Playing the Asset Game

It's no secret to the savvy Sixers fan that Sam Hinkie's mentors (and prior empoloyers) were the Houston Rockets and analytics-buff Daryl Morey. During his tenure in Houston, Hinkie spent time with an organization that takes the approach of building up talented assets in an effort to trade for superstar players. This worked with James Harden, which (along with the acquisition of other price-friendly assets) gave them enough credibility to lure 3-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard in free agency. And now, they have a team with assets to trade, and two star players that give them a legitimate chance to be contenders every single season.

The genius behind this is that all it really took was to make that first trade for a star, and the dominoes fall into place from there. Oklahoma City had a great player they couldn't afford to keep, and needed to get something in return. Houston came calling with pieces that OKC valued, and the cap space to accommodate Harden's desire for a max-contract. Not to mention the other skilled, cheap players on the team that makes wanting to sign a max contract appetizing to the player.

Once that happened, the Rockets gained instant credibility as a young team on the rise..and more importantly retained options in how it could acquire great players moving forward. Enter Dwight Howard. The enigmatic Center is a dominant defender and rebounder in the prime of his career, and decides(like most players do, nowadays) that he'd like to be wined and dined by GMs who want to offer him mega-bucks for his services. Houston has retained cap flexibility by having a cap-friendly core of young players, as well as a young complementary talent in James Harden who is under contract for the foreseeable future. A talented running mate just entering his prime.

And how has it worked out? Things were a bit bumpy in their first season, and they were unable to improve their playoff finish in a loaded Western Conference, but both players are still good. The other assets still have value to teams looking to move draft picks or "clean house". There is enough wiggle room that it's not unrealistic that we're talking about the Rockets making a serious push to bring Carmelo to their team as well. The Rockets are in great shape.

And this is what we hoping Hinkie brought with him to our town, to our team. Plenty of people have scoffed at the Sixers draft, citing that with 2 lottery picks we acquired 0 players who will play at all this season, and although we grabbed some value in the 2nd round we could have done more to move up and get real 1st round talent.

Won't those people look silly if Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook plan to hit free agency after their deals expire? They are only under contract until (and including) the 2015/16 & 2016/17 season, respectively...and we've seen star players become disillusioned with their team's ownership before. If the Sixers keep developing young, talented, cheap players and stockpiling them, might "Sign-and-Trade" dreams be dancing through our heads? What of some other young star players that might seek new teams a few years down the road? Stephen Curry? Damian Lillard? Anthony Davis? Kyrie Irving?

It's one thing for a star player to hit free agency, it's another to ensure that he gets the maximum amount of money assured to him by re-signing with his original team (we see this currently playing itself out with Kevin Love and the Timberwolves, and can also be seen with Carmelo Anthony and the $2M annually he'd give up by signing with anybody BUT the Knicks).

What I'm trying to say is this: These picks are extremely frustrating for Sixers fans who were hoping to see something like what resembles a pro basketball team this year. However, another season of dismal failure on the court will likely lead to another rousing success on draft night, and if their highly touted young prospects show marked improvement the team will look like a pretty good trade partner for teams trying to get something for a player they know is about to skip town (see: Dwight Howard and the Lakers). Also, they'll retain their low costs of players on rookie contracts and be able to offer max-contracts to players looking to play on promising franchises in major market cities.

It's a long haul for fans who actually pay attention to the team, but all it takes is that first domino to fall into place and the rest of the plan writes itself. That's the beauty of the plan, it consistently produces the conditions under which talented young players can be acquired and developed, while simultaneously maintaining enough cap flexibility to make serious offers to any FA or would-be FA the team could want.

Right now it's just a projection, just like the players the team drafted a few days ago....but if it works we'll all be whimsically remembering those stressful days when we worried about whether the Sixers were going to contend....right before we watch them play in the Finals for the 3rd straight season with Kevin Durant kicking in to Joel Embiid on the low-block.

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