The Philadelphia 76ers are in Year 3 of their ambitious rebuild, and things are going just as poorly on the floor as ever. The Sixers are 0-8 and will likely move to 0-9 on Friday night after playing the Oklahoma City Thunder. With things looking bleak again, Today’s Fastbreak Managing Editor Jason Patt got together a panel of Sixers supporters to get their feelings on #TheProcess.
Jason: So the Sixers still don’t have a win this season. They have one of the worst offenses in the league again to go along with one of the worst defenses. This is the third straight year of a mostly putrid product outside of a few bright spots here and there. Are you guys still believers in #TheProcess? Or is your faith waning?
Bryan Toporek: I’m still a believer, because let’s be honest: It’s not like the Sixers broke up the 1995-96 Bulls to start this rebuild. The Andrew Bynum trade set the franchise back a half-decade, and Hinkie has done yeoman’s work undoing the damage from that ill-fated deal. They gave up an eventual Finals MVP in Andre Iguodala, a budding star center in Nikola Vucevic, a young, high-upside swingman in Moe Harkless and a future first-round pick for a guy who didn’t play a single minute for them. The fact the Sixers have accumulated a legitimate treasure trove of assets in a three-year span is frankly stunning.
That said, I’m expecting next summer to make or break the ceiling on this rebuild. If all goes right, the Sixers will walk into the draft with two top five picks, which will ideally net them Ben Simmons and a stud point guard. A starting five of say, Kris Dunn, Nik Stauskas, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, with Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Robert Covington coming off the bench? That’s a real, actual NBA team! That’s going to require a number of breaks going their way, though: The Lakers need to stay bad enough to hand over the fourth or fifth pick but can’t fall in the top three; either the Sixers or Kings need to win the lottery to ensure Simmons heads to Philadelphia; Saric will have to eschew millions to come over next summer rather than in 2017; and Embiid needs to avoid any further setbacks with his foot. That’s a lot of “ifs.”
If any combination of those things doesn’t happen, the Sixers still could evolve into a mid-tier Eastern Conference team, but the championship ceiling would likely be out of the picture. Considering what fans have had to endure over the past two seasons (and what’s yet to come this year), that scenario would be devastating.
Sean Kennedy: I’m still drinking the Sam Hinkie kool-aid. For me, this is the final year where the Sixers are basically playing for lottery position. The team is expected to have four first-round picks in next June’s draft, with two of those high lottery picks between the better of the Sixers/Kings spot (thanks Vlade!) and the Lakers pick. In addition, Dario Saric has already come out and said it’s his desire to come stateside for next season, and hope springs eternal that Joel Embiid will make a full recovery for the 2016-17 campaign.
With as many as six top-level talents added to the roster, next season is when I need to finally see some movement up the standings. So this season, there’s basically two things I’m hoping to see: Nerlens Noel continues to expand his offensive game, and Jahlil Okafor progresses to the point where he’s not a complete liability on defense. What do you guys think the prospects are on those two fronts?
The scenario Bryan laid out where the Sixers basically go right back to being a mid-tier Eastern Conference after this extended period of losing is something I worry about a bit as well. However, I think that’s another reason the deal with Sacramento is so advantageous; it provides a couple of ways out of that going forward. The Sixers have another pick swap with the Kings next year, and given all the turmoil happening in Northern California, it’s no small chance that Philadelphia could work its way into another high pick in the summer of 2017, even if they themselves are decent next season. There’s also the Kings’ future first-round pick a few years down the road to consider. Most of the general public thinks Hinkie’s strategy is just to be bad, but he’s actually done a great job giving the franchise options down the road to pivot depending on how things shake out in the future.
Jeff Berest: Well, I’m pretty sure I’m the guy who wrote an article about hypothetically being involved in a cult that idolizes Sam Hinkie as their pious and sanctimonious demigod. So I’ll have to give you guys a firm NO; my faith is not waning and I am as vigilant as ever in seeing this “process” through to completion.
Having said that, at some point you have to draw a line in the sand; however, for me that line is still far down the road. Most of this irrational patience that comes with being a Sixers fan has to do with “assets,” a term that I’m sure we are all very fond of now. This summer seems to be the penultimate moment in Hinkie’s rebuild and where most of these assets will come to fruition.
