Mark it down on your calendars, boys and girls. Christmas Eve 2015. While Philadelphia 76ers fans had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, it was announced that the team had traded two second-round picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for 27-year-old point guard Ish Smith. It’s ironic that the day before a significant portion of the world was set to celebrate someone’s birth, Philadelphia fans should witness the death of “The Process.”
This move ran counter to everything GM Sam Hinkie had been doing over the past two-plus years. The Sixers had made a habit of grabbing second-round picks whenever possible in hopes of finding the next Draymond Green or Manu Ginobili. Although they hadn’t hit big on anyone, Philadelphia had recently found what look to be viable NBA players in Jerami Grant, K.J. McDaniels and Richaun Holmes. The picks the Sixers gave up in this deal were the 2016 Denver second-round pick (currently around the 40th overall pick) and their own 2017 second-round pick (which will almost assuredly be somewhere between #31 and #40. Those early second-round picks are arguably more valuable than late first-round picks when you factor in the difference in how contracts are structured for players selected in each round.
Clearly, this move marks the official start of the Jerry Colangelo-Mike D’Antoni era in Philadelphia. A report from John Reid at NOLA.com stated, “Mike D’Antoni is impressed with Smith’s abilities and wanted to get him on their roster.” What’s troubling is that Sam Hinkie never objectively lost a trade since taking over as general manager, but here, it’s easy to believe New Orleans could sense desperation on the part of Philadelphia. Smith was no longer a significant part of the Pelicans’ rotation with Jrue Holiday gradually being weaned off his minutes restriction and Norris Cole back on the court. The fact that New Orleans got multiple picks for a guy they no longer had any use for and was going to leave after the season as an unrestricted free agent is a clear win for the Pelicans.
I actually like Ish Smith and think he’s a very good fit for Philadelphia. Smith finished the 2014-15 season with the Sixers, playing 25 games (starting 14), and sporting career-high averages of 12.0 points, 6.1 assists and 27.1 minutes per game. Proponents of the deal will argue having Ish Smith around will help Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor continue to develop, and there’s certainly evidence for that happening. In the 455 minutes Noel played alongside Smith last season, Noel shot 53.4 percent from the floor, per NBAWowy.com. In the 1,856 minutes Noel played without Smith on the floor last year, Noel shot just 43.9 percent. Noel even went as far as to call Smith the “first true point guard I have ever played with.”
Now, Philadelphia fans have to forget the fact that the Sixers could’ve re-signed Smith as a free agent during the offseason, or claimed him for nothing after he was released by the Washington Wizards in October. Those facts sting but they represent a sunk cost at this point. The reason this could be a terrible deal is that Ish Smith is only guaranteed to be here through the end of the season, and a 1-30 team is more worried about grabbing a couple more wins over the next 49 games than holding on to assets which could potentially help the team in the long term. For the franchise’s sake, the Sixers have to hope any player development for the big men over 60 percent of a season outweighs whatever they could’ve gotten out of those second-round picks.
The larger question is this: will this trade be a one-time thing or just a first step in the franchise mortgaging pieces of the future in the effort to be slightly better in the present? The Sixers and their fans have put up with a lot of terrible basketball the last couple years, all because the organization saw it as the best way to escape the treadmill of mediocrity and acquire a franchise-altering talent. The last thing anyone wants is for the trials and tribulations of “The Process” to be rendered meaningless and the team to hop right back on that treadmill. Just don’t make the losing have been for nothing…that would be the greatest Christmas gift of all.