If you've been around at all recently it's painfully clear what I think of the Sixers organization right now. As I drudge through the Hinkie idolatry in the comments every day, my blood boils. I become more reactionary and bitter by the day, so here's my attempt to separate emotion from logic and state my case. My guess is it will fall on deaf ears, but what the hell.
If you're interested in reading my take on what got us to this point, skip down below the line and start there, then come back up here. If you just want the rub, start here:
So here we are. The Sixers are heading into year two of Hinkie's rebuilding process and this is realistically what they have to show for it.
Michael Carter-Williams. An old sophomore at 23 on opening night. MCW put up outrageous counting numbers as a rookie, and one of the worst shooting seasons you'll ever see. He could absolutely be the point guard on a contender if he can reach his defensive potential and you can surround him with plus shooters at at least two positions and a viable number one scoring option. If MCW is asked to be the lead scorer, or even second scorer, the team won't be competitive.
Nerlens Noel. Noel was probably the best prospect in last year's draft before his knee injury. After the injury, he was picked sixth. He hasn't played in 17 months now due to the injury. Even if we forget the injury and the missed time, Noel never projected to be a superstar. His defensive numbers were off the charts in the 765 minutes he played at Kentucky before suffering the injury, but his offense was limited to dunks and putbacks. His touch around the hoop was questioned, he had no jump shot whatsoever and he shot 53% from the line. A healthy, fully-realized Noel would probably have been something like a healthy Larry Sanders, or a DeAndre Jordan. A nice piece, to be sure, but not a star. Not a superstar. Not a foundation. Of course, a fully-realized Noel is far from certain after missing so much time with the knee injury.
Joel Embiid. Embiid's rise was meteoric. A few years after picking up the game, he went from a nobody to the top of most draft boards. Embiid has the potential to grow into a force on both ends of the floor. He's big, he's strong, he's long, he can shoot, he's got touch, can finish with both hands, is learning to play with his back to the basket he's even pretty good from the line. If he reaches his full potential, he's absolutely the type of guy you can build a team around. There are a lot of if's in there because we're projecting. He had trouble staying on the floor at Kansas, averaging only 23 minutes per game because he couldn't stay out of foul trouble. He gave us glimpses of being a dominant big, but only glimpses. Everything you read about him screams hard worker and great character, which gives you more confidence, but you still haven't seen it. It's going to take a lot more hard work to be able to dominate against men in the NBA. Unfortunately, none of that matters right now. Whether or not Embiid's game will evolve is a secondary concern, because the primary question is whether or not he'll ever be healthy enough to contribute at the next level. Embiid's season was cut short by a stress fracture in his back. When it came time to work out for the draft, he seemed to be moving well. Just when it seemed like the back may not be a huge concern, he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot. This time, surgery would be needed. Surgery that's most likely going to cost him the entire 2014-2015 season. Embiid played 647 minutes at Kansas this season. He had two stress fractures. He also dealt with similar back issues in high school. The Sixers said they're confident he'll heal fine from the foot surgery, which is good news, but there's an alarming trend here for a young guy to suffer so many injuries with so few miles on his body. Even if he healed perfectly from every injury, there's a pattern here that can't be ignored. To think Embiid is going to sit out a year (and miss a year of development) then miraculously put the injury problems behind him doesn't seem realistic to me. No one hopes he beats the odds more than me, but Embiid being a superstar in this league five years from now would be just that, beating extremely long odds.
Dario Saric. His supporters will tell you he's the most skilled big to come out of Europe since Sabonis. His detractors point to his lack of a shot, his lack of strength and his lack of athleticism. I'm of the mind that crafty power forwards are of limited use in the NBA. If he comes over as a good defender who can facilitate from the low or high post and hit a mid-range jumper, that's a decent piece on a formed team. It's not something you can build around. And when is he going to come over? Two years from now? Three years from now? I also find it odd that Hinkie would use the #10 pick on a stashed euro with limited athleticism. His draft philosophy has been, at least to this point, to go after guys with great size and athleticism, skills be damned. If he was going to break the mold and settle for a limited athlete with elite skills, McDermott was sitting right there, and McDermott's elite skill is one that's going to be severely lacking on this team even if every player on the roster pans out.
The Rest. McDaniels is intriguing. If his defense is as impressive against NBA wings as it was in the ACC as an upperclassmen, he'll have a long career in the NBA. If his shot doesn't develop into a legitimate weapon, though, he'll be a journeyman. Best case seems to be a 3&D wing, which is valuable, but not exactly franchise-making. The rest of the guys range from D-League caliber to severely-flawed NBA backups to stashed guys with some kind of promise, but long shots to even make it to the NBA.