The potential four first-round picks (two of which will likely land in the top five or six), the inbound Euro-star Dario Saric, the bountiful harvest of cap space in which Hinkie has at his fingertips. Also, we still have the possibility of a Joel Embiid return, although speaking definitively about that is hard to do, and I choose not to because my psyche is too fragile and I don’t think I can handle another setback.
But anyway, all of this concocts together this offseason. Leading to just an endless and infinite amount of directions Hinkie can lead the team in. This season has already been slightly disappointing, but realistically…0-8, 2-6…it doesn’t matter to me. I am perpetually thinking about next summer and next season, while still trying to admire and appreciate the pieces we have right now.
But to get back to the 0-8 start for the team. Yeah, we get it the Sixers are bad, but they’re also a victim of circumstance at the moment. They are butchered with injuries, and of course outsiders dismiss this a bit, because does it really matter that the team is missing Robert Covington, Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall? Yeah, it does A LOT. Those are the team’s two leading scorers from last season. Covington is a quality 3-and-D type of talent, and Wroten provides energy and is a capable scorer off the bench. Obviously, it’s not like the Sixers would have a winning record right now with those guys, but surely games would be way more competitive than they already are, and I’m fairly certain they would’ve secured their first victory by now.
Sean: To go off of Jeff’s point, earlier today I was having a discussion with someone on social media (which always winds up as a level-headed, productive exercise) who was trying to argue the Sixers won’t win 10 games this year. I brought up the injuries and he countered with if Tony Wroten’s absence is the reason you aren’t winning games, you have a big problem. Cross-sport, but it reminds me of something Bill Barnwell is fond of saying regarding the NFL: sometimes upgrading at a position from terrible to league average actually makes more of an impact on your team than upgrading from an average player to a star somewhere else. Just having Marshall and Wroten come back means the team won’t have to give guys like Phil Pressey minutes, which will make a world of difference.
Jeff: Exactly, Sean. I wasn’t necessarily arguing that the Sixers are world-beaters with Wroten and Covington in the lineup. But they are undoubtedly a more competitive and talented team with those guys on the floor. It beats having Phil Pressey and Christian Wood play over 20 minutes a night.
It’s pretty ignorant to say, but I’m really not lying in bed at night worrying that this doesn’t work out with Hinkie and we just go back to being in NBA purgatory. We have so many high lottery picks and chances at high lottery picks now with the SAC swaps that this just increases our chances at landing more potential top-tier talent on top of Okafor and Noel. I still believe in Hinkie finding a way to put the pieces of the puzzle in correctly.
The Sixers just bring on so much heat from critics, but this rebuild is the first of its kind. No one knows for certain if it is going to work or if it is going to fail. So a lot of the criticism of Hinkie I believe is unwarranted to this point. He’s just exploiting this loophole in the NBA rules to get as many high draft picks as possible and playing the lottery, figuratively and literally. If you have a patient owner and patient fan base this is still a legitimate way to get better. Does everyone forget the roster that was handed over to him? Jrue Holiday and a bunch of mediocre NBA talent. If you offer that same roster up to me today over what we have now, I’m taking the team we have today 100 out of 100 times.
And Sean, to go back on what you said about Hinkie’s ability to pivot and giving the franchise “optionality.” No one talks about how the Sixers’ third overall pick from a year ago might never play a minute in the NBA, yet the Sixers are still in a great situation at the moment moving forward. What other franchise has been able to overcome a gut-shot like that without a hitch?
Sean: Really, the Embiid situation is what caused this to be such a bizarre, never-before attempted experiment in long-term ineptitude in the first place. If his foot injury doesn’t happen just before the 2014 draft, he likely goes #1, the Bucks may still take Jabari Parker at #2 and eventual Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins falls to the Sixers at #3. The Sixers only end up having been truly bad for one season, just like countless teams have before them, and we never have the pleasure of reading the same hot-take articles over and over again about how Sam Hinkie is disgracing the game of basketball.
Bryan: You can even take that argument one step further, Sean. If Nerlens never tore his ACL, he’d have been the concensus No. 1 overall pick in 2013. Saric, meanwhile, was generating buzz as a top 10 lock and a top five sleeper until he signed his new contract with Efes that gave him no out until the summer of 2016 (at the earliest). Hinkie took advantage of the market inefficiency — all three guys had talent worthy of a higher draft selection, but mitigating circumstances caused them to fall slightly — and started the biggest delayed-gratification rebuild in recent memory, if not all time.
