Draft buzz: Could adding Fultz put Sixers in playoff hunt?

THE LANDSCAPE of the NBA's Eastern Conference appears to be changing as quickly as Steph Curry releases a jumper.

The 76ers and Boston Celtics completed a blockbuster trade Monday, with the Sixers garnering the top pick in Thursday's draft. Then, they will add Washington guard Markelle Fultz, viewed as the top talent in this good draft, to a roster that will include Ben Simmons, last year's top pick, and Joel Embiid, most likely the top pick in 2014, had he not fractured his foot in predraft workouts.

Simmons missed all of last season with a fractured foot, so the three players who many think are the building blocks of this rebuild are still painfully young, but oh, so high on potential. With money still to spend on the free-agent market, which will open next month, the Sixers could throw out a starting lineup with as many as three players who didn't play for the team a season ago.

In the trade, the Celtics give the Sixers the first pick and get in return the third selection and a Sixers first-round pick next season, via the Lakers (protected 2-5). If that pick doesn't convey, then Boston would receive the Sixers' 2019 first-round pick via the Sacramento Kings.

So what does that all mean for Boston? The team that lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals this season is sort of in the same position the Sixers have been in the last couple of seasons, without all the losing. The Celtics have a bevy of first-round picks the next few seasons and enough money to contend for a high-priced free agent — Utah's Gordon Hayward and the Clippers' Blake Griffin have been hot rumors. There is also talk president Danny Ainge could be contemplating a trade that would bring in Chicago's Jimmy Butler or maybe Indiana's Paul George.

George reportedly has let it be known that when he becomes a free agent after next season, he will not stay with the Pacers. Some observers have the Southern California native moving home to the Lakers; others think maybe Cleveland could be a landing spot.


Will the 76ers be a playoff team this season with Markelle Fultz?

The Toronto Raptors tried to overtake the Cavaliers atop the conference this season, but all it got them was a third seed in the playoffs and a sweep in the second round by the Cavs. And now free agent Kyle Lowry is most likely on his way out.

The Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks, the fourth and fifth seeds in the East, seem to be somewhat mired in mediocrity for now, good enough for playoff appearances, but little reason to believe either can contend for a title.

Milwaukee is on the rise, but will need free-agent or trade help to get over the hump. The Bulls got the eighth seed a year ago but are in a bit of turmoil moving forward, perhaps with a rebuild in their near future.

Cleveland still is the king of the hill and very well might stay there until LeBron James starts the inevitable decline that happens to every great player. The Celtics are in an enviable position and might soon make moves to close the gap between them and the Cavaliers. After that, everyone else seems to be playing catch-up. And right now in the East, no one seems to be doing it better than the Sixers.

For a team to be talked about as a playoff contender just two years after posting a 10-win season is mind-blowing. It's even more so when you remember Simmons didn't play last season and Embiid was limited to 31 games. But that's where they could be. And we don't know yet what Bryan Colangelo will do in the free-agent market to fill in the remaining holes on the roster. A big splash doesn't appear likely, but finding a couple of more shooters certainly is possible.

As much as the Sixers roster will change Thursday because of the draft and Simmons' debut this season, the changing landscape among a bunch of teams in the East could be as helpful for a possible playoff run this season.

Email: cooneyb@phillynews.com