Originally written on Holdout Sports  |  Last updated 4/23/15

It's true that this year's NBA playoffs have been incredibly entertaining. It's also true that there's the promise of an outstanding Finals featuring the Miami Heat against whatever power emerges from the titanic slugfest that is the Western Conference. However, the 2014 postseason has left one nasty little fact nagging at fans' brains: The Eastern Conference is absolutely miserable. The Pacers lost their mojo, the Wizards and Raptors (despite the incredible Toronto fan enthusiasm) are a year or two away, and the Nets were never serious contenders. It's clearer now than ever before that we need a few more competitive teams in the East, and it's beginning to look as if one of the best candidates to rise up may have been disguised all year as one of the worst teams in the league. We're talking about the Philadelphia 76ers, who may just be in the midst of the most intriguing rebuilding project in recent memory. It started with the 2013 NBA Draft, when the Sixers, no matter what they had to say about their intentions, officially began the process of tanking. The team traded star guard Jrue Holiday for a 2014 first round pick and No. 6 pick Nerlens Noel, who, coming off of a serious injury, was seen as a near sure thing to sit out his first NBA season. The team then drafted Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams (now the NBA rookie of the year), effectively securing two lottery talents and an additional pick in this year's draft — the most loaded draft in a decade or more. Next came all kinds of signs of ambition from the Sixers' ownership, not all of which dealt directly with the basketball team. To begin with, owner Joshua Harris casually purchased the New Jersey Devils in the fall, and then even more casually linked his two pro franchises by setting them up with the first ever U.S. pro sports partnership with online poker hub PartyPoker. This promises a new, continual revenue stream for the teams, and it has already had some fun ramifications in the community. For example, beloved ex-Sixers like Darryl Dawkins and Malik Rose have appeared at charity poker events in the New Jersey area. It might not affect the roster, but the revenue stream is real, and this kind of link between the team and the public is always good for perception. And make no mistake, any sort of public goodwill was needed for this year's Sixers, who through their bold 2013 draft and financial dealings were determinedly horrific on the court. At one point, they recorded an historic losing streak, and through it all unloaded even more veteran assets. On February 20th, the team dealt big man Spencer Hawes to the Cavaliers in exchange for Earl Clark (who can be let go before next season) and two second round picks; they then dealt Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen to the Pacers for Danny Granger, whom they promptly bought out. So what are the Sixers left with, and why does a team that's unloaded this much look like a budding power in the East? In terms of meaningful starters, they're down to three: Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Nerlens Noel, presumably the center of the future. But meanwhile, the team has financial freedom — likely up to or over $30 million to play with, according to NJ.com — and an enormous stockpile of draft assets. The Sixers own their own first round pick (likely top three, guaranteed top five), the Pelicans' first round pick (likely in the nine-eleven range), and five second round picks. Some of these picks will almost certainly be used in trades (because making seven picks in one draft is ludicrous). However, those two lottery picks have Sixers fans salivating and thinking: who should the team target in this loaded draft class? Here are five prospects that make sense for the rebuild:Andrew Wiggins - The off-the-charts talented shooting guard out of Kansas could be the best prospect in years and would form a formidable backcourt with Carter-Williams.Jabari Parker - Duke's scoring forward might mean Thaddeus Young has to be moved, but Parker has rare scoring ability, good size, and a fantastic attitude to build a team around.Julius Randle - The Kentucky forward won't overpower players in the NBA the way he could in college, but he'd be a strong, physical, offensive-minded counterpart to the defensive presence Noel is expected to provide in the post.Nik Stauskas - A realistic target with the second lottery pick, Stauskas may be the best pure shooter in the draft.Rodney Hood - Another Duke star, Hood could be a great shooting guard grab with a 10th or 11th pick if the Sixers go with Parker or Randle early.Any collection of these names, in addition to potential assets brought in via trade or free agency, equals the makings of a very strong (though young) team in Philly. It will still take a few years, but if you've been bored by the East in the playoffs, keep your eye on the Sixers — they'll be back soon, and in a big way. This post appeared first on Holdout Sports. Follow us on Twitter @HoldoutSports.

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