It seems as though Sam Hinkie is almost done stripping down the team he took over after the 2012-13 NBA season. With Thaddeus Young officially traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the only player remaining on the Philadelphia 76ers roster, who was also on the roster when Hinkie took over, is — you guessed it — Jason Richardson. With Thad gone, it’s now official to say this is a Sixers team, with the exception of J-Rich, completely built by Hinkie, and it’s not a very good one, at least not yet.
The Thaddeus Young trade, like every other move Hinkie has made thus far, has been based on draft pick(s) and low-cost, upside-laden prospects with a ton of potential. The only difference being — like Jrue Holiday, who we’ll cover later, and contrary to Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner, who we’ll also cover — there was an actual market for Thad Young. It was long thought that the Sixers would acquire Anthony Bennett for Thad’s services, which, depending on what, or who else would have come over to Philly with Bennett, and what their future first round pick becomes, possibly could have been a better option. Instead, Hinkie pulled the trigger on a deal which brought them Alexey Shved, Luc Mbah a Moute (who we’ll also cover) and a conditional 1st round pick, which is top-10 protected in the 2015 NBA Draft and 2016 NBA Draft and unprotected in 2017 should it get to that point.
In other words, the 76ers are one step closer to their goal of acquiring all 60 picks in next summer’s draft. Furthermore, Hinkie made a move that still would have been on the table every day up to, and until, next February’s trade deadline. It was no secret that Minnesota coveted Thad Young, a brief report even went out several weeks ago that the ‘Wolves were willing to offer Kevin Love for him. Regardless of how true or not those reports were, the point is that they wanted Thad, that the deal Hinkie made would have always been an option, and that a lot more time could have been spent shopping Thad around. With all that said, I love Hinkie’s philosophy, but at some point the team needs to stop going down, and start going up. And at some point, the players who he’s stashed overseas (we’ll get to them as well) and his plethora of draft picks, have to start to materialize.
When Sam Hinkie was hired in 2013, one of the first things to publicly come out of his mouth was, “I start with an end in mind. In everything.”
That date in 2013 also made him the youngest Vice President of Basketball Operations in the history of the league. He is a purveyor of analytics — someone who uses advanced metrics over traditional statistics in his every evaluation. Somehow, he’s maintained a sort of anonymity in regards to keeping rumors under wraps, thus giving him the upper hand in all of his transactions, while working in a media crazed city — and league. He hardly talks to the press, and when he does, is open about how private he prefers to be. Among everything I know about Hinkie, the thing that most grabs my attention is the fact that he’s more concerned with the future than the present, a tactic that sits well for now, but even the game of chess reaches an endpoint. At some point, you have to try to win — right now. Not every move can be made based on the next one. That said, the moves Hinkie has made thus far have been for the better; i.e., if you consider every move thus far has been made for the future, and I’m of that opinion.
Let’s take a look at a few of them which have shaped this current squad.
The Royce White Favor
As everyone knows, Sam Hinkie was an Assistant General Manager to Darly Morey in Houston before coming to Philadelphia. Just about everyone around the league viewed his taking on Royce White’s $1.7 million contract as a favor to his former team. The Sixers had just a shade under $19 million in cap at the time and cut White not long after the deal. Hinkie’s reasoning for the trade was the acquisition of Furkan Aldemir, a player Hinkie liked at the time of the trade, who is still “stashed” overseas, and in May signed a 3-year extension with Galatasaray Istanbul, his Euroleague Club. Aldemir turned 23 years old on August 9, meaning unless he gets out of his current contract, he’ll be, at youngest, a 26 year old NBA rookie. The good news; this move had zero effect on the Sixers, future or present. The bad news; this move had zero effect on the Sixers, future or present.
