Sam Hinkie may have been (exceptionally) quiet in the weeks leading up to the 2013 NBA draft, but he gave us hints that this was coming.
Hinkie was specifically asked during his introductory press conference what he thought about taking a step backwards in order to accumulate assets to get a superstar player. His response was something I immediately noted and bookmarked as interesting.
"I start with an end in mind. In everything. And I'll encourage our staff to do the same," Hinkie explained last month. "The mantra here has been very clear, which is to compete for championships. History, for the most part, especially recently, especially in the current environment, with the current rules and the current collective bargaining agreement, history has been reasonably clear that superstar players matter."
It was the kind of answer that was refreshing to hear. The mid-pack of the NBA is a deathtrap of quicksand. It's something we've been arguing about for a long time. But teams are generally not willing to suffer through the losing associated with committing to building through the draft. It's a catch-22 that keeps mediocre teams mediocre.
The 76ers, apparently, are ready to embrace that. Even if the trade of Jrue Holiday for a prospect who unlikely to play in the first two months of the season (if not more) wasn't made in at least some part for the express purpose of losing to acquire the best pick possible in what should be the best draft class since 2003, they certainly didn't shy away from the prospects of losing, either.
And that's incredibly important. And rare. Very rare. It's rare that an ownership group is willing to look so narrowly at the goal at hand. It's rare that a general manager has the job security to be able to think like that. It's refreshing.
That's not to say that the plan is full-proof, as no plans are. But in typical Sam Hinkie fashion, the 76ers are not dependent on one scenario working out. They didn't push all their chips in on one gamble last night. In fact, it's quite the opposite.
Last night the 76ers acquired a player who was, by most pundits, including myself, rated as the top prospect in the draft throughout much of the past year. A player who was the first collegiate player in 16 years to average 9+ rebounds, 4+ blocks, 2+ steals, and shoot at least 59% from the field. A player to legitimately make the focal point of a defense.
But that's not all. The Sixers didn't trade Jrue Holiday with only one avenue towards contention. They also got a 2014 first round pick from the New Orleans Pelicans, which is top 5 protected, meaning the Pelicans will retain the pick if it falls in the top 5 of the 2014 draft. According to Chad Ford before the draft, the hardest asset for a team to acquire leading up to the draft was a 2014 lottery pick. Despite the Pelicans expected improvement, the 76ers likely grabbed a second lottery pick in the aforementioned stacked draft.
So the 76ers got arguably the most coveted player and the most coveted asset in the same draft. The 76ers saw an asset being undervalued in Noel, and saw the ability to claim a very coveted future asset, and pounced.
But it's the 76ers own pick next year that might have the best chance to yield a superstar. The pick is owed to Miami as part of the Arnett Moultrie trade, but with protection that will keep it in the 76ers possession if it's in the top 14 picks of the draft. And make no mistake about it, the 76ers will not make the playoffs next year. Barring a minor miracle, the 76ers will assuredly be one of the worst teams in the league next season, giving them an excellent shot at acquiring Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart, Jabari Parker, or any of the other extremely talented young players that should be available at this time next year.
They could also conceivably have nearly $36 million in cap space during next years free agency period, enough to attract two maximum salary players. This is the beauty of Hinkie's maneuvering: he hasn't placed all of his eggs in one basket. Yes, he got rid of a valuable asset in Jrue Holiday. But if any of Nerlens Noel, next years 76ers pick (which should be in the top 7, at least), next years Pelicans pick, or the enormous amount of cap space the 76ers will have work out, the 76ers will instantly be in a much better position than they were heading into the draft. If 2, 3, or 4 of those scenarios work out? You're on your way to really building something special.
I am a big fan of Jrue Holiday, and I have been ever since the 76ers drafted him. But he was not a superstar talent. Very talented, borderline all-star, great kid, but not a franchise guy. And he was too good to give the 76ers a legitimate chance at acquiring somebody who could be the Batman to his Robin.
Hanging on to mediocrity is a fools errand. The 76ers are willing to embrace the trials and tribulations that go along with trying to avoid the quick sand that is average in the NBA. They have guts. More importantly, they have a plan. And it should be wonderful to watch it unfold over the next few years.
Don't let mediocrity get in the way of greatness.
Nerlens Noel had no idea he was traded.
As I was sitting there on the Barclay Center floor, I quickly ran to the interview room to make it to the Nerlens Noel press conference. His responses to some questions were rather amusing.
"I'm definitely excited to get it started with Anthony [Davis]," Noel started off his press conference saying. "Definitely looking forward to blocking a lot of shots with a [fellow Kentucky] Wildcat."
When informed that he was rumored to be traded to the 76ers, he clearly hadn't heard about it yet.
"It's a great organization. They have an all-star point guard in Jrue Holiday. [I'm] definitely looking forward to that if it's a possibility."
Noel also mentioned that he hadn't been in contact with the 76ers at all recently.
Hinkie's cloud of silence leading up to the draft
The 76ers, and Hinkie specifically, were beginning ot get killed by the media and fans alike for the lack of access, and infromation in general, leading up to the draft. With the media and fan base so apathetic to the team, that's a strategy that could prove risky in terms of fan interest going forward.
But it also has its positives.
Had other teams known the 76ers had interest in moving up for Nerlens Noel if he fell, they may have worked harder to move up to get him. The same could be said for Michael Carter-Williams, who wasn't a sure thing to be there at 11. By not allowing media into draft workouts, and keeping who the 76ers were working out a secret, the team denied opponents valuable data that they could have used to their advantage -- and the 76ers disadvantage.
But there is some element of risk in that strategy. Not so much from a basketball standpoint, but in terms of heat -- or, perhaps worse, apathy -- from the media and fan base.
Ultimately, how open he is with the media isn't going to determine the 76ers success. In fact, being honest and forthcoming may even be a detriment. But should he continue to shut out the media, he's likely to lose the benefit of the doubt quicker than he otherwise would. In a profession where you can frequently make the right decision and still not have it work out, getting the support from the media and fan base does have its merits.
I was told before the draft by a team source that secrecy was not necessarily going to be the modus operandi of the team going forward, that this was specific to the draft. And it's also somewhat reminiscent of how Houston operates at this time of year. Hinkie believes that secrecy during the draft gives him a competitive advantage, and he's going to use that if he can.
As Hinkie spends more time as the top guy in the organization, he'll likely get better at toeing the line and figuring out how to keep the media engaged without giving them information that can compromise what the 76ers are trying to do.
The other 76ers picks
Nerlens Noel was not the only player added to the roster last night, as the 76ers also walked away with Michael Carter-Williams (sophomore point guard from Syracuse) and Arsalan Kazemi (senior power forward from Oregon). Both of them could contribute next season.
Michael Carter-Williams could start opening night on a team that now has a giant hole at the point guard spot. He has excellent defensive potential and court vision, but needs to add strength and, more importantly refine his shooting touch, particularly off the dribble. You can read more about him at DraftExpress, which includes a scouting report this spring as well as one I wrote before the season. He's the type of high-upside player that could pay dividends down the line, even if I may have preferred Trey Burke or C.J. McCollum, selected immediately before the 76ers 11th pick.
And Arsalan Kazemi could provide some immediate value. A rebounding machine, who also plays surprisingly good defense, both in the post and on the perimeter in pick and roll sets, Kazemi has the skill set to provide some productive minutes. He also has some touch around the hoop. The problem, of course, is that he's just a shade over 6'7" in shoes and with little perimeter game. Still, at that late in the draft, it's a great selection. Rebounding usually translates.