When the Philadelphia 76ers hired Sam Hinkie, he immediately became one of the most outside-the-box-thinking general managers in the NBA. The Process was able to find talent at low cost, like Robert Covington, who they initially signed to a 10-day contract from the D-League, and the numerous rotation-caliber players they found in the second round.
The succeeding front office traded most of those second-rounders for pennies on the dollar, and they started trading their picks for actual dollars. They have given out one 10-day contract in the last two seasons — to Corey Brewer. Bryan Colangelo used the cap space left to him by Hinkie to sign a bunch of bad players to short-term deals, and after these deals ran out, Elton Brand used the cap space to sign two mediocre players to massive long-term deals.
The entire calendar year of 2019 was marked by narrow-minded thinking on the part of Sixers management. They decided they wanted Tobias Harris, so they were willing to dramatically overpay for him twice instead of saving those assets for a star, should one become available (Paul George became available). They had to give up an early second-round pick because they telegraphed their infatuation for Matisse Thybulle to the entire league. They chose Al Horford over Jimmy Butler based on an over-simplified notion of what it takes to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Because of these mistakes, the Sixers have little flexibility and a roster that doesn’t complement their two stars. They no longer have assets to blow or room for error. To put themselves in position to win with (at least one of) Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons still around, they’re going to have to get creative at all levels of the organization.
The front office needs to be bold. Elton Brand needs to recognize the acquisitions of Tobias Harris and Al Horford as mistakes, and he needs to be imaginative to turn those bad contracts into players who fill needs. He needs to be willing to take risks to salvage the championship window left with this core. The Kawhi Leonard trade was considered a risk for the Raptors last year, and they were rewarded with a championship for taking that risk. Masai Ujiri is arguably the league’s most talented executive, and Elton Brand is, from what we’ve seen, a pretty terrible general manager. Plus, a player of Kawhi Leonard’s caliber almost never becomes available in a trade. But the Sixers should look at Ujiri’s vision as the closest thing to a blueprint toward better roster construction.
Even if management does a near-perfect job, the Sixers’ roster will still be unconventional and not very deep. They’ll need a head coach who knows how to put role players in positions to succeed and is willing to try different looks. Mike D’Antoni comes to mind as a guy who gets the most out of his peripheral players, but if the Rockets keep winning, it’s unlikely he’ll be available this offseason. Tyronn Lue seems like an early favorite for the job, and he’s an intriguing option as well, especially because of his track record of gaining the respect of star players. A coach more willing to confront Embiid and Simmons could be a necessary change.
I don’t know what moves the Sixers can make to get out of this hole. I don’t know what a coach can do to make this mess of a roster work. What I do know is there’s very little not worth trying at this point, and the Sixers need to act like it. As Elton Brand (hopefully) overhauls the front office and brings in a new coach, one big thing he should be looking for is creativity.