The Sixers are sticking to their blueprint

Posted: 07/01/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

Heading into last week’s NBA draft, the Philadelphia 76ers had the third and 10th picks. They had tanked last season, and were said to want Andrew Wiggins. Before Joel Embiid’s foot injury, the Wiggins dream was becoming close to a reality. The consensus was that the Cavaliers would draft Embiid, the big man with limitless upside, at #1 and that the Bucks would draft Jabari Parker second. But Embiid fractured his foot, and the Cavs lost interest. The Embiid injury probably hurt the Sixers the most. The top three became a top two, and the third pick’s value was diminished. In the week before the draft, nobody knew what the Sixers were going to do. Would they trade up to the top spot and take Wiggins? Would they take Australian point guard Dante Exum? Would last year’s top rookie Michael Carter-Williams be traded for a lottery pick? Where would Thaddeus Young be traded? Which shooter would the Sixers draft at #10? Well, the answers to those questions are no, no, no, nowhere, and nobody. Instead, the Sixers drafted Embiid at #3 and Croatian Dario Saric at #10. Embiid’s foot will likely take 5-8 months to heal, and he therefore likely won’t play next season. Meanwhile, Saric recently signed a three year deal in Europe with a buyout after two years, so he won’t be playing in the NBA anytime soon, either. On the surface, drafting Embiid and Saric seems odd and, well, stupid. The Sixers need NBA-ready players, because they were stuck playing career D-leaguers for much of last season. With two top-10 picks, they were in a prime position to grab two players who could play with Carter-Williams and improve the team as soon as this coming year. Instead, they drafted two players who won’t play next season.

But while many reactions were negative, the Sixers draft was totally predictable and I had no problem with it. The most important thing is that the Sixers have a plan, and they are sticking to it. They don’t care how bad they are next season, or even the year after, but they plan on being bad until they have enough pieces to win. In the meantime, they are picking up assets who can play in the future or can be traded. Sixers fans should trust GM Sam Hinkie, at least for the time being. Hinkie’s trade of Jrue Holiday was brilliant and brought back terrific value, and the Sixers have more cap room and more assets than they had before Hinkie became general manager. If Hinkie and the front office thought Embiid and Saric were the best players available, and they clearly did, then they were right to pick them. It’s clear that the Sixers were willing to suck last year and are willing to do it again this year. It’s also clear that they are willing to take a publicity hit and see the Wells Fargo Center get emptier and emptier as they lose more and more games. Hinkie, though, doesn’t just want to build a playoff team: he wants to build a championship contender. He’s trying to build it from scratch, though, and it’s not easy to build a championship contender. It’s clearly going to take some time, and the process that started with the Holiday trade will take years. Sixers fans understand this and are still remarkably patient. Unfortunately, next year’s team isn’t going to be much better than this year’s was. The Sixers will say that Nerlens Noel, who missed last season with a knee injury and will return next year, is their rookie. Next year, Embiid will likely be the same, and Saric can be the rookie the year after. For now, that’s fine: the Sixers are still in their grace period and can be bad for another year without too many fans protesting. And when they cash in on another top-three pick next season, they’ll add just another asset, whether it is an injured player or an international one. The fact that the Sixers drafted injured big men in the top-six twice in a row is interesting and probably unprecedented, but based on Hinkie’s short track record and his desire to build a championship contender, it’s not at all surprising. Again, this is a long process, and the goal is to be a great team and not just a perennially good one. That’s fine… for now. If the team is this bad in a year or two, it’ll be time to worry about Hinkie and the team’s future. For now, the most important thing is for a plan to be formed and stuck to, so it was refreshing to see Hinkie and the Sixers ignore the fans and media and follow that blueprint. I understand why the fans are mad and the media is critical, but I think Hinkie deserves more of a chance to continue stockpiling assets. That’s what he did in last week’s draft, and it’s possible that, while neither Embiid nor Saric will play next year, they will end up as two of the best players from this draft by the time they retire. People probably would have been happier had the Sixers drafted Exum and Doug McDermott, two NBA-ready players, but then the Sixers would have abandoned their blueprint. I liked what they did better, because they took the two best guys available and, while they will be poor again next season, they are giving themselves the best chance to win championships and not just regular season games in the future.

  1. philabundant says:

    By second half of next season, I think progress will be evident, a year after that they will be a lot of fun to watch. I hope so, anyway. The fans deserve it.

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