The Celtics’ saving grace — or their biggest problem, depending on how one looks at it — is that for all their roster juggling this offseason, they might not even finish in the bottom third of their own division this season.
The Raptors are as bad as ever, and while trading away Andrea Bargnani may be this year’s second-biggest case of addition by subtraction, they are still saddled with the No. 1 case in Rudy Gay. Down I-95, the Philadelphia 76ers are going to be bad, and they have embraced it. They will be lucky to win 30 games with a squad that could consist of hearty helpings of Jason Richardson, Lavoy Allen and Kwame Brown — and that’s if most things go right.
However bad the Sixers figure to be, though, they will at least be interesting. They accomplished that by stockpiling some of the summer’s most intriguing reclamation projects, assuring diehard fans will have reason to stay updated on not just the big club, but the D-League affiliate as well. Sheer curiosity will prevent anyone from looking away for too long.
Last week’s acquisition of Reeves Nelson via the D-League expansion draft was the latest example of the Sixers’ shrug-and-jump-in rebuilding plan. Added to the draft-day deal for Nerlens Noel and the July trade for Royce White, as well as the longshot hope that Evan Turner will finally fulfill his potential, Nelson’s addition proves that no leap of faith is too daunting for the Sixers.
In a world of once-touted high school players who fizzled out before logging a minute in the NBA, Nelson manages to stand out. He was dismissed from UCLA’s program as a junior in 2011, but not because of trouble with the law or drugs. According to several reports, he was just an irredeemable jerk, and coach Ben Howland got sick of him. Worst of all, Nelson wasn’t a particularly good basketball-playing jerk, either. He played a couple of D-League games for the Lakers’ affiliate, went to play in Lithuania and got booted from there, too. At 21 years old, he is already running out of chances to make an impact in the NBA, and this shot with the Delaware 87ers might well be his last shot.
Of course, simply behaving himself won’t be enough for Nelson to stick with Philly. He also has to prove he can play. Noel and White, by contrast, face no such questions about their playing ability, and that almost makes them trickier cases for the Sixers.
Noel could be a defensive game-changer if he recovers well from knee surgery, which was a career-altering procedure just 10 years ago. White captivates scouts with his ballhandling and court vision at the forward spot, but complications related to his anxiety disorder kept him from ever taking the court as a rookie with the Rockets and ended with a messy series of conflicting written statements between his representatives and the team. Keeping them around is not as risk-free as a D-League flier on Nelson or anybody else. The Sixers have made a significant investment in Noel and a smaller one in White — roughly $14.5 million over five years and an All-Star point guard in Jrue Holiday for Noel, plus about $6.2 million for White if they exercise every option remaining on his deal.
In a vacuum, Nelson’s addition therefore would not be noteworthy. If he suddenly grows up and makes the roster this season, it would be a nice story, but not one that anyone is counting on. But given the big gambles the Sixers have already taken, their decision to take a chance, however small, on Nelson in the D-League expansion draft raised an eyebrow. New general manager Sam Hinkie‘s rebuilding plan thus far has been simple to figure out: If it lives, breathes and can bounce a basketball, get it to sign on the dotted line and see what happens.
It’s not exactly “Here goes nothing.” It will be “something,” but what kind of “something” it will be is anyone’s guess.