With the selection of Duke center Jahlil Okafor at No. 3 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers continue to depress far more than just an impatient fanbase. After drafting a big man for the third straight season inside the top 10 selections, Hinkie is depressing the value of his most prized assets in Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. Outside of Noel, Embiid and now Okafor, the closest thing that resembles a building block on the Philadelphia roster is Jerami Grant and/or Robert Covington.
In a failure to diversify the portfolio and have an asset allocation that better represents balance, Hinkie and the Sixers have chosen a top-heavy approach (literally) in an attempt to corner the market. In an NBA that’s turning to a small(er) ball era exemplified by the success of the 2015 NBA champion Golden State Warriors, the Sixers have three “building blocks” on their roster who couldn’t even share the floor together in a game of NBA 2K.
The Sixers couldn’t have expected to be in this position, and Hinkie admitted as much after the draft, but that’s what happens when your poker chips can only be cashed in at one table. Given the uncertainty of Embiid’s foot, Okafor—at the very least—is a very serious insurance policy for the 2014 No. 3 overall pick. Philadelphia is talking to specialists “around the globe,” and the team is hopeful to have clarity on his situation at some point in the coming weeks. It’s an ominous development in Embiid’s professional career—and he’s still yet to take the floor in a Philadelphia uniform, even if just for an exhibition.
Before free agency is set to begin upon July’s arrival, here’s a quick look at the Sixers’ depth chart:
Asterisk * denotes injury
As we can see, there’s a lot left to be desired. (Also, don’t forget about Dario Saric, another big man, who’s still in Europe.) Philadelphia can’t go into next season with a starting 1 through 3 as it projects now, but it’s not clear what the blueprint is going forward in free agency. More likely, the Sixers will attempt to make a trade using one of their bigs—Noel, Embiid or even Okafor—to address their glaring needs elsewhere.
And that’s exactly where the problem comes into focus.
Hinkie isn’t in this position because he’s foolish, dumb or shortsighted. That’s not how someone becomes an NBA general manager and respected figure in a highly competitive and cutthroat business. To expect the Sixers to sell Embiid—arguably their most prized prospect—at a bargain bin rate is a fool’s exercise. No team is going to give up anything of real value to acquire him until his health is 100 percent known and comfortably projectable, and there’s little use in Philadelphia sending a message of desperation at this stage—that’s an especially stinky cologne for this team to even think about wearing after preaching patience through the rebuild.
If we’re to believe that the Sixers drafted Okafor to keep him as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported, that leaves one option to move in Noel, the player who’s been billed as the building block since being acquired in the Jrue Holiday trade two drafts ago in 2013. How would that sit with a fanbase who’s looking to move this project forward? How would that sit with the other members of the organization—from coaches to players and more—if the continuity continues to be disrupted? How long until Brett Brown gets a roster that he can actually build an identity with and isn’t forced to start from scratch on a consistent and repeated basis?
Prior to the draft unfolding, there was a report of Boston offering a package built around Marcus Smart for Noel in an effort to move up in the draft, but the Sixers likely laughed off that offer because it was so underwhelming. And again, that illustrates the problem perfectly. No team, not even Trader Danny Ainge and his hoard of assets with the Boston Celtics, is going to overpay in any deal regardless of the desired pursuit.
The Sixers are in a position where other teams know they have to make a move. That’s a bad spot to be in. Philadelphia isn’t building a stock portfolio—it’s building a basketball team. And right now, this is a team with at least two gaping holes in its starting lineup—and that’s being kind.
Fans have expressed patience, ownership has bought into the vision and the Sixers have three talented big men to show as a result of Hinkie’s plan in Noel, Embiid and now Okafor. After that, Philadelphia has some hope, a few desires and a lot of pressing needs. At some point, selling the promise of potential runs out and that has to turn into production. That’s true of both players and front offices, and there’s no doubt that Hinkie will enter next season under the hottest lights he’s faced to date.
You can trust the plan without having a blind belief in it. After draft night, no matter where you stand on how the Sixers are conducting business, it’s becoming increasingly tougher to see the vision behind the plan.
What’s a plan without a vision?