The Philadelphia 76ers are the most interesting team in the NBA this offseason. There is a real chance that, after four years of acquiring assets, losing games and inspiring arguments, they are ready to take the much-anticipated Next Step. Philadelphia is flush with cash and young talent, and its 28-win 2016-17 season wasn't nearly as painful as the three that came before it. There was even a magical month where the 76ers, led by a healthy and phenomenal Joel Embiid, looked legitimately good. They want to build on this, and they plan to be players in free agency. 

There is also a possibility that the Sixers will not have the opportunity to hit any home runs just yet. They can swing for the fences, sure, but they can't force a difference-making free agent to take their money. Regardless, this feels markedly different than the previous few summers. Philadelphia has an exciting, young team right now, and no one knows exactly what it will look like in a couple of months. Here are four reasons why this team is worth watching: 

Real uncertainty on draft night

If the Sixers had wound up with the No. 1 pick, there wouldn't be much mystery here. They're looking for a franchise point guard, and Markelle Fultz fits the bill. If they got the No. 2 pick, then the obvious choice would be Lonzo Ball. After those two guards, though, there is little consensus about who is the best player available. 

Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum are high-upside small forwards who might be able to play the 4 if they put on some weight. Jackson fits how Philadelphia likes to play because of his passing, athleticism and defense, but there are serious questions about his jump shot. Tatum would give the Sixers a skilled scorer next to Embiid and Ben Simmons, but it's unclear if he'll be a consistent defender, passer or floor spacer. Reasonable people disagree about who is the better prospect, and there are a couple of guards from Kentucky who could complicate Philly's decision.

De'Aaron Fox will all but certainly be available for the Sixers, and it's hard not to love his game. Point guards with his combination of speed and size don't come around too often. He is an inconsistent shooter, though, and that would make him an awkward fit alongside Simmons, who is expected to be Philadelphia's primary play-maker. Malik Monk, Fox's college teammate, could hardly be a better fit -- he is an accurate jump shooter, an explosive athlete and has the potential to transition from a shooting guard in college to a pick-and-roll point guard in the NBA. Monk might be seen as a reach at No. 3, however.

Beyond all that, president Bryan Colangelo and his front office have four second-round picks (Nos. 36, 39, 46 and 50) to play with on June 22. The Sixers obviously don't need to add that many rookies, so there will be trades and/or draft-and-stash selections. 

Free agency actually matters now

Philly famously sat out free agency in the inspiring Sam Hinkie era, but it's clear that Colangelo is going to at least try to use it. Last year, he signed veterans Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez while driving up the San Antonio Spurs' price for Manu Ginobili. This time, the Sixers could conceivably chase just about anybody. 

Their obvious needs are point guard and shooting. They have already been linked to star point guard Kyle Lowry and sharpshooter JJ Redick, and it's easy to speculate about them going after Patty Mills due to his connection to coach Brett Brown with the Spurs and the Australian national team. ESPN's Zach Lowe reported in January that Philadelphia would take a "hard look" at bringing back Jrue Holiday, though the New Orleans Pelicans have made it known that they intend to re-sign him. 

Realistically, the Sixers probably won't get a franchise player like Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin. Even Lowry feels like a long shot, and signing the 31-year-old would require a major financial commitment -- his four-year maximum contract in Philly would be worth more than $150 million. But let's think about how well George Hill would fit with this team. What about Otto Porter, if the Washington Wizards aren't willing to give him the max? Is it completely crazy to think Paul Millsap would consider the Sixers now? How much money would they have to throw at Andre Iguodala to make him consider returning?

The key thing here is that Philadelphia can cast a wide net. It can try to add someone like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to its core, and it can try to add someone like Joe Ingles to hold the starting lineup together with his shooting, defense and passing. These are all still just possibilities, but hey, they're no longer fantasies. 

The trade market could be interesting

The Sixers aren't under the same pressure to make trades as they were this time last year, and that could be precisely why they do make moves this time. While their return for Nerlens Noel -- a fake first-round pick right before the trade deadline -- was disappointing, if they could get something similar for Jahlil Okafor at this point, that will be seen as a success. 

It wouldn't even be totally nuts to consider trading Rookie of the Year candidate Dario Saric because his skill set overlaps with Simmons', particularly if they do decide to take Jackson or Tatum with the third overall pick. Saric looked fantastic for a good portion of the second half of the season, but Philadelphia still has a couple of logjams to deal with. 

Keep in mind that 19-year-old wing Furkan Korkmaz, selected No. 26 in last year's draft, could join the Sixers next season. If he does, then will he be expected to compete with Robert Covington, Nik Stauskas, Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot for minutes? Even if you assume that Henderson won't be back -- only $1 million of his salary is guaranteed -- and Philadelphia takes Fox or Monk with the No. 3 pick, it might want to move some pieces around to balance the roster. 


Covington, who has been one of the best bargains in the league since he signed the Hinkie special -- a four-year deal straight out of the D-League -- in 2014, is eligible for a contract extension this summer. So is Embiid. 

Embiid would be a no-brainer max player if not for his series of scary surgeries and injuries, but that stuff might make Philadelphia wait until restricted free agency before offering him a boatload of money. Covington has earned an enormous raise by becoming one of the league's best and most versatile defenders, but casual fans will be stunned if this relatively anonymous player ends up getting a deal worth around $15 million per season. There is risk involved in not getting a deal done with him, too: If he shoots the ball well from 3-point range next season, that number could get even higher.