Joel Embiid is the most talented player in his draft class, garnering more than a few comparisons to post legend Hakeem Olajuwon. Dario Saric has been playing professional basketball since he was 17 years old, and has already captured a title and MVP award in the Adriatic League. These are the in-the-flesh results of the Jrue Holiday trade, of a tumultuous season of 76ers tanking that has raised questions about the fabric of the NBA itself.
To many, these are several more notches in Sam Hinkie's belt, an example of the vision with which he leads the franchise. It's refreshing to see that the quick fixes and short-term focus propagated by Ed Stefanski, Doug Collins and their henchmen are gone. This is what a frustrated fan base asked for -- eschewing instant gratification in pursuit of larger returns.
I embrace the Sixers plan; that doesn't mean I always have to enjoy it. To be clear, the Sixers under Sam Hinkie draft with a core belief that I subscribe to in theory -- acquire talent and worry about the rest later. They have acquired two highly rated big men in two years as the rest of the league trends smaller, ignoring some injury woes in pursuit of upside. They chase greatness rather than goodness.
One of the biggest appeals of the Jrue Holiday trade was the promise of three lottery talents coming on board for 2014-15, with the two picks and Nerlens Noel representing hellacious reinforcements for an undermanned squad. It didn't matter that time and development would be needed to turn them into a cohesive team, just that help was on the way.
After a season that was pretty miserable to watch at times -- okay, a lot of the time -- June 26th was our Christmas, and three big boxes were sitting under the tree. But packages were ripped open and nothing but a sheet of paper containing shipping info and an expected arrival date stared back. Being apart from that physical manifestation of your hopes puts a damper on the moment even if you know that you'll be getting what you wanted -- eventually.
The deliveries themselves are murky. The Sixers will be limbo-ing with the lower extremities of a massive human being for a second straight year, and the timing of Saric's arrival is a mystery as well. The Sixers are asking a lot from the common fan, from the people who don't obsess over players from the Sun Belt and the merits of Serbians whose names they can't pronounce. The basketball obsessive will get by even on scraps, but the fans here and elsewhere come in all forms of devotion, none more merit worthy than the rest.
It's one thing to ask people to be patient as young men transform from stellar nebulas to supernovas. The rational understand success comes from solid process. But asking for people to invest money and time on the hope that Embiid -- who they can't watch play! -- can avoid the breakdown of his body and cash in on unknown potential is a hard sell. Pair that with a championship-starved city that treats winning as a birthright, and you might as well try selling snow to Eskimos.
It's not all doom and gloom. Derek's point about the risk of not taking what you feel is the top talent is worth echoing here -- passing on a could-be generational talent carries inherent risk as well:
Injuries are scary because we lose the illusion of control. We like control. But I think we undersell the risk in the other prospects as well, because those risks are not as scary. I hear a lot that we have to move the rebuild forward, but the best way to move the rebuild forward in a significant manner is to get a franchise level player, and missing out on that player is a huge risk as well.
And goodness gracious, Embiid sure looks like a sensational talent. There are highlight reels that make him look like he's playing with children; good luck scoring on a front line of he and Noel. You can't find people big and graceful as he is. This is not a proclamation that they've made the incorrect choice, and when he is able to finally take the court I will be jumping for joy with everyone else.
My issue comes down to a basic reality -- with injured and/or out of sight players, there's nothing for us to evaluate. Sand continues to fall from the hourglass, yet we know and learn nothing other than what is spoonfed by Sixers PR. As days, weeks and months roll by, not even the Sixers can figure out what exactly it is they have on their hands, let alone try to find pieces that fit alongside them and what the future of this team looks like. Michael Carter-Williams will spend another season in basketball purgatory, forced to carry the burden for a band of misfits in a way that will probably not reflect his ideal role on the team.
Talent at any cost is the right way to go. Stars still run the league, and the Sixers got the highest-rated prospect in the draft along with a considerable talent in Saric. I believe in the team that is in charge of the Sixers, and trust smart people to continually make smart decisions. But the wheels keep on turning whether Embiid or Saric take the court or not, and unlike the 2017 pick the Sixers recovered from Orlando, time is a resource that you can't get back.