When Sam Hinkie and the Sixers new regime took over in the summer of 2013, they preached two things: patience and a plan. Those two ideals resulted in the creation of the "five year plan", the Sixers blueprint for title contention by 2018. Naturally when a timeline thats specific gets thrown around, success becomes measured only in relation to that period. If the plan strays too long, it begins to look like an abject failure. That may be unfair, but some can only wait so long before they get antsy.
Granted, the Sixers still have plenty of time; June 27 marks just two full years since they traded Jrue Holiday and embarked down this path. But as the organization heads towards arguably their most important summer, now is as good of a time as ever to evaluate just how long it might take the Sixers to become a contender.
Pinpointing year X as the time when Philadelphia will compete is pretty difficult, based off the team's roster building philosophy where the draft is the top priority. They're in line for six first round picks over the next three years (including their own), so the front office certainly will have it's fair share of chances to get things right. One of the issues is that half of those picks have no bearing on the Sixers performance.
The protections on the first rounders courtesy of Los Angeles, Miami, and Oklahoma have already complicated the 2015 NBA draft, as it's unlikely any of those will convey this year. It's the type of scenario that really hurts team building, and there are no guarantees that the picks next year will be high enough to select an impact player.
Once they can get players in Philadelphia, it's imperative the front office made the right choices for a multitude of reasons.The sooner they hit on a player, the easier it will be to develop their core. With his impressive statistical season across the board, Nerlens Noel showed he has the potential part of the nucleus. Obviously there is still room for improvement in Noel's game, and the Sixers will look for him to take some more positive steps next year.
But until the team establishes positions of dominance, they will continue to draft the best player available, regardless of position. That could include Duke's Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky's Karl Towns, if they're still available when the Sixers pick rolls around. That would obviously create a logjam in the front court with Noel and Joel Embiid, but it would be short-sighted to select a player just to fill an area of need.
Frankly, the Sixers have needs at every position until proven otherwise. While it's reasonable to expect big things from Joel Embiid, it would be irrational to build the team like he's already a game changer, and completely ignore selecting a player at the same position. The fear of reoccurring injuries is still real, and there is always the chance his career is simply a flop.
The Sixers main concern should and will be stockpiling the best talent through the draft, and worrying about possible fit later. But this process takes time, which is why nailing these picks now is crucial. If they strike out, it's essentially back to square one. Trading Michael Carter-Williams may not have set them team back another year, but it's still hole that will need to be addressed again at some point, and likely through the draft.
While scheming about how the Sixers can use their cap space to lure names like Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler to speed up the process is nice, it isn't possible without the right pieces in place. That's how you end up spending $82 million on Elton Brand and max out as an average Eastern Conference team. Overpaying for Danny Green now isn't going to help you win in three years, but rather handcuff you to money that could be better used down the line.
Philadelphia will not spend money on free agents -- stars or complimentary pieces alike -- until they've amassed enough impactful, young talent.
Which brings us back to the timeline. If Dario Saric were to come over in 2016-17, that would likely be the year Philadelphia would start its climb to the top of the Eastern Conference. Saric is certainly viewed as part of the team's potential core, and likely wouldn't make any drastic moves before they have him in the fold. That would also give Philadelphia enough time to evaluate their in-house talent, and figure out the holes that could be plugged by means outside the draft. Once they've accomplished that, saving cap space by stocking up on rookie deals and other minimum salary bargains becomes helpful.
Will Philadelphia be a title contender by the time 2018 comes, as planned by the organization's higher ups? Nobody can know for sure, but their ascent to the top seems to still be on schedule.