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Sixers Mailbag Vol. 27 - Which Team Can Compete For A Conference Title?

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This week's mailbag includes my thoughts on the Eastern Conference, Jahlil Okafor, and my growing confidence in Jerami Grant.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Another week's end, another Sixers mailbag. As always, you can catch up on all previous mailbags right here. Let's get into the questions.

LB Commenter Carlo69: Which team amongst Philadelphia, Boston, Milwaukee, New York and Orlando do you see as the closest to becoming an Eastern Conference title contender? And how do you rank them in that regard?

So, obviously the Milwaukee Bucks are the closest to thing to a legitimate title contender out of this group. They've done a really good job of assembling a decent roster without feeling like they had to stretch out the "tanking" for multiple seasons at a time. The Bucks have the fourth youngest core in the league, their wing players are long and talented, and they've just added Greg Monroe. Milwaukee's definitely a dark horse to win the Eastern Conference, but that's a lot more than you can say for the other four teams mentioned.

I think the Boston Celtics are a roster entirely comprised of very average basketball players, waiting for one or two to take the leap into superstardom that likely will never come. With that said, it's really hard to argue the Sixers are in a better place right now (those two words are key) than Boston is. Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and Marcus Smart are all solid players, and I'm a big fan of Brad Stevens. The bottom of the Eastern Conference has gotten tougher, but I can't see the Celtics missing the playoffs over the next few years. Technically speaking, that would make them a conference title contender.

After Boston, I would take Philadelphia. I really think this team is going to surprise a lot of people with their skill and chemistry, and they're still missing a lot of pieces. It's not out of the question to think they'd be in line for a low playoff spot in 2016-17. Between Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, and the four first-round picks they're expected to collect next season, that's too much expected talent on one team not to make some noise. It'll definitely take at least a year or two to figure out which pieces fit where, and there is an off chance they strike out on these guys, so I don't think legitimate contention for a conference title is feasible until at least 2018-19 at the very, very earliest.

I feel like Orlando is headed on a path to where Boston is now. They've got some decent players, but not sure if anyone there now can really get them to the over the top. My opinion may change if Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon put together nice regular season campaigns.

New York is last. They've been the 2012 Phillies for about two seasons now. Break it down. Start all over.

James W. via email: Can the Sixers get some kind of player exception for Embiid so they can add an additional player to the overfilled roster since he is projected to be out all year?

The simple answer is no. There is such a thing as the Disabled Players Exception, but that only applies to team that are over the salary cap. Philadelphia isn't going to get there anytime soon.

However, there is another CBA provision they could use if they're that crazed for having an extra roster spot. With special permission from the league, the Sixers can place four guys on the Inactive List, which would allow them to add a 16th man to their roster. The rule does state those four players would have to miss at least three games before the team can be granted that extra roster spot. Joel Embiid, Carl Landry, Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten could all feasibly be on that list, but it's a 50-50 shot that the latter two miss any time at all.

I highly doubt the Sixers carry 16 guys at any point.

PhillySports_4: Who will be on the team next year out of Dario Saric, Hollis Thompson, JaKarr Sampson, and Tony Wroten?

Saric's ability to be on the Sixers really seems like its up to him, and all indications are that he wants to be in Philadelphia. I think another solid three-point shooting season would definitely solidify Hollis Thompson as a piece of the Sixers core going forward. I would really like for him to become more than just a deep threat, but in today's NBA, you're a pretty sought after guy if you can be a three-point specialist.

This is a really big season for both Sampson and Wroten, where they need to show they've got to show they're more than just bundles of raw talent. Wroten has got to improve both his ball handling and his passing, on top of being able to stay healthy. I like the progression I've seen from Sampson, especially on defense, but he's got to become a much more consistent shooter.

At this stage, I'd be much more inclined to keep Sampson than Wroten. Wroten has maxed out his potential in my eyes, while I think Sampson could still improve a ton.

The numbers game could honestly catch up to them both. Philadelphia has a ton of point guards as it is, and will certainly be looking to add more through the draft next year. I imagine they're not complacent with their wings, meaning Saric likely won't be the only new small forward on the team.

But if I had to choose to get rid of one, my money would be on Wroten.

@jyorg: Will early season comfort/success when Nerlens Noel is at the five put pressure on Brett Brown to move Jahlil Okafor? Especially on defense.

The only other place you could put Jahlil if he isn't at the five is on the bench. In no galaxy will Okafor be able to guard NBA power forwards, even if it means there's somebody better guarding the rim. The Sixers knew once they drafted him that his offensive potential outweighs the problems that come with his defense, but luckily they have this season to try and work out some of his kinks.

Nerlens Noel will definitely see time at the five when Okafor is on the bench, but there's no shot of that happening when they're on the court together. I think what eventually happens is that Philadelphia finds a true floor spacer to put next to Okafor, and bring Noel off the bench to play the five.

@humkae: Why are people bullish on Jerami Grant? He completely tailed off by the end of last season.

Coming from the guy who was pretty upset when they picked him, I was satisfied with how he played last season.  His three-point shooting was below average, but far beyond what I thought he was capable of, considering he took a total of 20 three's at Syracuse. He looked really comfortable taking the ball off the dribble, and I think there's a legitimate shot he could be a wing player in the NBA.

On the defensive side, he did a really good job of adjusting from playing zone to man, and his help defense was phenomenal. Averaging a block a game like he did his rookie season is no joke.

While his play did taper off come April, there aren't too many rookies these days who play at a high level all season long. The grind of the NBA season is completely different than college, and playing at a school that doesn't mirror anything close to pro ball can make that even more difficult.

There was a lot to be happy about with Grant last season. I expect that to translate to a solid sophomore campaign.

Thanks for reading. As always, you can send me questions on Twitter @JakePavorsky, or email me at jake.pavorsky@gmail.com.