Sam Hinkie's fourth major event -- 2013 Draft, 2014 Deadline, 2014 Draft, and yesterday -- was not a disappointment in terms of the Insanity metric. In his 21 months in town, the Philadelphia 76ers GM has had no problem shaking things up and disrupting the status quo. Actually, his penchant for surprising us should make the fact that he keeps surprising us no longer surprising. If we set a base level of chaos, everything that follows should be uniform. Expect the expected, then, and blog accordingly.
In the span of a few hours, the Sixers moved Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels to make room for JaVale McGee, Isaiah Canaan, two protected 1st round picks, and one (JUST ONE?! HACK!) 2nd rounder. People are angry, people are sad, people are confused, frustrated, growing impatient, all of it.
And, as I said on the Rights To Ricky Sanchez Emergency Trade Deadline Oh Sweet Jesus Podcast yesterday, I'm just a hair shy of ecstatic. Because this trade deadline reinforces the long-ruminated-upon belief that the Sixers franchise, top to bottom, wants to win championships. Plural, perennial, mighty, them again?! championships. And nothing else matters.
The JaVale trade was a no-brainer. Plenty of cap room to absorb his salary, an OKC first rounder that will be conveyed either this year or next, and a chance to resurrect McGee's career and flip him for something anytime before next February. Check.
The MCW trade, though delivered with a frownier face, is also easy pickins. He's a talented kid at 23, but he was never the cornerstone in Philadelphia many believed him to be, or, more accurately wanted him to be. The jumper -- the Swing Skill that Rich Hofmann wrote about all the way back in summer 2013 -- is broke. He's an atrocious jumpshooter, and statistically one of the worst offensive players in the league. Pregnant women avert your eyes:
Man, Michael Carter-Williams is still really struggling with his efficiency... pic.twitter.com/V6QolNfiAG— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) February 19, 2015
I like MCW. Truly. He'll do okay in Milwaukee surrounded by better players (though so would anyone) and he'll help them out on defense, where he excels nearly everywhere except in the pick and roll. And offensively, dude's got a bunch of untapped potential if you ask him to do less. For sure the Sixers asked him to do much more than he's capable in the two years that he's been here. He played 35 minutes per game as a rookie and won an award for it (ahem), but that doesn't make him the basketball player you want him to be.
@Michael_Levin I'll put it this way: the smart fan in me likes the trade while the emotional fan in me does not.— Erin Shedd (@NOLAcuse) February 20, 2015
The Sixers were never in love with him (see Payton, Elfrid), and when a pick as coveted as the Lakers first rounder gets dangled in front of their mouth, it would be absurd not to bite. That's crazy good value for a guy who, let's be honest, is not anywhere near elite at his position. There are scores of great point guards in the NBA, and Mike, as much as we liked him, as much as he was ours, was not one of them.
Sixers rebuild was not contingent on Michael Carter-Williams. They did not tank for MCW. People had expectations raised due to rookie year.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) February 19, 2015
Okay was not good enough. He's getting better! was not good enough. MCW has two years left before the Sixers would have owed him a new contract, and he absolutely deserves a whole mess of money. But not from this team. They don't pay the 18th best point guard in the league. Not when they're still a bunch of complimentary pieces surrounding a star that doesn't exist.
Is it cold? Is it Whiplashian? What it is is a ballsy move from an ownership group now defined by their gumption. Bynum came first. Then the Jrue trade. Then sticking to their guns and going BPA with Embiid and Saric. The owners are displaying a patience heretofore unseen in the NBA, one that certainly rankles folk, but that also decreases risk because of the financial flexibility they retain by adhering to this STAR-OR-BUST method.
The Lakers pick is protected top 5 this year, top 3 in 2016 and 2017, and unprotected afterwards. Whoever they draft with that pick -- and whenever -- will have at least two, probably three years longer than MCW on his rookie contract. Maybe that's the star. Maybe who they draft with their own pick this year is the star. Maybe it's Joel Embiid after all. Or maybe all of this tinkering sets them up with the perfect package to trade for a star, like the winners of the Harden, Garnett, and Allen blockbusters of yesteryear. Hinkie doesn't know, we don't know, nobody knows. But the idea is-- sorry-- THE PROCESS is: you give yourself as many chances to draft or trade for a superstar and build a champion around them.
You can ask, as Mike Prada did, "when do the Sixers start actually building something?" And the answer to that is, quite simply, when they have the pieces to build around. Michael Carter-Williams was here, but he was not that piece. Just because you have a can of pinto beans in your cupboard doesn't mean you're having pinto beans for dinner. Stability for stability's sake doesn't win you titles.
The KJ situation seems different, but to my eyes, it's the same. I dig KJ McDaniels a whole lot. He's dunky fun, he's blocky fun, he's mommy fun -- the whole package. What he isn't, right now, is a great basketball player. And we've spent the better part of the last six months -- since he (smartly) (and I should also say *to no offense of the Sixers*) bet on himself and signed a one-year rookie contract -- trying to block out the fact that KJ's future in Philadelphia is no guarantee.
Say they don't make a trade. KJ stays in Philly, keeps doing his thing for 25 minutes per game, putting it in the hoop like slam, and then the offseason comes around. It takes just one team to sign KJ to a big honking offer sheet. Just one infatuated team to pull an Asik-and-Lin-esque poison pill final year that would manifest itself-- read this from Sam Vecenie for more -- as a major cap hit to the Sixers books. So either the Sixers let KJ walk for nothing, or they match and risk overpaying him.
You could look at the Sixers cap room going forward and see that they have enough money to buy a few countries, not to mention pay KJ McDaniels the mid-level. But what if in a couple years, the Sixers are on the verge of making The Trade for The Guy, but KJ's poison pilled $15M cap hit is preventing them from closing? As much room as they have, every bit matters. So they won't overpay. They won't let him walk.
Instead, the Sixers got a (somewhat underwhelming, sure) package of Isaiah Canaan, who I like, and the Nuggets 2nd round pick from Houston in exchange for half a season of KJ and the right to match any contract. Accuse me of sipping the purple stuff all you like, but it's my opinion that Hinkie has seen enough of KJ to have a number in mind for him, and plans on offering him that number this offseason. He won't get bullied into a poison pill, and he'll accept a smaller return in the short term so he can avoid getting nothing or overpaying down the road.
Because everything counts. The room you have to screw up gets more and more narrow as you approach the top. And if the foundation is faulty, then the building will fall, and the building won't win back-to-back-to-back championships from 2018-2020.
The Sixers aren't going to be quite as fun over the next 29 games, but in one day they have given themselves 1-2 more chances to find that next-level talent. MCW was not it. KJ was an unfortunate situation from the start that the Sixers stayed in front of, and could revisit this offseason. The picks all get thrown into the Possibilities Machine. JaVale-- actually yeah, the Sixers will be just as fun the next 29 games.
Next season will be another year of rebuilding and development, but don't see this as a step back. It's not. Team building is not linear. We have tangible proof that the impossibly patient Sixers owners are as hell-bent on winning a championship as we are. That Sam Hinkie has their absolute trust. And nobody in this organization is going to settle for anything less than world domination. Things will be lost in the fire, but out of the fire is born the phoenix, and out of the phoenix is born THE PROCESS.