To me, the key to this whole experiment is Saric. If he stays true to his recent word and does join the Sixers next summer, he’ll be locking himself into a below-market deal for the first four years of his career. With extensions for Nerlens, Embiid and potentially Stauskas looming, cap space will soon be at a premium for the Sixers, so Saric’s rookie deal could help balance the books. If he doesn’t come over until 2017, however, he’d no longer be bound by the rookie scale and could negotiate any free-agent contract with the Sixers, which could put them in somewhat of a cap bind.
Getting back to Sean’s question about Okafor/Noel: To me, that was the biggest concern coming into the year, and it remains the top storyline to watch as the season progresses (when considering the long-term future of the franchise). Both guys have shown promising flashes, though, that have me feeling more confident than I was a month or two ago. Nerlens isn’t exactly Steph Curry, but he’s developing some modicum of a mid-range jumper, which is absolutely critical if he’s going to be paired with another low-post big like Okafor (or, knock on wood, eventually Embiid). He’s reworked his entire shooting stroke in two years, so I think there’s only room for growth on that end.
As for Okafor, I’m not convinced he’ll ever be an elite defender, but he’s at least passable in the post. He needs to grow more comfortable with guarding pick-and-rolls, but that should come with time. Given his beyond-his-years footwork on offense, I have confidence that he’ll eventually learn how to become at least average defensively; he just needs to understand how to guard the different sets opponents will throw at him.
I’m curious: Do you guys think Okafor, Noel and Embiid can all work on the same team? Or will the Sixers ultimately have to trade one of them? (And if so, who would you want them to trade?)
Sean: That’s a really interesting rabbit hole to go down regarding Noel. If he doesn’t fall to the Pelicans’ spot at No. 6, I would imagine Hinkie doesn’t end up moving Holiday, which means drafting MCW wouldn’t make any sense. Does he then draft the guy a portion of the Sixers wanted in Steven Adams, or follow his standard MO and grab the next rangy, athletic wunderkind on the board (Giannis!!!)?
I think the three big men can certainly work together. The Okafor-Noel pairing has looked just fine considering their limited time playing together, and Embiid theoretically combines the best attributes of both, so he should be able to slide in with either of them. If (if, if, if) Embiid is ever healthy and the time comes that the team decides it needs to trade one, I think Okafor is the obvious candidate. I don’t think he’s the right fit for the type of system Hinkie would ideally like the team to run. Imagine he’s coming off a couple seasons of scoring around 20 PPG (maybe a ROY award under his belt), the return would be astronomical. Part of me wants to see this happen just to see how the city would react. A ton of people are still bitter about trading MCW and he’s not even particularly good. If the Sixers traded Okafor, WIP radio would have a modern day Salem witch trial to burn Hinkie at the stake.
Jeff: I’m as excited about Saric as everyone else, but I’m just not convinced he’s considered an integral part of the rebuild. Hinkie kind of knew he had time to wait on Saric, and to him, waiting for 2-3 years on Dario’s potential was ultimately more valuable than any other player on the board at #12. I agree his below-market contract will be very assuaging to Hinkie and the Sixers organization, but if you put him on this roster with a healthy Embiid, he’s unquestionably the fourth-best big man and I don’t think he ever develops into a regular SF (even though he possesses some of those skills).
The Okafor/Noel duo has definitely surpassed my expectations as well, and continuing to see them both grow throughout the year will be very fascinating. Jah’s offensive game is just memorizing. It was definitely harder to appreciate when he was at Duke because of the dimensions of the court, (more frequent) double-teams and level of competition. But Okafor is just having his way with everyone so far. His defense is shaky, and the next time he goes out and defends a pick-and-roll jumper shooter will be his first time, but he’s not as egregious a defender as some pointed out in the pre-draft process.
I think they all could find a role on the same team together, but I’m not sure how happy the guy who has to come off the bench will ultimately be. That would cause the most problems; I can’t imagine Okafor being happy with being sixth man. If Embiid is declared healthy he’s the star of this team, because his talents are generational on offense and defense. In a perfect world I would love to keep all of them, but there might be too much value out there on other teams to not make a trade and upgrade other positions or get more draft picks. Even though Hinkie putting together another Harden-type trade is unlikely, it still remains a small possibility that a star player becomes available. And Hinkie will need to bring a lot of chips to the table, and those three big men are big gambling chips.
