Jason Richardson's sudden retirement announcement late Wednesday evening took many around the league by surprise. The 34-year-old had followed Malik Rose to Atlanta, chasing one last chance at an elusive championship. Only in a matter of weeks, a bum knee depleted his self confidence and with an Instagram post, Richardson waved goodbye to professional basketball.
J-Rich's retirement will likely be the last subtle reminder of the broken franchise Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown took over. It's astounding his raucous City Hall introductory press conference — er, Andrew Bynum's introductory press conference — was only three years ago. Time flies while you're having fun watching bouncy, undersized power forwards hoist three-pointer after three-pointer. Bynum and Richardson's Philadelphia arrival served as a crippling reminder just how fickle sports fortunes can be. One injury, one trade, one free agent acquisition can dramatically alter the state of an NBA franchise as quickly as a flick of the wrist.
Which leads into this: The Sixers quietly — and you can hear a pin drop — have positioned themselves to be one move away. Sam Hinkie certainly isn't one transaction away from building a championship-contending roster, but the Sixers are one move from transforming from one of the league's bottom-five teams into a perennial playoff contender. Look how rapidly the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks returned to the postseason a year ago. The Phoenix Suns signed Steve Nash, promoted Mike D'Antoni, then won 62 games and reached the Western Conference finals in 2005 one year after winning only 29 games.
Executives around the league are itching to learn what James Harden-esque maneuver Hinkie will try and pull off to flip the Sixers' script. You'd be hard pressed to find a rival team personnel that expects the Sixers to come out of next June's draft with four first round picks on their roster. Teams like the Celtics look at the Sixers' pile of assets and stubbornly accept Hinkie has the most trade chips of any general manager to play with if and when a disgruntled star becomes available. Unfortunately, it's far from clear which star ultimately will at this juncture. Yet again, everything in the NBA changes so quickly. Look how fast Goran Dragic went from prodigal son in Phoenix to begging for a trade.
So as quickly as the franchise's fortunes soured following Jason Richardson's arrival in Philadelphia, the Sixers are well on their way towards on-court relevance sometime soon.