BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Time has separated reality from perception within 76er Nation, and every Philadelphia basketball fan should rejoice because of it. For the first time in what feels like centuries the Sixers can focus on building a team and not accumulating assets.
In 2013 the Philly brass began an epic journey of strife and misery disguised as innovation and genius, four seasons later Philadelphia is no closer to its championship aspirations. The premise that number crunching and other analytical approaches could somehow supersede pure instinctive talent evaluation has now been rebuked.
Fans can spend days debating the reasons why Michael Carter-Williams, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel simply weren’t good enough to be instrumental cogs in the franchises turnaround. The ticket buying public can bestow infinite hashtags in an effort to distract themselves from the very fact that they are still waiting for Joel Embiid to be and remain healthy. The praise and affection for Dario Saric, T.J. McConnell and Robert Covington is more about the low expectations they have exceeded, and less to do with any impactful future in a Philadelphia uniform.
On May 14, 2013 Sam Hinkie was entrusted with rebuilding this franchise, despite the numbers guru never being part of a front office that has ever drafted an All-Star player. Nevertheless, it was Hinkie who they felt their wagon should be hitched to. Three years, nine months and 19 days later Philly still has yet to even break ground on a winning team.
From injuries to log jams with missed opportunities sprinkled in, time has reaffirmed talent evaluation as the centerpiece to championship success. All the while rebuking any notion that numbers can be in the forefront of any rebuild.
Now as fans sit mired in the misery of their consequence from being so easily led by deception, there is finally hope. The cupboard, while bare, has provided the front office with a plethora options. The current frustration with existing shot caller, Bryan Colangelo, notwithstanding the 76ers finally have an opportunity to build something special.
This has nothing to do with multiple draft picks or a groundbreaking trade on the horizon. It is more predicated on the removal of the smoke and mirrors that have weighed this franchise down. The trade of Noel, gives hope that this front office realizes that he along with Embiid, Okafor and Saric are/were not franchise building blocks. This means there will be no more waiting for ____________you fill in the blank, instead the fierce urgency of now has taken over.
Colangelo has made the smart moves thus far, not the popular ones. The frustration centered on what the 76ers received in return for Noel is hilarious, considering Nerlens was supposed to be the first block in the rebuild. Both players from Hinkie’s inaugural draft are no longer on the team, for whatever the reason, and that should not be so easily dismissed. The rise of Saric has given many “Processers” reason to pound their chest, but lost in their celebration is what Dario claims aided him in his development. The Croatian stated that Ersan Ilyasova served as a mentor to him.
That dreaded veteran Hinkie avoided like the plague helped a young player adjust and transition to the NBA game. The acquisition of Ilyasova was unpopular at the time, but served its purpose tenfold. Just as the acquisition of Gerald Henderson has kept Jahlil Okafor from making any more TMZ appearances.
The former Toronto Raptors executive is not without his faults, but fans can expect him to always have the best basketball intentions when making moves for this team and not be infatuated with what is the best asset. His willingness to face those who are not happy with his decisions should also not be disregarded.
There is a stench that grows when fans embrace losing as a way to compensate the pain from never winning. Since its implementation “tanking” for draft picks as a way to accumulate the best talent had its skeptics and its supporters. Yet, who or whom those draft picks are used on or for was always the deciding factor in determining if the system in place was a successful. After all, despite the cries for patience it does not take a whole day to recognize sunshine.
The lack of on the floor talent can no longer be excused regardless of the excuse.
The end of Embiid’s season, and possible Sixer’s career, marks the beginning of a new day for Sixer fans. No longer will this once proud basketball fan base have to accept players with more injuries than production. No longer will drafts be approached with a “B.O.G.O” mentality focused on what a player may be worth years later. Instead what player is available and capable of improving this squad immediately is all that will be considered.
The obvious selection of Ben Simmons and with 24th overall pick Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot gaining valuable experience it appeared as if the play now philosophy was already implemented. However, then there was the selection of Furkan Korkmaz and reason to doubt crept in. Colangelo’s moves during the season illustrate a man who is intent on building now and developing players through game minutes.
Even the quirky way Embiid and his fragility were handled gives reason for optimism. The organization did everything in its power, short of asking the other team not to show up, to keep the center healthy. Nevertheless nature will always find a way and the oft-injured center will miss the remainder of his rookie season because he landed wrong.
Such an outcome will hopefully make trading Embiid number one on Colagelo’s to do list, followed by a demand to play hard or not play at all issued to Okafor. There should be joy and optimism around this club, because for the first time since Gene Shue and Pat Williams the halls will be roamed by men with basketball intentions.
Philadelphia has a talent evaluator who has made solid if not spectacular selections outside of the top five. The likes of All-Stars Michael Finley (21st overall), Steve Nash (15th overall), Amar’e Stoudemire (9th overall), and DeMar DeRozan (9th overall) were selected outside of the top five by Colangelo. Considering Hinkie could not find a quality starter when picking in the top three that should warrant Colangelo some sort of leeway.
The Sixers will also be joined by what was universally regarded as the best talent coming into the professional ranks since LeBron James. So while the cupboard is bare in regards to on the court talent it is overflowing in regards to options. Simmons will be joined on the floor by players the organization is excited to build around, rather than players who wanted desperately to play elsewhere.
Next season’s progress will not be interrupted by players taking workload management breaks and 76 power forwards and centers. No sir, Hinkie’s failures in not just properly evaluating players but also in effectively developing talent has afforded the new boss with a blank slate. And the shot caller has the necessary tools to create one hell of a masterpiece.
The man who drafted Andrea Bargnani will not be beyond reproach or absent from mistakes. But if he can also turn the likes of Gary Forbes into Kyle Lowry there is reason for joy. When the former Suns GM can trade franchise main stays like Dan Majerle without hesitation there is reason to believe this team will no longer be held hostage to a player selected third overall, but has only managed to play 31 games in three seasons.
The Sixers tried to reinvent the wheel during the Hinkie regime, now they have given way to a mind less interested in reinvention and more preoccupied with ensuring the wheel runs smoothly. After three years of a process revolving around numbers, 76er fans can finally take solace in knowing that the only process being considered now revolves around basketball.