If we’re assuming Embiid is healthy and going to play for 10 straight years in this scenario, then I’m probably trading Okafor. And that was really hard to say considering how great he’s been offensively through only eight games. A frontcourt of Embiid and Noel would just be merciless for opponents on both sides of the ball. I’m not sure you can get to that standard with Okafor defending the paint, plus he really doesn’t have the versatility to play the 4-spot like Nerlens does.
Just to hit on Nerlens for a second. Bryan, you talked about his growth offensively, and that’s by far the most impressive thing about him to me. The fact that he has a workable jump shot and has become a somewhat reliable post scorer in just over a year is great. He probably hasn’t been asked to shoot a jump shot since he was in junior high school, and to see him hitting 17-footers with semi-regularity and making free throws at around a 60 percent clip is extremely encouraging. His defensive numbers speak for themselves, but his exponential growth on the offensive side of the ball is what gets me excited the most about seeing his game continue to develop over the next few years.
Jason: Just to chime in here as a non-Sixers fan, I’ve generally supported #TheProcess, as I get what Hinkie is trying to do. Different sport, but I kind of went through something similar with the Cubs (the Astros did it, too). When Theo Epstein took over as president, he knew that baseball operations basically needed a complete overhaul, and they tore everything down and sunk a ton of money into player development and created a clear draft strategy. The Cubs were awful for several years, but look at what they did this year: 97 wins and a trip to the NLCS. The Astros made the playoffs as well. Now most baseball peeps think those two teams have two of the brightest futures in MLB.
I do like what the Sixers have together in Noel and Okafor. Noel is a legit game-changer defensively and Okafor can be that type of guy on offense (the defense…yuck…but he’s young). I’m not sure we can really count on anything from Embiid at this point, so any production there, whether it’s on the court or via trade, is a bonus.
I was talking to somebody briefly about Saric yesterday on Twitter, and I kind of think he’s a big key, like Bryan said. I haven’t been following his situation THAT closely, but do you really think he’ll come over in 2016? I know he’s said he will, but he could make SO much more money if he waited another year.
Sean: Based off his latest comments, I do think Saric will be over next year, despite the financial hit he would take by not waiting another year. I think he is sick of Efes jerking his playing time around (as overseas clubs are prone to do with younger players) and wants to challenge himself at the highest level. At a certain point, you’re making more money than you’ll ever need either way, so what’s the point if you’re not happy with your situation?
More than anything, I just like that Hinkie has a clear plan and is sticking to it. You see the Lakers’ situation and the direction of the organization just makes zero sense. They have these promising young players, but two years running now, they’ve brought in mid-level veterans to play ahead of them and set back their development. I would hate if Noel and Okafor didn’t have free run because the Sixers brought in guys like Jordan Hill and Carlos Boozer. Or if we didn’t get to see what the team has in Stauskas because Lou Williams and Nick Young are taking a ton of shots. Free D’Angelo!
Jeff: This is by far my favorite attack on Hinkie, saying that he needs to incorporate a veteran presence and needs to surround his young team with other serviceable and tenured players. That is absolute nonsense. Hinkie is clear in his plan to tank, and signing mediocre guys for over market value doesn’t help in the least bit.
Although it breeds awful play on the court, I’d much rather take a stab in the dark on second round and undrafted players and see if maybe we can turn one into a valuable asset down the road. Robert Covington being exhibit A; he undoubtedly has a place on this roster down the road, maybe not as a starter when this team is truly good. But he certainly has a place.
If Hinkie just signed a bunch of Martell Webster’s, they never would’ve discovered Covington. And this goes for other players like Jerami Grant and Wroten (who was acquired for a second-round pick that will probably never convey); these guys don’t get time if Hinkie brings in vets to fill out the roster.
As for Saric, I really want to believe what he is saying right now, but he has several months before a final decision on his contract is to be made, and that’s what worries me. He has all this time to mend the relationship with Efes and think critically about the amounts of money he would be forgoing to sign with the Sixers.
But I also believe the competitor in Saric wanting to come over to the NBA to play with the best players in the world. I’m sure he is also way fed up with playing 17 minutes a game this year when he is considered by many to be the best player in Europe right now. It’s definitely beneficial for the Sixers to have him come over this summer, but like I mentioned before I don’t think it makes or breaks this rebuilding process. Although of course, Dario’s skill set is very unique for a big man and probably has Hinkie salivating at the thought of adding him to the roster for basically pennies on the dollar for what he would make in two years.
