NBPA to investigate 76ers for potential collective bargaining violations

Nerlens Noel waits for his turn on the stand. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Nerlens Noel waits for his turn on the stand. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

The Philadelphia 76ers have not been shy about taking NBA rebuilding to its extremes. General manager Sam Hinkie has selected several first-round draft picks who were unable to play for the franchise immediately (or sometimes even within a season or two), hasn't even offered contracts to established free agents, and kept the total team salary on the edge of the league-mandated floor, all while maintaining the utmost secrecy. The result is that the Sixers don't always resemble a normal NBA team so much as a thought experiment designed to see if it's possible to undergo a successful rebuilding process without fielding the full roster until the last possible moment.

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This approach has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way for obvious reasons, most of which concern the apparent lack of interest in winning games during these ongoing rebuilding seasons. But the NBPA apparently wants to know if there are deeper issues at play, because they plan on investigating the Sixers for potential violations of the collective bargaining agreement. From Shams Charania for RealGM.com:

The NBPA told agents in a meeting on Monday that it will actively look into the 76ers’ handling of the CBA, such as salary distributions, the cap floor and contract format loopholes. For the NBPA, Philadelphia’s approach over the past several seasons may not be a technical violation of collective bargaining as much as it is one of the spirit of negotiating under the CBA. [...]

Over the past two seasons, the 76ers have compiled a 37-127 record, staying below the 90 percent salary floor for majority of the campaigns before late season signings or trades.

It needs to be stressed that this investigation does not appear to relate to a specific violation. Rather, the union seems so concerned by Philadelphia's way of doing business that they're willing to dig deeper to see if there is a deliberately uncompetitive pattern at play. There's no way of knowing what that could be until they find further information (or a lack thereof), but evidence would essentially have to show that Sixers executive actively chose not to field a competitive team or cut players for no good reason other than they wanted to keep costs low.

While the course of the investigation will determine the ultimate importance of this news, it is not without points of interest. On a very basic note, it is yet more evidence of the union's renewed sense of purpose under new executive director Michele Roberts, who has consistently professed a willingness to fight for the rights of players either through her rhetoric or announcements that she will employ the full powers afforded to the union, which was most assuredly not the standard operating procedure of her predecessor Billy Hunter. Even if this investigation finds nothing, the mere fact that the union is willing to look into the Sixers' extremes points to its rediscovered vigor.

The other thing worth noting, though, is that the Sixers have confounded expectations of team-building so deeply that players' representatives do not trust them. Plenty of teams undergo comprehensive rip-it-up-and-start-again projects, but they also tend to define progress clearly enough that outsiders have some sense of whether the plan is working. Hinkie has gone so far afield that it's hard to know where the Sixers are in their process. Will the observable path to contention start when Joel Embiid takes the floor? When Dario Saric comes over from Europe? Is any player a member of the core?

It's not clear that these questions have answers, whether for Hinkie or those who watch the team on a regular basis. If the NBPA's decision to investigate seems extreme, it could be because a formal inquiry is the best way of figuring out exactly what the Sixers are up to.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!