Enabling the Acqusition of Eric Maynor
Essentially, Hinkie facilitated a deal between the Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets at last year’s trade deadline, taking on Eric Maynor’s contract and two second round picks; one from the Wizards in the 2015 NBA Draft and one from Denver in the 2016 NBA Draft (which is actually the Pelicans second rounder from a previous deal) for nothing. In doing so, they did take on just over $4 million in cap space between last season and this season, which they may actually need to hit the salary cap minimum this season. I wish I were joking. The jury is still out on the draft picks however, which are obviously yet to be selected. As we know, most second round picks hardly sniff the NBA, but it only takes one (see Parsons, Chandler) to make a headache like Royce White or Eric Maynor worth the time.
The Sixers acquired the seldom-used Wroten from Memphis for a second round pick and a trade exception in this past June’s draft. Wroten is 6-6 and can generally get to the rim at will. That being said, he is dreadful (at best) from three and turns the ball over far too much. He also occasionally suffers from Evan-Turner-chronic-over-dribbling-syndrome. What he is, is exactly what Sam Hinkie looks for in an “asset” — acquired for as little as possible with low risks and potentially high rewards. Personally, I like Wroten, for now. Last year, other than Michael Carter-Williams, he was probably my favorite Sixer to watch, but at the same time, if you’re tuning into a game to specifically watch MCW or Tony Wroten, that team probably has issues. Moving on.
Unloading from the Previous Regime
We’ll start with Spencer Hawes. Cleveland sent Philadelphia Earl Clark (cut immediately), Henry Sims (had moments, but a minimally used reserve at best) and two second round picks, which became Jerami Grant (we’ll see) and Vasilije Milic (stashed overseas). The Sixers technically cleared Spencer Hawes’ off their cap, but they were never going to re-sign him anyway. Better to get something rather than nothing I suppose.
I want to give every Sixers fan the opportunity to skip this paragraph on Evan Turner. If you’re still reading, you’re either not a Sixers fan or you’re about to become extremely disappointed. Evan Turner was drafted second overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward, Paul George and Eric Bledsoe were all drafted after Turner. Turner was traded last year, along with Lavoy Allen for Danny Granger (never suited up for Philly) and a second round pick in 2015 (from Golden State). This trade showed there was no real market for Evan Turner whatsoever, and many would argue Indiana got worse because of this trade. Again, second-round picks are commodities. If they work out — awesome. If not, no one loses sleep over it — or notices.
On Wednesday November 20, 2013, the Philadelphia 76ers waived Kwame Brown. You know what, I’ll just leave it at that.
On July 1, 2013, the following Sixers became unrestricted free agents; Andrew Bynum, Royal Ivey, Charles Jenkins, Damien Wilkens, Dorell Wright and Nick Young. But it was a move which preceded the decision to let each of these players walk which formally introduced Sam Hinkie to Philadelphia — and to the NBA.
We all know where I’m going with this, there’s no real need to dramatize it, but saying the Jrue Holiday trade was a bold move would be putting it lightly. Essentially, Hinkie traded away the one real building block he had for, get this, an unproven commodity. Holiday was coming off an All-Star year and was only 23 years old, but Sam saw what everyone else hadn’t: Holiday’s all-star year was already his ceiling. The rest we know. Hinkie traded Jrue, and the 42nd overall pick in that draft (Pierre Jackson) to the New Orleans Pelicans for the sixth overall pick in that draft (Nerlens Noel) and a first round pick, which was top five protected, in this summer’s NBA draft. That pick ultimately became Dario Saric, another player who’s been stashed overseas. I think the Sixers have more employees overseas than the Canadian Military.
At face value, the jury is still out on this trade. My only beef is that I watched the Sixers acquire Chris Webber, Elton Brand and Andrew Bynum over the past decade. All came with promise, and knee problems, and the knee problems always prevailed. The difference with Noel, who suffered his own gruesome knee injury in college at Kentucky, is that — according to Hinkie — Noel was only 19 years old when he was drafted, is a freak athlete, and — had he not been injured — would have been the consensus number one pick in the 2013 Draft. The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over again, and expecting different results. We give Hinkie a pass on this one though, because this is the first time he goes after a big man with knee issues. The decisions Hinkie has made since, however, coincide very well with his plan and the thought process behind the Holiday trade.