If I had to predict, I’d say he does come over this summer. But that prediction is solely based on his words from a few weeks ago. Hopefully his word is as strong as oak.
To go back to your thought on the Cubs/Astros, Jason. Those teams should be commended even more, considering baseball prospects have a higher percentage of failing than top basketball prospects. Also considering there are farm systems where these players, sometimes out of high school, have to work on their craft for years before reaching the big leagues. The turnaround time on draft picks is longer than in the NBA, so fans have to be even more patient. As much heat as Hinkie gets, doing a rebuild like that in baseball deserves way more critics than in basketball. So huge amounts of credit to the Cubs and Astros…and hopefully the Phillies in two or three years…
Bryan: Agree with Jeff and Sean that perhaps the most encouraging part of this whole rebuilding process has been the firm commitment to a long-term plan, both from Hinkie and, perhaps more importantly, the ownership. You don’t often find people willing to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into a franchise only to see it reboot from the ground up, but the Sixers owners have bought into what Hinkie’s selling and are giving him free rein to do what he thinks is best for the franchise. Just look at Sacramento for an example of how an owner can subvert any sort of long-term progress being made by a franchise. Mike Malone was the first coach Boogie seemed to truly respect, and the franchise has been spiraling out of control since his firing. (#PICKSWAP)
I’m a little more skeptical about Saric coming over next year, despite his recent comments, largely because of the financial aspect. He (rightfully) appears to be frustrated with his situation at Efes, but is it really worth sacrificing possibly $10-plus million to escape from that a year earlier? One can only imagine his agent would have something to say about that.
I likewise agree that of the three foundational bigs, Okafor is the one who I’d trade if it comes to that. Nerlens is just too damn special defensively, and Embiid seems to have the highest two-way ceiling if he can overcome these foot problems. Besides, no one is giving more than 40 cents on the dollar for him until he proves he can stay healthy and be productive. Okafor could be another MCW-esque situation, where he inflates his stats for a year before getting traded, but I’d expect a king’s ransom in return for him. Pretty sure Howard Eskin would spontaneously combust if that happened, too, which is always an added bonus.
Regarding Jeff’s point about veterans, I’m somewhat torn there. I agree that there’s no need to bring in the Jameer Nelsons of the world just to give the offense a functional point guard — T.J. McConnell has been fine as a stop-gap until Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall get healthy. I do wonder if there was a missed opportunity to do what Portland did, though — bringing in relatively young, high-upside guys on reasonable mid-level-esque contracts. Does anyone still think Al-Farouq Aminu’s four-year, $30 million deal is crazy? The real question is, would those free agents have any interest joining the Sixers without being massively overpaid? Because if not, that could pose a problem when the Sixers do begin to float offers in the free-agent market in the next year or two.
I do also wonder whether they’re losing anything in terms of off-court intangibles by not having veterans around. In theory, those guys could teach the Sixers’ core young players about things like how to stay fresh throughout a full 82-game season or how their diet can affect their on-court performance. (Put down the Shirley Temples, JoJo.) After all, the Timberwolves handed Kevin Garnett a completely unreasonable amount of money this summer, largely to serve as a mentor for Karl-Anthony Towns. I’m at least somewhat scared that the Sixers don’t have a KG-esque figure to mentor their bigs. Am I crazy for feeling that way?
Jason: Don’t think that’s crazy at all. While you obviously don’t want to be throwing money around to veterans in order to chase a few more wins, I think there’s something to be said for having a few guys around to help with leadership and building good habits in the NBA. I know I’ve read some people who are concerned with some of these youngsters learning bad habits playing on these horrible teams and being in a culture of losing. Coaching can help here, but it’d be nice for a quality veteran mentor or two.
Sean: While they haven’t been completely devoid of veterans (Jason Richardson last year, Carl Landry this year), I certainly think having one or two more wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world.
I actually think Jason Thompson would have been the perfect guy, because he grew up in Mount Laurel and seemed excited to be here playing for the hometown team and serving in that veteran leader role. He also wouldn’t have minded coming off the bench or sucked up a ton of possessions when he was on the court. The way the Warriors are lapping the field it looks like that GS pick swap is absolutely worthless. That move and the K.J. trade are probably the ones I’ve disagreed with most during the Hinkie era.
