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September 16, 2015

No. 1 with a bullet: Previewing the potential Sixers picks

As a grizzled veteran of Sixers Twitter, I’m fully confident in saying that very few people on my timeline are dispassionate. Never is this more apparent than down the stretch of the season, when people are live tweeting a random Miami-Detroit game in caps lock because two-time NBA champion Erik Spoelstra can’t figure out how to slow down Reggie F@&^!%& Jackson for the life of him.

Look at what you’ve done, Hinkie. This is what protected first-round picks do to sane people.

The Sixers whiffed on all of the Lakers, Heat and Thunder picks in 2014-15, which means we get to run it back this year. Sam Hinkie wasn’t satisfied with just three protected first rounders to go with his own, so he acquired a couple of pick swaps in the offseason, one of which could potentially turn into the crown jewel of his busy transaction history. The Sixers general manager is sort of like Grama and KGB in Rounders in the way he keeps buying up other people’s debt (JaVale is Worm, in this case).

Outside of their own selection, the Sixers have a vested interest in the fate of five other teams this upcoming season. Five! Training camp is drawing closer and closer, but we’re not quite there yet. So I figured we would kill some time by reviewing the pick protections/swaps and their odds of conveying this season. Let’s go in reverse order in terms of importance.

5. Golden State Warriors

What is it? In 2016 (and only in 2016), the Sixers can swap the worse of the Miami and Oklahoma City picks with Golden State’s first rounder.

The skinny: As we saw last season when they won 67 games and cruised to a title, the Dubs are a juggernaut. Even scarier is that they managed to bring everyone important back from said juggernaut to defend the title. What the Sixers might be betting on here is health. Don’t forget that Steph Curry’s ankles are the reason he is only making $11 million per year. Everyone knows about Andrew Bogut’s injury history. Finals MVP and all, Andre Iguodala is getting up there in age as well. Even if only a couple of guys go down, the West can be pretty brutal when you’re playing shorthanded.

Just ask Oklahoma City. If the Thunder can put together a relatively healthy season, they will return to among the league’s elite. KD and Russ are too good for that not to happen.

The verdict: Even if the Dubs deal with some injuries and Thunder recapture their old magic, the upside is something like swapping 30 for 25. I think Golden State is going to repeat as champs, which would mean that nothing happens here.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

What is it? If the Thunder’s selection falls outside of the Top-15 (if they make the playoffs, essentially), the Sixers receive the pick. Same goes for 2017 if Oklahoma City is back in the lottery this year. After that, the pick would turn into a couple of second-rounders.

The skinny: Billy Donovan has the chance to be a major upgrade over Scott Brooks, but this one all boils down to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s health. Durant can leave after this season, you know, and the pressure is on in OKC. Todd Wright is undoubtedly giving Sam Presti nightmares every night!

The verdict: The Sixers are going to get this pick, but it won’t be very high. I imagine that the Thunder finish somewhere in the 25-28 range.

3. Miami Heat

What is it? Top-10 protected for one more year, and then it becomes completely unprotected.

The skinny: We all remember the magic that was Game 82. Oh, what a night. The Sixers won the battle (by losing), but they lost the war and Miami scooped up Justise Winslow with the 10th pick that they were able to keep. After Pat Riley retooled well in the offseason, the Heat should have their full complement of players for the whole season (which in Wade’s case is a maximum of 45 games, but still).

The verdict: In all likelihood, Sixers missed their best chance last year. I’m not very high on this Heat team and their long-term prospects, but they should easily be good enough to make the playoffs in the East. Dragic-Wade-Deng-Bosh-Whiteside sounds like an excellent starting five on paper. Let’s pencil them in somewhere between 20 and 23.

1. Los Angeles Lakers
1A. Sacramento Kings

What are they? The Lakers pick is protected 1-3 for the next two seasons and then completely unprotected after that. If Sacramento finishes somewhere in the NBA’s bottom ten teams, the Sixers can swap picks with them. Yes, that means the number one overall pick is fair game. The same is true for next year, and just for kicks, the Kings also threw in a Top-10 protected first-round pick in 2018 (that becomes unprotected in 2019).

Here was my real-time reaction to the trade:

The skinny: The Lakers lucked out last year and ended up taking D’Angelo Russell, but that protection didn’t go anywhere. In fact, it only got smaller. That isn’t good news, because they struck out in free agency and were the subject of the funniest moment of the summer:

As for the Kings, they used all of the cap space that they paid a premium for to sign… Marco Belinelli, Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos, and Omri Casspi.

The verdict: Gotta go with NBA history on this one: The Lakers finish with the second-worst record in the league and are lucky enough to pick third in the draft. The Kings eventually end up with the sixth-worst record and jump to second in the lottery. Of course, the Sixers swoop in and make that selection.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann