1). Vacations are not always planned with sports in mind. So when a year ago my family and I were planning our annual Journey Away From Pennsylvania we planned it for the just right dates of June 15-27, smack dab in the middle of the World Cup and, more importantly for the sake of this post, the 2014 NBA Draft. Oops. Fortunately, it was to be a journey to an American state, Alaska; a land and cruise tour consisting of two things: gift shops and bad puns. At the very least on land I'd be able to connect to email, Twitter, and the internet without incurring roaming charges.
2). Receiving only periodic updates can be quite stressful even in a relaxing environment otherwise filled with grizzly bears. With the large number of rumors floating around and the public SBNBA mock draft email thread, I begin to think the Sixers are trading James Young to the Cavs for the number one pick in order to select John Salmons.
3). "Oh shit, Joel Embiid is hurt" is never something you want to wake up to. The draft had appeared to be all but set: Embiid #1 to Cleveland, Jabari Parker #2 to Milwaukee, Andrew Wiggins #3 to Philadelphia. But with one medical problem, everything appeared to change. Though things had appeared set, there is no telling for sure what the Cavs would have done had Embiid not gotten hurt. Despite Dan Gilbert's pronouncements on draft night of not knowing where half the rumors came from, all other signs point to the Cavs as the lead rumor-mongering guilty party. However, the Cavs were now in the limelight and no one was sure what was going to happen.
4). Embiid's injury had ripple effects on big boards everywhere. Before I left for vacation I had submitted my pre-Embiid injury Big Board to Levin and Sean. Despite Embiid having the highest potential of the draft, I initially had Wiggins on top of my big board with Embiid a close second because Wiggins had been the face of the tank despite the always small chance he in particular would end up a Sixer. But upon learning of Embiid's injury and realizing it may be yet awhile before I can connect to the internet again on my phone, I had a decision to make. In my haste (as I had almost no time to read any research on the impact of navicular bone stress fractures on seven-foot professional athletes), I regrettably placed Embiid ninth on my final pre-Draft Big Board, the lowest among LB writers.
In hindsight, waiting and hoping to connect would have been the better option as I would not have placed him as low as nine had I time to sit on it and really think about it. Even upon learning of Embiid's injury, there were still those who had him at number two or in Derek's case, number one. Now I probably would not have had him that high, but I probably still would have had him three or four as stress fractures are a scarier risk than Wiggins's ball-handling abilities. One can end a career, the other simply mitigate it.
5). Information flies fast and furious on NBA Draft night. In the age of Twitter, reporters can and do dispense new information every minute giving followers a once-thought unprecedented amount of information in stunningly brief periods of time. Watching on television without any technological products nearby, that all gets lost as ESPN alone disseminates information. So while everyone on Twitter knew minutes ahead of Adam Silver's announcement the Cavaliers had decided to select Andrew Wiggins first overall, I watched from a stateroom sofa quivering with nerves wondering just what the Cavs' endgame was in their month-long high-stakes game of chicken. It was Wiggins, and then just as everyone had assumed, the Bucks selected Jabari with the second overall pick, leaving the Sixers with a choice of three: Embiid, Dante Exum, or do something completely off the board. Despite having thoroughly scouted the Australian wonder-kid, the Sixers decided to go with best player available in Embiid. My initial reaction was to clap and fist-pump with joy. Embiid carries with him a fair amount of injury risk without question, but the upside is more than worth the risk. And given the amount of value Hinkie puts on rim protection, it is clear Hinkie sees upside in his pick.
6). When the Charlotte Hornets selected Noah Vonleh with the ninth overall pick, my heart dropped. The nightmare scenario envisioned in The Great LB Mock Draft Of 2014 came to fruition. Though ultimately in a different order, Wiggins, Parker, Exum, Embiid, Vonleh, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Nik Stauskas, and Aaron Gordon all went in the top nine, leaving the Sixers no obvious choice for selection at tenth overall. In fact, the pick was such a complete coin flip that even Woj was uncertain what was about to transpire. And when the pick ended up being Elfrid Payton, I about lost it. Amazement, confusion, love, uncertainty, and painful Michael Carter-Williams awkwardness ruled the moment. I love Elfrid Payton, but him being the selection at 10th overall by the Sixers caught me quite off-guard. However, much like Nate Wolters and so many others, Payton's time with the Sixers proved short-lived as he was traded to Orlando minutes later for Dario Saric.
