Critics of Sam Hinkie's rebuild are right: the Sixers have not attempted to field a competitive team for the last two seasons. Very few of Hinkie's roster moves and transactions — last season, only signing Robert Covington and Ish Smith come to mind — have been specifically designed to help the 76ers be competitive in the here and now. That won't change this summer.
At this juncture, it literally is all about asset collection. Drafting Jahlil Okafor at No. 3 was the perfect reminder of Hinkie's current approach, as Kyle Nuebeck excellently expanded on. It's important to re-state that, at the beginning of Hinkie's tenure in Philly, ownership agreed to allow the GM three seasons to collect assets, tinker the roster and position the Sixers to make truly franchise-altering moves during the summer of 2016 in advance of truly competing in 2016-17.
It's of course the summer of Kevin Durant's impending free agency and will be the opportune offseason to invest in a core that will soon be able to claim the Eastern Conference as a then-soon-to-be-32-year-old LeBron James enters the twilight of his career.
That is why Brett Brown demanded a fourth year in his contract, preemptively eliminating the possibility of becoming Mark Jackson one year before the Warriors fired their former coach in favor of Steve Kerr. And that is why you should expect the Sixers to continue maintaining as much cap flexibility as possible and go through a third-consecutive offseason without signing an impact free agent.
Don't get your hopes up for Jimmy Butler, even if he planned on visiting. Kawhi Leonard? He's not coming to Philadelphia any time soon. Oh, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe are available via trade? Yes, but the Sixers won't be making any aggressive offers.
Look at Hinkie's response last Friday when he was asked how active the team will be during free agency this month:
"I think we'll be out there and we'll have discussions, but we'll be discerning, too. We'll have to be reasonable about it and about the kinds of players we want to go after. We want players who would fit with our group over a long period of time. If we were to make some big investment in any free agent, it needs to be someone who might fit. And you might guess, like if we come to the conclusion that that's a player that can really help us, other teams might too. Other teams might too, right?
And so there's often competition for these sorts of things and then the players have to make their own decisions. And the players have to make their decisions about — it's not often the money, it's exactly equally or largely similar — they have to make the decision about what kind of market they want to play in, we often help with that, about what kind of coach they want to play for, we often help with that. The biggest decision they make, I think is the smartest, which is who are they gonna play with? So, what player on their team is so good that they know, the two of them, me and him, the two of them, can win."
That's a masterpiece of opaqueness, yet the mush of words came across as oddly transparent. At this stage, Hinkie certainly won't be investing in a big time free agent "who might fit." As of now, the Sixers don't even know which players are legitimate building blocks that a free agent must fit with. And even if that player, Jimmy Butler for example, was deemed a good fit, many, many other teams will be interested in his services. And it will of course ultimately come down to Butler's decision of playing for a team that has more established players and a better chance to compete right now.
You shouldn't read that as Hinkie making excuses. It's simply a logical conclusion. And while the Sixers are trying to become that team a Jimmy Butler would be interested in signing with, he'll remain patient and continue his negotiations with minimum-salary free agents. That strategy has come under question of late, as I detailed for Sports Illustrated last week, but Hinkie will still find players like T.J. McConnell to take that non-guaranteed money and run to PCOM. Outside of that, there really isn't much to expect from Hinkie and the Sixers in free agency. It's all about maintaining flexibility and as many assets for when it really matters.
Besides, if JaKarr Sampson and Jordan McRae are all brought back into the fold, the Sixers will really only have three open roster spots after signing Okafor and Richaun Holmes. J.P. Tokoto isn't expected to sign this season, instead playing overseas or in the D-League, similar to Jordan McRae last season.
As Hinkie said earlier in that Friday presser: "You don't want to be making moves to make moves, you want to be making [moves] that you think will really move things forward."