In the same draft in which point guard Jrue Holiday was traded, point guard Michael Carter-Williams was drafted. And in a season which did not produce many stand-out rookies, MCW stood out like Eminem at the BET Awards. Carter-Williams put up 16.7 points, 6.3 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. He led every rookie in each category, becoming only the third player in NBA history to achieve such a feat, joining Oscar Robertson and Alvin Adams. Along with that, MCW also lead all rookies in PER (minimum 20 minutes per game). The flip side of that involves the glaring holes in his game, starting with his jump shot.
Carter-Williams made just 32.9 percent of his shots outside of three feet in his rookie season. He also averaged over three 3-point attempts per game, making less that 27 percent of them. No one who shoots that poorly from beyond three feet, let alone the three point line, should be shooting that many threes per contest, but a player’s going to play, so I put that on Brett Brown.
MCW also carried a 48 true shooting percentage and had a 16.9 percent turnover rate, which needless to say, has to be much lower for a starting point guard. The shooting percentages are what they are. MCW just flat out can’t shoot and that was no secret when he left Syracuse for the NBA. The turnover number is in part to his 25.7 usage rate and the fact that, with the exception of Thad Young, he played all season with mostly borderline incompetent teammates. The irony behind everything you’ve just read about Carter-Williams, is that — much like Jrue Holiday — MCW’s value may never be higher. Don’t be surprised if you hear rumors of Hinkie quietly shopping him around. If players were stocks, Hinkie would run Wall Street.
The Reward of Tanking
Everything we just outlined lead to the 76ers having a historically awful season in which they lost 26 straight at one point (tying an NBA record), and won a total of just 19 games. Only the Milwaukee bucks had a worse record.
What last season did net them, however, was the third pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Joel Embiid, who — even from Stevie Wonder’s view — did not appear too enthralled with becoming a member of the 76ers, which maybe, just maybe, is the reason the 76ers pulled the trigger so quickly on trading Thad Young for, in part, Luc Mbah a Moute.
Luc Mbah aMoute, though only 27 years old, has served as a mentor to Embiid since discovering him at a basketball camp when Embiid was only 15 years old. At 16, with a Moute’s influence, Embiid moved to the United States to focus on becoming a professional basketball player. We’ve all heard the comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwan and Tim Duncan. Personally, and more realistically, Embiid reminds me of a young Alonzo Mourning, who is no slouch of a player to be compared to. Alonzo was elite at a young age, but health derailed him, like it does many big men.
Unfortunately, Embiid is on a similar path. He’s already had back issues, which limited him to 28 games in college (and not a single NCAA Tournament game) and is currently sidelined due to surgery on a broken navicular bone in his foot. Most big men who have stellar careers, like Duncan is having and The Dream had, do so because they are able to stay relatively healthy. The Sixers are heading into their third consecutive season in which their prized offseason acquisition will not play in the season opener.
The Head Coach
Essentially, the Sixers current roster consists of two players who we assume will be there for the long haul (Noel and Embiid), one who we think will be a long-term Sixer, but is certainly available for the right deal (MCW), one mentor (Moute), a plethora of players who are about as important to Hinkie as this column, and the overseas guys we covered.
The one constant — Brett Brown.
Hinkie hadn’t even hired Brown by the time he made his first selection as the Sixers VP. Brown was a member of the Spurs staff for all of their first four Larry O’Brien trophies. He was the main force behind the Spurs signing Patty Mills, who turned out to be an X-factor in the 2014 Playoffs and Finals. He took over the youngest team in the league last year, and one of the youngest ever. Brown bleeds basketball. He accepted a totally guaranteed four-year contract to help the rebuilding process. He turned down the opportunity to become Gregg Popovich‘s top assistant in San Antonio, and potentially becoming his predecessor, to come lead the Sixers from the bench with Hinkie looking on. Perhaps most importantly, Brown wants to be here; he wants to be part of the process.
No one knows what endpoint Sam Hinkie has in mind, but if I were to make one bet, it’s that Brett Brown will be part of it — a big part.
To be continued…
What do you think?
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