Without internet, I had no idea what was going on. I had begun to put the pieces of the puzzle together beforehand that a trade of some sort was about to happen, but when ESPN first announced the trade they put it simply as "SIXERS RECEIVE: Dario Saric; MAGIC RECEIVE: Elfrid Payton." Uh....okay then? Well that's bumpuzzling. Why is there absolutely no compensation whatsoever for the Sixers trading down two spots? Even if nothing in 2014, there should at least be something. Why can't I turn to Woj in my moment of need?
It turns out, ESPN was just a bit late in providing the information and the Magic ultimately overpaid handsomely for a point guard the Sixers neither wanted nor needed. In return for said PG, the Sixers received a 2015 2nd round pick, undid a crucial part of the Andrew Bynum fiasco, and got the player they presumably wanted all along. Triple win, right?
7). If you're in this for instant gratification, leave now. If you ever once thought this was about instant gratification, last Thursday night may have just been the biggest rude awakening of your sports life. This is about building a championship contender for the future, and the future is not now. Now is about compiling the most valuable assets possible. It does not matter if they need a year to fully recover from injury or recently signed a three-year contract in Europe, with no opt-out until after the second year. Take care of investments now, and they may pay greater dividends in the future. Right now is about investing in assets. Despite what certain national writers or sports radio pundits may try to tell you, ticket sales are irrelevant right now. Think the Sixers need to boost attendance now? Think again. Since the 2004-05 season, the Sixers have only crested above average in league attendance once, and that was in 2011-12 where they made it all the way to 14th in average fans per game. For a large part of those years, the Sixers were a mediocre enterprise, treading water just enough to make the playoffs on a near yearly basis while never mounting any sort of credible threat towards a championship. They entered basketball purgatory, and fans of the early-2000s Iverson era abandoned ship. Sixers attendance woes are not a newfound byproduct of a long rebuild. They became the product of increasing fan apathy following years and years of the Sixers never being good enough to even enter outside championship contention.
Mediocre basketball does not sell in Philadelphia. It hasn't for the past decade, and it will not start now. But those that desire the Sixers to rush the rebuild are either knowingly or unknowingly encouraging exactly that. Rushing or abandoning rebuilds is what leads so many people to declare "tanking does not work." Tanking fails when impatient fools lead the charge. Sure, Doug McDermott may become a super role player and excellent NBA three-point shooter. But with questions circling around whether or not he would be able to defend against the worst the NBA has to offer, his ceiling becomes significantly limited. He'll provide instant gratification in his shooting abilities, but in five years, Saric carries the upside to be the better, more well-rounded player. This is about going somewhere in five years, not winning 15 more games next season to marginally increase ticket sales the following season. Ticket sales will dramatically increase once the Sixers are championship contenders again, and Josh Harris is wealthy enough to deal with the delay.
8). It is easy to criticize draft picks as a fan. Sometimes the criticisms are warranted, sometimes they are not, but there is one thing we must always keep in mind when evaluating draft picks: NBA teams have access to more information than you ever dreamed of. They go off their own information, not the public consensus. Even the most knowledgeable of scouts at Draft Express, including LB's own Derek Bodner, are not privy to all the access and information teams are given. To get to the point, the Sixers were given access to very important documents days prior to the draft: Embiid's medical records. Now I have not seen Embiid's medical records. You have not seen Embiid's medical records. Expert scouts and mock drafters were not given access to Embiid's medical records. But the Sixers had them and time to review them prior to the draft.
When people say "Ha! The Sixers got duped by the guy with a bad leg again! Same old Suxers," they are missing a very valuable point. The Sixers know more than you, not less than you. Embiid has not fooled them or duped them. Surely no one can believe that moments after the Sixers drafted Embiid someone texted Hinkie and told him, "hey dude, this guy's got a stress fracture in his navicular bone, i think you made a mistake; sorry bro" and he was like "oh shit really damn that sucks." Hinkie is fully conscious of the risk Embiid carries, and he is taking it willingly because he has information leading him to believe the stress fracture is not a long-term concern if handled properly.
9). The 2014 NBA Draft class has been among the most hyped draft class in quite some time. Some prospects will invariably disappoint and not reach their potential, but given the sheer depth of the class, it is almost certain that some risks will pan out into franchise-altering rewards. As I sat in a chair on a cruise ship somewhere in the Pacific Ocean near the west coast of Canada, one thought remained consistently in my head. The Sixers came away with the best player of the 2014 NBA Draft. Holy shit, that just happened.