That's it. Four lottery picks in two years. The first year was widely viewed as the worst draft in a decade, the second was heralded as having three potential superstars and five potential all stars. The realistic haul is this:
- A starting PG (top 20 at the position)
- A dominant shotblocking PF/C with a limited offensive game (top 10 at either position)
- A tweener PF you can run a little offense through, in two or three years (maybe top 15/20 at the position)
- A center with a ton of promise and maybe a 40% chance of reaching his potential and staying healthy enough to build a team around (top 5 at the position)
Lace 'em up for anther tanking year. Maybe come away with Okafor or Mudiay in the 2015 draft, if you're lucky. Ultimately, it comes down to whether Embiid's health to this point has been an aberration or a trend, and if it is the former, will he be able to take the next step. It's hope. An awful lot of hope, with a low probability of coming to fruition. The Stanford MBA at the helm keeps reminding us that this is a long process, and he's 100% right. Unless this team beats the odds (and if history is any kind of indicator, they won't), the process has barely begun. This journey we're on is looking less like OKC in July of 2008 and more like Charlotte in July of 2006.
If I seem a bit perturbed, and it rubs me the wrong way when Hinkie is lionized on a daily basis, this is why. His master plan is flailing and no one seems to care.
First, the history. Josh Harris bought the Sixers off the day-old shelf at the NBA team store. He paid bottom dollar with a lockout looming. When the dust settled, he suddenly had an overachieving squad on his hands and, believe it or not, an energized fan base. The Sixers beat Chicago in the first round of the playoffs (winning the four of the final five games of the series without Rose, Noah was also hobbled I believe in game 4). In the second round, the Sixers were a couple of Rondo threes away from knocking off the Celtics, who then went on to lose to the Heat in 7. Harris was front-and-center, sitting courtside for the celebration when Iguodala sealed the series against the Bulls. He was eating up the attention.
After that first season, Harris put limited trust in Doug Collins, allowing him to make the changes he saw fit with the caveat that no long term deals would be signed outside of the team's young core. Jrue got an extension, no one else was signed for more than two years. Harris also opened the purse strings (the Brand amnesty) and OK'd a bold, albeit risky trade to bring Andrew Bynum to Philly. The Bynum trade immediately went south, the fans stayed away, the limelight on the new owner faded and Doug Collins was gone when the season ended. Enter Sam Hinkie as general manager.
Hinkie's opening move was a clear indication of the direction the team would be headed for the next two years. He used Jrue's inflated, All Star value to nab the #6 pick in the weak 2013 draft and a protected first-round pick in the stacked 2014 draft. Hinkie then let all of his free agents walk, facilitated the James Harden to Houston trade by taking Royce White's contract off Houston's books and filled the Sixers rosters with castoffs and borderline NBA players. The clear goal from a personnel standpoint was to make the team as bad as possible, secure a top spot in the 2014 draft and obtain a superstar. The team's surprising 3-0 start served two purposes (1) it set a bad tone for the tanking (2) it put MCW on the map. MCW would ride that hot start to a rookie of the year nod. The Sixers, as constructed, would play to their talent level, save for one more defining stretch. In late December, the Sixers would win 5 of 7 including four straight on their annual Ice Capades road trip. (Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner scored a combined 182 points in those five games with 53%TS. Keep those numbers in mind).
Hinkie finished the job of dismantling the team at the trade deadline, netting several second round picks in different deals to rid the team of Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen and Evan Turner. In the Turner deal, not only did he send out two rotation players for two picks late in the second round, but he also took on extra salary in the deal. Essentially, he paid Indiana to take Turner off his hands. This is important, because the reason Hawes and Turner were on the team in late December to score those 182 points in the five wins which sealed the team's fate is because Hinkie was holding on to them to maximize their value.
Fast forward to the draft lottery. The Sixers (with the second-worst record) get the third pick, the Bucks (with the worst record) get the second pick and the Cavs defy the odds again to land the first pick. On draft night, Andrew Wiggins goes first, Jabari Parker goes second, the Sixers take Joel Embiid third, then use the #10 pick to trade back to the #12. In the trade, they re-obtain a pick traded away in the Bynum deal and select Dario Saric. Saric had, a week earlier, signed a three-year deal with a European team. With his second-round picks (and a bunch of trades), Hinkie netted KJ McDaniels (a junior wing defender who can't shoot), Jerami Grant (a sophomore wing or maybe PF who can't shoot), Jordan McRae (a senior wing who can't shoot) and a couple of international stashes.