Jeff: I do kind of like what Portland did this offseason by trying to buy low on guys like Vonleh, Plumlee, Harkless and Aminu. Although “buying low” is a bad term regarding Aminu. That contract still isn’t great, and I’d be fuming if the Sixers gave $30 million to that guy. But these are all prospects who were undervalued, and with regular minutes could turn into good-to-great rotational players. But the Sixers have also sort of done that to a lesser degree since Hinkie took over. Getting Stauskas, Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten, among others is an example of that as well, just on a cheaper and less impressive scale.
They’ve also had veterans hanging around the past two years with Thaddeus Young, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jason Richardson. All those young players have been outspoken about how much they respect those guys, and they were clubhouse leaders that went unnoticed by the national media. This year it’s a bit different, although they do have Carl Landry (not sure how he is participating behind the scenes, though). But it’s Noel’s third year in the league and he has become a leader of the team, and Wroten and Marshall have now been in the league awhile and have a voice in the locker room as someone guys look to for advice.
After all this losing and constant criticizing this team faces, it really has never affected the players. There hasn’t been a huge blow-up behind the scenes where players were unhappy with management or the coaches and are fed up with the plan. The guys just go to work every day because they want to get better. Mostly because a majority of players are fringe NBA talent and just want to stay in the league, and that helps keep guys focused for sure. For most of those guys it probably still feels like they’re in college and this is just an extension of that. All the players are basically around the same age and for most this is the only team they’ve been a part of since college. They don’t know any different then to embrace this college team attitude of not questioning coaches and coming to practice everyday giving 110 percent.
I believe in the idea of having a veteran presence near to teach these young players life lessons about being in the Association, but I wouldn’t recommend signing a KG-type as a mentor just for the sake of doing it. Letting Nerlens and other guys become leaders on their own is more beneficial anyway.
Sean: Jeff, thanks for mentioning Mbah a Moute, can’t believe he slipped my mind. A big part of the reason the team kept him around was to serve as a mentor for Embiid given their ties from Cameroon, exactly the sort of thing critics claim the team lacked. The fact that he ended up as a starter and one of the best defensive players on the team was just an added bonus. But if the Sixers were just trying to lose as many games as possible with no regard for those intangible things people bring up, no way Luc sticks around all season.
Jeff: Jason, I think you’re right about the culture of losing and how that could leave a mental defect on some of the players. The only thing is when this rebuild and process comes to its end, I’d like to imagine we’ve moved on from the majority of players who were bred in this environment. That’s of course a cold and heartless way of perceiving it, but that’s the truth.
The main pieces like Noel, Embiid and Okafor will have suffered some terrible seasons, but I don’t think we can count on JaKarr Sampson, Hollis Thompson and Christian Wood playing huge minutes anymore, or even being on the team. The roster will continue to turn over and more young guys and free agents will replace the guys who have been here the past few seasons. I agree that the issue of bad habits and losing attitude are a concern in the “now,” just not an issue that I’m worrying about long term.
Bryan: Definitely agree with that point, Jeff. I’m likewise not sweating the “losing culture” permeating the locker room. After all, in the first two years of Kevin Durant’s career, the Oklahoma City Thunder won 20 and 23 games, respectively. That didn’t seem to permanently ruin him or Russell Westbrook, did it? If anything, those guys have spoken in recent years about valuing where they are now based on the lows they experienced during their early seasons. And it’s not like Brett Brown is openly encouraging guys to adopt bad habits — he’s constantly calling timeouts when defensive rotations break down, in particular, to correct what went wrong before those problems fester.
So, it seems that we’re all still #TeamProcess at the moment. But, to play devil’s advocate for a second, what move could Hinkie make that would break your faith in him?
Sean: Bryan, anything involving Nerlens Noel not being here for the next decade would break me. Necessary caveat that I don’t think this will ever happen. But…if the team moved Noel for a package of picks, or balked on giving him anything short of what he asks for in a contract negotiation, thereby alienating a player who has been a remarkably good soldier about everything, I’m off the bandwagon.
Noel is already one of the top defenders in the league. Between his rim protection and ability to guard the pick and roll, Noel is the perfect big man to build a defense around for the modern NBA.
Offensively, he has established a floor as a great finisher around the rim when a pass-first PG is involved (which he’s done with the likes of Ish Smith and T.J. McConnell). The strides he has made as a shooter and ball handler in just his second healthy season only encourage me that his ceiling could be so much more.
While I’m very much pro-Process, I’d be ready to go to the mattresses in defense of keeping Nerlens around at almost any cost.
Jeff: I really can’t even imagine Hinkie making a major gaffe or error at this point in his negotiations. He’s really never “lost” a trade. I mean, if you still think the MCW trade was a mistake, you haven’t watched how the Bucks play with/without him in the lineup, or how awful and dysfunctional the Lakers are. When that Lakers pick conveys it will be a huge coup for this team.
But there is one thing that would push my faith to the edge and that’s with the draft this summer. Skal Labissiere is considered the #1 or #2 prospect at this point, right? Let’s say the Lakers pick doesn’t convey this year and Ben Simmons goes 1, and Sixers are at 2 and grab Skal and don’t trade him or another big man…I’d be pretty downright upset. It’d almost be like they’re punting on another season, but forgoing other needs again. But also, it would really appear to everyone that Hinkie has no clear plan whatsoever and is just fervent on stockpiling assets with no end game.
So that would push me to the edge. The other thing is if Hinkie gets into panic mode for some reason and overpays for a bunch of mediocre free agents. I don’t anticipate that happening, but maybe he’ll eventually get pressure from ownership and be forced to do this.
I also agree with Sean wholeheartedly about Noel! He should be basically untouchable unless you’re getting one of the top players in the league in return. I didn’t even mention him above because in my head I just assumed even “hypothetical Hinkie” would never trade him.
Bryan: Yep, a Nerlens trade is where I draw the line as well. Beyond his on-court potential, I’d be worried about what message that would send to the rest of the locker room (and free agents). He’s been nothing but a good soldier throughout this entire rebuild, so flipping him for anything short of a surefire superstar would send the message that Hinkie truly does view players as assets. That, more than anything, could cripple the team’s culture.
Jason: To the point about free agents. I feel like next year is when the Sixers have to make some sort of move in free agency. While they have all these young players and picks, I feel like they need some sort of established player or player(s) to help move forward. Is there anybody you’d like to see them target in 2016? And are you worried about players not wanting to play for them given some of the negativity surrounding this rebuild?
Jeff: I’m all for going out and spending big on quality free-agent pieces. But the other side to that argument is to just keep the majority of this massive cap space available for when all of the Sixers’ young talent has to be signed to their next long-term deals. This was essentially the downfall of OKC when they had to make a choice on Harden and Ibaka and were forced to make the Harden trade.
The Sixers have the opportunity to draft four or five elite-level talents and have the money to keep them all here for a decade-long run. Obviously, this is all in a perfect-world scenario. But that’s the converse to the “let’s spend big in free agency and put pieces around Nerlens/Jah” argument.
Bryan: For free agents, top-tier guys like Kevin Durant, Al Horford and Mike Conley aren’t coming. Let’s just rule them out right away. If the Sixers don’t get a point guard in the draft, I wouldn’t mind taking a one- or two-year flyer on Brandon Jennings, assuming he returns to form after fully recovering from his torn Achilles. Evan Fournier is at least mildly intriguing as well, although the Magic might be willing to match any reasonable offer for him in restricted free agency. Beyond that, though, the free-agent market dries up pretty quickly, especially at the Sixers’ major positions of need. I think Jeff’s on the right page in terms of preserving some cap space for the impending extensions, but those extensions also make it somewhat imperative for the Sixers to make their biggest free-agent splash by 2018.
If I had to guess, they’ll add a few complementary pieces next summer in free agency, make a major stride toward playoff contention in 2016-17, and then make their biggest move in 2017, when the cap peaks at $100-plus million.
Sean: Hypothetical Hinkie would be a great name for an indie rock band.
As others have touched upon, I don’t think next summer is the big one for Sixers free agents given the upcoming extensions to guys like Noel. There’s also going to be a roster crunch with the draft picks and Embiid/Saric coming aboard. No big names are going to come here until the young guys can the team up to at least 35-40 wins and Philadelphia becomes a Utah-like “team on the rise.”
One guy I wouldn’t mind them throwing a ton of money at is Harrison Barnes. He’s young enough to fit with the team’s current core and might want to go somewhere where he can be a larger focal point of the offense than he’ll ever be in GS with Steph and Klay around. The Warriors might match, but it would at least signal to the current players and free agents down the road that management is serious about pivoting toward winning games.
