets at the team’s disposal. The Sixers have a ton of cap space, two projected top ten picks in the 2018 and 2019 draft, and a plethora of second round selections the next few years. With a healthy starting five of
the team only has two positions (SG and SF) that needs a long term solution, and with a boatload of cap and three top ten projected picks in the next two years it shouldn’t be hard to do so. Hypothetically, with the assets they have, the Sixers 2018 starting lineup could look something like this:
PG- Ben Simmons
SG- Dion Waiters (Free Agent)
SF- Michael Porter (2018 Draft)
PF- Dario Saric
C- Joel Embiid
With a bench consisting of:
PG- TJ McConnell
SG- Malik Monk (2017 Draft)
SF- Robert Covington
PF- Mohamed Bamba (2018 Draft)
C- Jahlil Okafor
This is certainly a young, explosive roster and one that could quickly rise to the top of a weak Eastern Conference. This team possesses great length, shooting ability, and athleticism. Surrounding Simmons with shooters should allow him to terrorize smaller guards as he drives to the basket at will. The amount of floor spacing should also free Embiid up down low and let him go to work. Most franchises have begun trying to win by playing small ball and shooting the three ball at a high clip, and the makeup of this hypothetical squad would allow Philly to dominate teams with their size and length.
Although most fans are ready to move on from Okafor, I believe that pairing him with Bamba would do wonders for him. Bamba, 19, is a mountain of a man- standing at 7’0 tall with a 7’9” wingspan- and is an excellent rim protector who is only going to progress as he gains more experience. Bamba’s fluid movement on defense would allow Okafor to focus on scoring instead of trying to be the primary rim protector. These two would continue to dominate smaller teams when the reserves are subbed in for the starters.
While it’s fun and easy to imagine the Sixers slowly taking over the NBA, there are still major injury issues they must overcome in order to become the bully they aim to be. Simmons missed his entire rookie season with a foot injury, and although he seems to be recovering well, it remains to be seen how his skills will translate to the NBA and if he’ll be able to stay healthy. Similarly, Embiid missed his first two seasons and had his third cut short by a knee injury. Simmons and Embiid appear to be the primary building blocks for the franchise and if they can’t remain healthy the Sixers will have a tougher, longer road to become the team to beat in the East.
If healthy, however, it won’t be long before the Sixers are battling with the Celtics and Bucks for top seed in the post-Lebron era.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports