By Ray Boyd
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- There are two terms that have become synonymous with the Sixers since the Sam Hinkie era began. Those terms are rebuilding and tanking.
Most supporters of the team have had their fill of those two words and many are wondering when will the ascension towards relevancy begin. The Sixers naysayers who dispute the logic in the current plan often use the term "tanking" to ridicule the team, but don't often offer up any real substance to dispute the signs of and opportunities for improvement.
For those that choose to blindly dispute, the fact is, winning could very well matter to the Sixers as early as next season.
While it is easy to poke fun at the record, the Sixers are undeniably in prime position to make an incredibly quick leap toward relevancy in all facets of team building.
They have a young core (23.4 was the average age entering the season which was the youngest in the NBA) that is improving on a game to game basis. They have cap flexibility which will allow them to be players for free agents. They have multiple first round draft selections in the 2015 NBA draft and they have actual assets that could assists in trades for highly talented players.
Typically these things are not acknowledged by those who oppose the plan.
The first step is clearly the draft. The Sixers have emphasized the draft more than any other means of talent acquisition over the last two seasons. The Sixers own their own pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and have the rights to the Heat's first round pick which is Top-10 protected.
For the sake of discussion, let's say the Sixers wind up with the second or third overall pick which is the range they are currently positioned in the lottery based on projections, and they get a pick just outside the top ten.
Two prospects worth keeping an eye on in those areas would be D'Angelo Russell from Ohio State and Montrezl Harrell out of Louisville. It's too early to say what players the Sixers are targeting where in the draft, but these would be two potential prospects that you could find roles for right away.
Russell is becoming one of the hottest commodities in the NBA Draft. Whether or not he ascends to the point of challenging Jahlil Okafor to become the top pick remains to be seen, but Russell is showing scouts that he has the ability to not only create his own shot, but also facilitate and get his teammates involved.
The smooth lefty from Ohio State is averaging 19.1 points per game, 5.5 assists and 5.8 rebounds. At 6'5" he could play either guard spot and could form a dynamic back-court alongside Michael Carter Williams. He would also add another shooter to the mix as he is knocking down three-pointers at a 43 percent clip.
Harrell is pure energy on the floor. The Junior power forward is the heartbeat of Louisville. He is averaging 15.4 points per game and 9.3 rebounds. Harrell is still raw offensively, but his length and athleticism make him perfect for what the Sixers are building.
The Sixers will also have four selections in the second round and evident by last year's draft, the Sixers can find some gems in the second round. Exhibit A: K.J. McDaniels. Exhibit B: Jerami Grant.
So what could the rotation look like next season with those type of additions?
PG: Carter Williams, Tony Wroten
SG: Russell, McDaniels, Hollis Thompson
SF: Robert Covington, Jordan McRae (Sixers prospect who is asserting himself in the NBL in Australia), Grant
PF: Nerlens Noel, Harrell, Furkan Aldemir
C: Joel Embiid, Henry Sims
That is simply a rough draw-up of what the Sixers could look like in 2015-16 and that's without the addition of any potential second round finds and more importantly, free agents.
The Sixers have been quiet in free agency the last few seasons. The team has found ways to fill out the roster with D-League call-ups and cast-offs from other teams as opposed to paying for NBA veterans in free agency.
This could be the off-season where the Sixers start making some calls. Three free agents stand out. They might all be long shots, but few teams are in a position quite like the Sixers are in.
Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green are all restricted free agents this upcoming off-season. More than likely, these young pieces will all return to their respective teams, but each is in a position where their team might hesitate to throw max money their way.
The Sixers could put the pressure on if they wanted in the form of a max offer sheet that teams may balk at matching. Leonard and Butler in particular are budding stars in this league and getting them just before their rise could prove to be the key to contention for any building team.
Green has become revered as one of the more vital glue guys in the NBA and a key piece to why the Warriors are thinking title this season.
If you really want to have some fun fantasizing about the Sixers' years ahead, you can take a peak at the 2016 free agent crop. That class includes restricted free agents like Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard and the prize of the off-season, unrestricted free agent Kevin Durant.
Names like that are all the more reason why winning next season will be a priority. You will have to show those type of free agents that you actually are on the cusp of contention, because if they aren't making a triumphant return to their hometown to right a past wrong, they more than likely aren't coming to a sub-20 win team.
Beside needing to win in 2015-16, the Sixers will more than likely field a team that is fully capable of doing so. The team has made obvious defensive strides this season and they will only improve on that end as they get wiser and more disciplined.
Hang in there Sixers supporters. Despite what the naysayers say (and fail to substantiate), the wins are coming.
An by the way, Dario Saric in 2016 also.
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