Bryan: Ooooooh. Harry Barnes is a great one, Sean. Props. Considering the Sixers reportedly courted Jimmy Butler, I could actually see them trying to get in on Barnes, too.
Jeff: Harrison Barnes is definitely someone who the Sixers could, and should, target this offseason. It’s also not unfathomable that he would want to come to Philadelphia and leave Steph and Klay’s shadow.
DeMar DeRozan has an early termination option that he will surely use, and then be able to cash-in when the cap rises this summer. Even if DeRozan wants to stay in Toronto or go anywhere other than Philly, it would be worth it for Hinkie and the Sixers to throw a max offer at him.
Bryan: Might just be me, but DeMar DeRozan is the exact type of guy I wouldn’t like to see the Sixers go after. He’s a high-usage, low-efficiency scorer who’s a career 26.9 percent shooter from deep. If the Sixers really are committed to building around a Twin Towers frontcourt, they need to surround them with low-usage snipers and a point guard who thrives in pick-and-rolls. DeRozan would provide a much-needed scoring punch, but I don’t know how you build a competent offense with him and Okafor as the top two options.
Personally, I’m rooting for the Lakers to max out DeRozan as their Kobe replacement, then watch in horror as Byron Scott plays him 38 minutes a game and continues to bury D’Angelo Russell on the bench.
Jason: I was just about to say the same thing about DeRozan. Sixers desperately need some wing scoring, but I’m not all that high on him and I’m not sure about that fit with Okafor/Noel given his troubles shooting from deep. I could definitely see the Lakers going after him, though.
Sean: I’ll third that sentiment. Although DeRozan is borderline elite at getting to the line, his mostly long twos approach to offense is seemingly the antithesis to everything Hinkie has tried to install in the organization.
Jeff: Yeah, I can see where you guys are coming from on DeRozan. I think I just have a different perception of him as a player. I would love to just have two snipers on the outside and a PG who can penetrate and distribute to the bigs underneath. I think DeRozan can create for himself a bit, where other guys who we have now at the wings like Stauskas and Covington really can’t yet.
So my idea of signing DeRozan was probably a cry for help. Still like him though, and I could definitively see someone overpaying for him. And overpaying is something Hinkie has yet to do, so I don’t expect signing DeRozan to happen. Maxing out DeRozan would be like taking a shortcut and, that’s something the Sixers have advised against.
Jason: Okay, back to this season to wrap this up, as we’ve been going on for quite awhile here about #TheProcess. How many wins for the Sixers this year? And what’s the one thing you want to take away from the rest of the year, no matter how bad the team is?
Bryan: I said 24 wins before the start of the season, and I’m sticking with it. They’ll be semi-competent once Marshall, Wroten and RoCo are all back in the lineup. It’s only a matter of time before teams start resting players against them, too, which should lead to a few cheap wins.
The biggest takeaway from me: The ongoing evolution of the Nerlens-Big Jah pairing. Specifically, if Nerlens continues to expand his offensive repertoire and if Okafor grows more comfortable on defense (particularly pick-and-roll defense) as the year progresses. If those two can learn to functionally co-exist, the team’s long-term ceiling remains sky-high.
Jeff: Once the team heals up I expect them to be way more competitive than they are at the moment. However, they still don’t have the playmakers and experience to close out games, and that has plagued them over the past two years. Because of this slow start I expect them to win around 20-22 games, which would actually be pretty admirable considering a 0-9…0-10…0-11…whatever start? Who knows. But they have enough pieces to win 20 games as is for sure.
The Sixers are known to put a giant emphasis on player development, and that’s all you can hope for from this season. There isn’t one thing or one goal I would like to see out of them. I just want to see progression out of players like Noel, Okafor, Stauskas, Covington and Grant, all who will likely be here for a while.
Sean: I’ll say 20 wins. Vegas pegged them for 21.5 before the season, which I thought was about right, and they probably lost 1-2 games so far due to the early Covington/Noel injuries.
Aside from what Bryan already mentioned with the Noel-Okafor pairing, I want that Lakers pick next June. Between the Sixers being terrible and the Kings pick swap, I feel confident in Philly getting a top three pick, but I want another juicy selection right around four or five from LA. No more kicking the can down the road, let’s see them turn the corner starting next year. Of course, this is all up to the lottery gods, which seems about as fitting a way as any to sum up the Hinkie era.
It’s been real guys. #TeamBlackFalcon