Sixers Are Star Developing, Not Hunting


Coming off of 52 wins and a playoff series win, the Sixers headed into the draft with a lottery pick, another first, more second round picks than anyone would ever need, and a lot of money and assets to improve and take the team to the next level. The Celtics exposed the Sixers lack of wing defense, and Philadelphia knew they needed to improve.

“We are star hunting,” Brett Brown boldly declared going into the offseason.

So what happened?

Bryan Colangelo embarrassingly got caught with his wife’s fingers in the proverbial cookie jar. GM, gone! He still has yet to be replaced. The Sixers traded down and drafted Zhaire Smith, an athletic wing who could presumably guard a player like Jayson Tatum. He is now hurt and may miss the season–a Sixers tradition. Landry Shamet, a combo guard from Wichita State was selected, got hurt in summer league, but looks like he has upside to contribute off the bench.

LeBron James is a Laker. Paul George stayed in OKC. Kawhi Leonard was traded to Toronto. Stars are off the table.

Free Agency

The Sixers retained J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson on much more reasonable contracts, and acquired Wilson Chandler from Denver, who absolutely will help their defense. Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova took decent money to go elsewhere to the Spurs and Bucks respectively. The Sixers smartly did not match those contracts. Those two provided instant offense off the bench and will be missed, but they were both limited and exposed in the playoffs. That’s ok.. the Sixers had agreed to sign scorer Nemanja Bjelica from Minnesota. That will help.

Nope. He said he was going back to Europe, and then decided to take a significant pay raise in Sacramento. So now what…

Clearly the offseason is not what fans expected. There are no stars coming in. There isn’t really anybody new coming in aside from Chandler, who is a nice addition, but it’s not like teenagers are lining up for his jersey. So is the offseason a disappointment? On paper it certainly is. Here’s why it is not.

The other part about Brett Brown’s proclamation about “Star Hunting” was that the Sixers are also “Star Developing.” The player with the biggest upside, in terms of flat out improvement of any Sixer is Markelle Fultz. Fultz, if you recall, had the most famous case of the yips that anyone has had since Steve Sax and Chuck Knobloch. Fultz is the player that the Sixers traded for what turned out to be the rights to Jayson Tatum, and a very valuable asset in Sacramento’s pick next year to Boston. Let’s remember, Fultz was the consensus number one pick. The Sixers were not the only team that thought so.

Fultz has been working all summer with shooting guru Drew Hanlen, who basically rebuilt his shot. Hanlen is bullish on his star pupil.

“To be honest with you, before I started working with him, I knew he was really special.,” said Hanlen. “When I got him in the gym, he’s actually better than I thought he was at basketball.”

Hanlen boldly tweeted that Sixers fans should be excited about Fultz this year.

So let’s get back to what 2018-19 looks like in Philadelphia. Joel Embiid is working on not turning the ball over in the double-team, and has had his first healthy offseason. Ben Simmons, the Rookie-of-the-year, is not publicly doing anything, except dating the (arguably) best looking Kardashian. However, he’s working on his mid-range jumper. Dario Saric has not reached his ceiling. Robert Covington was an NBA all-defense first teamer last year, and hopefully is learning how to finish on the break. If those things happen, and you get the Fultz you expect, the Sixers are a better team than 2017-18. The still have a mid-level exception they can use now or at the trade deadline, as well as having kept the assets for an even greater free agent class next year.

It was a difficult decision that temporary GM Brett Brown had to make this year. Do you try and get marginally better this year, and sacrifice some of the future? Remember, the Sixers had a lot of money and signed Elton Brand to a huge contract because he was available, and that hamstrung them for several years? They didn’t do that. It will be looked back as a smart decision.

The star hunting is put on hold. The star developing is the hope. Business people will tell you hope is not a strategy. However, hope might just have to be the next part of the process.

About Mike Small

Married for 23 years, and a father of four. Currently a Pharmaceutical Sales Leader, and contributor for TLSportsMedia, covering the Philadelphia 76ers and other relevant NBA topics. Previously worked as a television sports anchor in Eastern North Carolina, radio talk show host in Charlotte, North Carolina. Also served as the producer of "The Dean Smith Show", a weekly television show on The University of North Carolina basketball team, and "The Mack Brown Show", a weekly television show on the UNC football team-while doing all of the player features. Wrote a weekly column and articles for Carolina Blue Newspaper. Was also a contributor to, "A Season of Dreams", a book on the 1993 National Champion North Carolina Basketball Team.

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