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No Longer Part Of The Process: Checking In With Ex-Sixers During Summer League

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The Sixers unprecedented roster turnover, especially at the bottom of the team's depth chart, means that you can find a lot of ex-Sixers playing prominent roles with other Las Vegas teams.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Sitting through four summer league games, spanning eight hours, can be kind of a drag. Summer league basketball is not pretty - the players aren't as talented, teams aren't as coherent, and more often than not you think of the grim reality that most of the players you'll see, despite being talented basketball players, will never get a chance to play in a regulation NBA game. Such is the environment that, for a 76ers fan, breeds familiarity.

The Sixers, as part of their unprecedented tear-down and rebuilding effort, have cycled through 59 roster players, including anyone on the roster during a season but not during the summer, free agency, or training camp. As the current roster holds just 13 players, most of the guys who have been Sixers over the past two years are in other places. And because most of those guys are young players, they tend to pop back up during summer league, hoping another team gives them a chance.

Some look to be making the most of theirs. Larry Drew II finished yesterday's Pelicans game with 16 assists, second most all-time at the LVSL. He didn't perform well on a couple of Sixers 10-days, but as the only functional point guard on a barren roster, Drew's performance as a Sixer should only bear so much weight. Same with his teammate, Jarvis Varnado, who performed well as a bench big towards the end of 2013-14 before getting injured and, soon after recovery, getting released.

Glenn Robinson III is throwing down 360 dunks for the Hawks. James Anderson came back to the United States after spending a season overseas and is one of the best players in Vegas. Lorenzo Brown's creating a new freeway, signed to a contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves at the end of last season as a full-fledged roster member.

Former cult favorite Brandon Davies, loved for all the wrong reasons, still looks the part and works hard as a member of the San Antonio Spurs summer roster, and still fails somewhat hilariously at basketball. Drew Gordon caught on with the Miami Heat. James Nunnally (remember him?) is shooting threes for Indiana. There's a lot of "oh yeah, him!" going on here.

And then there's Portland. The Trail Blazers decided to load up on former Sixers, featuring three starters including roster member and former short-term Sixers starting point guard Tim Frazier along with Malcolm Thomas and Daniel Orton. For good measure, they also bring Arnett Moultrie off the bench for some reason. The Portland roster is a good summer league roster, but given Portland's big situation it's hard to envision a scenario where more than one of the bigs gets invited to their training camp.

Nearly all the guys mentioned above have discernible NBA talent and ability right now. The problem for these guys is that he NBA talent pool is incredibly deep at the bottoms of rosters. Think about it like an exponential decay curve. The top of the league is significantly more valuable than the bottom of the league, exponentially so. As you get to the bottom of the league, and the potential players who can take up the final roster spots, there's smaller and smaller differences between them.

Most of the Sixers' castoffs are in that talent pool, and that's why they weren't retained. Part of the strategy the Sixers have undertaken involves giving as many players a chance to move up the NBA ladder from the morass of the back-end roster players to rotation pieces. Robert Covington, for instance, seemingly made that leap last season. Because the Sixers signed him to a slightly more expensive version of the so-called Hinkie special, a multi-year deal with multiple non-guaranteed or team option seasons, the Sixers reap the benefits of Covington's progression both on-court and on the books.

When players don't show that progress, they get released. It's cold and cruel, but it is brilliant from a team-building perspective, and for the players they do get a shot at living a dream. But they don't necessarily reap the financial rewards of outperforming expectations.

However, just because a player does not perform well enough to be retained in Philadelphia does not mean he's not an NBA player, or doesn't have a chance of making a leap forward. The skills that got the players signed, whether out of college or the D-League or internationally, are the same skills that give hope to them - for their sake, you just hope the skills translate better to the NBA a second time around or that they're needed on a specific roster. And you hope that, instead of offering contracts to veterans who've worn out their welcomes, teams start to go all-in on young players for their bench roles so more of these guys get chances.

Take the Utah Jazz, for instance. Instead of filling out the back-end of the roster with veterans, they've added relative youngsters like Elijah Millsap, Bryce Cotton, and 2014 76ers Opening Night Starter Chris Johnson when needs have arisen. Playing in a system with more talented players, Millsap made a mark with his defense, Cotton with his scoring from the point guard spot, and Johnson with his shooting. As end of the bench guys, all can contribute in a pinch.

Unlike the Jazz, the Sixers are still adding key pieces to their core. The Sixers want to use those roster spots to find those pieces. And as that happens, you'll see more versions of the Brandon Davies/Chris Johnson/Lorenzo Brown types cycle through as the Sixers hope to find more Robert Covingtons. When summer league comes around, that doesn't mean those guys aren't valuable or aren't NBA players. They're just no longer part of the Process because they couldn't move up the ladder. Summer league gives them an opportunity to grab a camp invite, or an international contract, to keep honing their skills and hopefully catch on again.