October 03, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Brett Brown's best call of the offseason had the Philadelphia 76ers reaching for their passports instead of the playbook.

The 76ers coach made the pitch to team president Sam Hinkie that they should ask their trio of hopeful future stars to join them at the FIBA World Cup in Spain to watch Croatian draft pick Dario Saric play in the tournament.

It would be a show of support for a franchise in desperate need of good publicity.

So Joel Embiid, Michael-Carter Williams and Nerlens Noel packed their bags and off they went to Spain, cornerstones of the woebegone franchise bonding through basketball and rooting on a future teammate. And Brown and Hinkie tagged along for the ride.

''You haven't lived until you've walked through Spain with two 7-footers through an airport,'' Hinkie said.

Hinkie wouldn't mind if they one day led the way on a championship parade route.

The trio of lottery picks wanted to make a statement that the franchise has Saric's back.

''That's how you build a family,'' Embiid said.

Could it be, the 76ers with their own version of the Big 3, driving, dishing and dunking their way toward Eastern Conference supremacy?

In Hinkie's world, some combo of those three, plus Saric, are the players behind the wheel in Philly's drive toward respectability.

Noel was the sixth pick and Carter-Williams, the NBA rookie of the year, was the 11th pick of the 2013 draft. Embiid was third and Saric was picked 10th in the 2014 draft.

Noel and Carter-Williams are the only ones of the four guaranteed to play this season. Embiid is out indefinitely with a broken right foot and Saric is locked into a multi-year deal overseas.

''I wish we had a more credentialed roster,'' Brown said, ''but we don't.''

Noel, who said he could have played by the end of the regular season, made his debut in the summer league and left with ''100 percent'' trust in his knee. He sat out last season with a torn ACL.

Embiid, the 7-footer out of Kansas, already asked Noel for advice on how to handle a lost season.

''(He) told me that it sucks but you just got to get through it,'' Embiid said. ''It's all about the future. You just have to focus on that.''

The Sixers are all about the future because the present is pretty bleak.

The team affixes a postscript to their official team emails that reads, ''The Philadelphia 76ers are one of the elite franchises in the National Basketball Association.''

Maybe by 1983 standards.

The truth is, the 76ers have been submerged in bad basketball since Julius Erving, Mo Cheeks & Co. won the franchise's last championship in `83. Counting a brief uptick in the Allen Iverson era, the 76ers have been to one NBA finals (2001) since that span and advanced out of the first round of the playoffs (2012) once since 2003. They've had one winning record since 2005 and that only came during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.

That's not elite, that's bad hoops.

The Sixers have been open that this season, success won't be measured by wins and losses. It's about developing their young core into better players.

They just need to hit the court running.

Carter-Williams sat out the first week of training camp and remained sidelined indefinitely following offseason shoulder surgery. He had surgery in May to repair the labrum of his right shoulder.

Carter-Williams was only the third player since 1950-51 to lead all rookies in scoring (16.7), rebounding (6.3) and assists (6.2), joining Oscar Robertson (1960-61) and Alvan Adams (1975-76).

Top rookie honors were nice, but there are still miles to go for MCW to become a solid NBA player. He shot only 26 percent from 3-point range, 41 percent from the floor, 70 percent from the free-throw line and averaged 3.5 turnovers to 6.3 assists per game.

Carter-Williams says he's been shooting for about 2 1/2 months and expects to be ready for the start of the regular season.

Brown said he might have to ''bite his lip at times'' as Carter-Williams plays through his second-year growing pains.

''I have to grow him,'' Brown said. ''His side of the bargain is, he's going to have to put in legitimate time to earn the right to shoot those shots.''

The 76ers' trio are sprouting everywhere around Philly, stamped on the media day photo shoots and marketing campaigns.

It all sounds great, right? What can go wrong with Hinkie's plan? Just look at how successful the Sixers became with recent first-round picks Marreese Speights, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Nik Vucevic.

The odds might be slim that the trio and Saric even ever play together. Hinkie loves to wheel-and-deal on draft night, and he could pull the trigger on any one of those players if it means he could gobble more draft picks and salary-cap friendly players to add to the roster.

But this year, in the ''Together We Build'' era the Sixers are pitching to their fans, it's the Big 3 bringing all the hype.

And all the hope.

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