Sixers' nucleus will need some help in quest for playoffs

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, left, looks on from the bench with Ben Simmons, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Raptors won 123-114.

Ben Simmons has yet to even play in a preseason game. Joel Embiid has not been cleared yet to resume scrimmaging. And we are weeks away from finding out what the 76ers are going to do in the June 22 draft.

Yet folks are wondering if the Sixers will make the playoffs next season.

"We talk about improvement, measured steps, taking the right path. We're not going to jump ahead of ourselves," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said recently when asked about advancing to the postseason.

"We have a lot of decisions to make before we get there," he added. "Rather than predict when we're going to make the playoffs, I'm just going to let it happen naturally."

Poll

Should the 76ers trade up to draft Markelle Fultz?

Even if Colangelo thought he had a playoff-caliber team, he probably wouldn't disclose it.

Optimists point to the Sixers' going 10-5 in January as a barometer in their quest to make the playoffs. They also talk about the Sixers finishing the season 28-54 with a few key players sidelined. Simmons, the first overall draft pick last year, missed the entire season after surgery to repair a broken right foot. Embiid played in only 31 games because of rest or injuries, the most notable of which was a season-ending meniscus tear in his left knee. And Jerryd Bayless, last summer's top free-agent signee, missed all but three games with torn ligaments in his left wrist.

Simmons, Embiid, and Bayless will surely make the Sixers fun to watch and more competitive. However, the team must find suitable replacements for standout role players Ersan Ilyasova and Nerlens Noel, who were traded away. Ilyasova's three-point shooting created space for Embiid to operate in the low post. Noel was a rim-protecting, high-energy backup for Embiid.

The Sixers won just seven games after Ilyasova and Noel were dealt before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.

The team also must decide if it wants to pick up the second-year option on Gerald Henderson's two-year deal. Although he was limited because of an arthritic hip, Henderson provided veteran leadership this season.

The Sixers have decisions to make regarding free agency, potential trades, and the draft. Then they'll have to hope those decisions pan out. One thing is for sure: Colangelo is adamant that the franchise is heading in the right direction.

"We're well ahead of where we were last year," he said. "With those healthy bodies [Simmons, Embiid, and Bayless] and some new talent coming in via draft, via trades, via free agency, we're excited about what the future holds."

kpompey@phillynews.com

@PompeyOnSixers

www.philly.com/Sixersblog