Breakdown - Who would you rather be going forward: the Celtics or the Sixers?
Sixers basketball: feel the excitement
If you haven't been paying attention to what's going on in Philly, man you're missing out.
The Sixers have become not only the laughingstock of the NBA, but of the entire sports world, losing 15 straight games by an average of 19.8 points per game. During the stretch, Philadelphia has the same number of 30+ point losses as they do single-digit point losses (three apiece). Even crazier, they are just 4-15 in their last 19 games against the Vegas spread. Meaning their awfulness has actually confused the people who's full time job is analyzing their awfulness. For example, last night Vegas made the Sixers 21 point underdogs at Oklahoma City, the second biggest line in the NBA since 1995. The end result? How about a 33-point loss in which Russell Westbrook picked up a triple double in 20 minutes and Kevin Durant scored 42 points without playing in the fourth quarter.
Yeah, it's that bad.
But, unlike the dumpster fire Knicks, Philadelphia's horrid season is part of a plan. Their losing streak has propelled them from fifth in the lottery standings to second, and now they've moved within two games of Milwaukee for the top tank spot. They've dumped any player that they don't view as part of their long term future (specifically Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes), even if they weren't getting much back in return (a combined three second round picks and no NBA talent). They also had discussions about dealing Thaddeus Young but couldn't work anything out. If they had succeeded, they would be down to one viable NBA player on their roster in rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams.
The goal? Completely bottom out and build around Carter-Williams, injured rookie big man Nerlens Noel, their own lottery pick, and a potential lottery pick from New Orleans (they own the Pelicans' pick, top five protected, which is currently projected to be ninth) while completely stripping their team of every other asset. Young is the lone holdover for now, but look for them to try very hard to move him again this summer (he has 2 years, $18 million remaining on his deal).
If the Sixers can grab a top-three pick and another pick in the top-ten, they'll suddenly have four nice pieces on their rookie deals with a ton of cap space at their disposal.
Which leads me to this question: should Celtics fans be jealous of Philly's situation?
Before we get to an answer, I think we should analyze each team's assets going forward. Let's break it down section by section.
Current NBA talent:
Boston has an absolute advantage when it comes to talent on their NBA roster at the moment, with Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk all being assets of varying values. This is compared to the Sixers who legitimately have two NBA quality guys on their team in Carter-Williams and Young, and a third currently rehabbing from a torn ACL (Noel).
While the Celtics group isn't staggering, it's miles ahead of the MCW (who's numbers are amazingly inflated because of a ridiculous usage rate), Young, Noel trio.
2014 Draft Picks:
Both the Celts and Sixers have two first round picks in this year's draft, but Philly's are likely going to be significantly better than Boston's, as they're currently projected to pick second and ninth, while the Celtics would pick fourth and 17th. Thanks to their trades, the Sixers have almost no shot of falling below second in the lottery standings, and a legitimate shot at finishing first. Boston on the other hand will need to fight off four other teams just to maintain their current position.
And while the Sixers could end up losing their Pelicans pick if New Orleans finds themselves in the top five, that only has a 6.1% chance of happening at the moment, leaving Philadelphia in great shape to land one pick in the 1-5 range, and another in the 6-10 range.
Future Draft Picks:
While the Sixers are in great shape for June, they've already traded every asset except Young (who they would have moved for a first round pick), and yet have not been able to pick up an additional first round pick in any year after 2014. The also owe protected first round picks to both the Celtics (in 2015 if they make the playoffs) and Magic (2017 or 2018, top-eight protected), meaning they could actually end up with even fewer first round picks going forward.
Obviously the Celtics are looking a lot better in this category, with two first round picks in 2015 (could be three if by some miracle the Sixers make the playoffs next season), two in 2016, one in 2017 (but the option to switch with the Nets), and two in 2018. That gives the Celtics a 9-6 advantage over the next five seasons, giving them a better shot of pulling off a trade for a star.
Advantage:Boston Cap Space: The Sixers have so much cap space that it's going to be a real challenge to reach the NBA's salary cap floor come 2014-15. Philly has only $26.9 million on their 2014-15 books for eight players, just about $30 million shy of the floor. Throw in $5 million for their top draft pick, $3 million for the Pelicans' pick, and $500,000 for each of their four second round picks (yes, four second round picks), and Philly has 14 players under contract for a total of $39 million.
Now, this makes them dangerous. The Sixers could take on over $20 million in salary without reaching the cap, opening the door for them to make a trade for a huge expiring contract. Maybe the Knicks trade them Tim HardawayJr. and their 2018 first if they'll take on Amar'e. Or maybe the Rockets ship Jeremy Lin to Philly to avoid paying him $15 million next season. It's tough to predict exactly who it will be, but we saw the Jazz grab two first round picks from the Warriors last season in exchange for taking on $20 million worth of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson. Look for Philly to do something similar during the summer.
The Celtics on the other hand will be right up against the cap next season once they pay their two first round picks (and a little over if they also re-sign Avery Bradley). Boston could possibly deal Brandon Bass or Jeff Green to create more space, but as we saw at the deadline, that's not exactly guaranteed.
The Cs do find themselves with a good amount of cap room in 2015, but if they decide to re-sign Rondo, that will eat up most of it (Dealing Green (or having him opt-out) or Gerald Wallace would create enough space to make another big move)). Philadelphia on the other hand is staring down $30+ million in space even after accounting for their picks in 2014/2015 and picking up their options on MCW and Noel.
Advantage:Philadelphia Bottom line: This is kind of a confusing answer, but I'd rather have the Celtics situation, despite the fact that Philly is in great shape for a "total rebuild".
Philly is the blueprint for a total rebuild, and I do give their GM Sam Hinkie credit for coming up with and now following a clear plan. They have no bad contracts (Young isn't a great deal, but he's not a bad one either) and by next season they'll have four, top-ten picks in either the first or second year of their rookie deal. They also have enough cap space to not only make them players for a major free agent (likely in 2015), but also to possibly take on an expiring deal for an asset this summer.
However, the Celtics have a star in his prime, opening the door for them to do more things. They could keep Rondo and pull off a mega-deal for a star like Kevin Love to pair with him. Or they could deal Rondo for a lottery pick and a good young player (much like Philly did with Jrue Holiday last season), and suddenly find themselves in a ridiculous position when it comes to future assets.
I like the flexibility that Rondo offers, and I like that Ainge has multiple avenues to explore making the team better. Now the pressure is on him to do just that this summer, but I like his chances. Meanwhile, the Sixers could be a really good young team come 2016, but they'll need to nail multiple picks and have Carter-Williams and Noel blossom for that to happen.
Ok, time for a poll. Who do you think is in better shape going forward, Boston or Philly?