The Philadelphia 76ers are set to enter 2016-17 with center Nerlens Noel, forward/center Jahlil Okafor, (hopefully) center Joel Embiid, and top overall pick Ben Simmons – an all-around player whose best position might be point power forward. That’s … a luxury?
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Perhaps not. It’s why Okafor has seemingly been on the trade block since Day One of his NBA career, and why he chafed so vociferously at an odd-yet-understandable anonymously-sourced report that stated that the Sixers were shopping him, as opposed to listening to offers for him.
All but Simmons were drafted by deposed former Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie, who took the decades-old adage about drafting the best player over need to an extreme in selecting big men in three consecutive drafts. New GM Bryan Colangelo chose top prospect Simmons in June’s draft, as Hinkie likely would have, adding to the glut.
Now, while speaking at Summer League to Sirius XM’s NBA channel, Colangelo admitted that his roster was literally top-heavy, and “the reality says one” of his big men “has to go at some point.” Listen:
It seems rather silly to admit as much on air, even when dealing with what is obvious to 29 other general managers. Why lessen any bit of trade leverage you have, even if your potential trade partners know what you’re staring down?
Well, when has the Colangelo family ever passed on the chance to sneer and indirectly rip on the work of Sam Hinkie?
We’re not exactly Hinkie’s biggest fans, mind you, but the confluence of events made just about every big man selection passable in its own way.
In 2013 he was staring down a crummy draft and working with the No. 5 pick, and he took a chance on a player that was the consensus No. 1 pick for most of the NCAA basketball season, prior to Nerlens Noel’s ACL tear. In 2014 he was stuck with the third pick in a two-pick draft, and it isn’t as if the players that were selected after Joel Embiid are turning the league on its ear just yet – the next-best prospect on that list might Dario Saric; a player that Hinkie traded for, adding to what is already a crowded 2016-17 frontcourt.
Okafor followed in 2015, the first of Hinkie’s bigs to actually take the floor during his rookie year, one that was fraught with off-court folly and on-court frustration as he failed to effectively pair with a defensive-minded teammate in Noel, prior to a season-ending meniscus tear. Then you add Ben Simmons, who makes T.R. Dunn look like Terry Mills.
In all, you have three big men coming off of major injuries (an ACL tear, navicular fractures, a meniscus tears injuries, all vying for space around the rim. You don’t have to guard Noel or Embiid away from the basket, and although the offensively-versatile Okafor would seem a natural small center in the slighter modern NBA, his positively-offensive work defending the rim would seem to disabuse any coach of that notion.
This is what Hinkie left Sixers coach Brett Brown with. This is what Sam Hinkie hoped to leave himself with this summer and next season, possibly rolling any number of these bigs onto another team for either assets or (shock horror!) an actual player.
As you heard above, Bryan Colangelo admitted that he was “absolutely not” comfortable with the makeup of his big man lineup heading forward, but hedged that he was copping to as much “in a playful way.”
Via RealGM, he went on:
“We’re not going to make a bad deal just to make a deal. I think we can be a better basketball team if we can distribute that talent better. Maybe take one of those assets and address other needs on the roster. I think right now it’s best to say we like all of them, we want to see if we can make the most out of each of them. At the end of the day, the reality says one has to go at some point but only when the deal is right.”
He’ll have his work cut out for him. Okafor and Embiid’s trade values are at an all-time low, while the NBA is well-aware that Noel was working in quicksand alongside Okafor in Nerlens’ second healthy season. Teams are increasingly unwilling to give up first-round picks in a deal, with the understanding that players under rookie contracts provide so much bang for the buck with the new or even old salary cap.
And, anyway, wasn’t trading players for picks what the Colangelo family was brought in to end?
The Sixers, still well under the cap despite throwing money at free agent Jerryd Bayless, have the room to take on a well-heeled super-duperstar in exchange for one of these big men, and the league’s cap situation is so fluid that they could find yet another trading partner in a three-way deal that could send yet another sturdy vet their way in exchange for one of those stashed draft picks.
The problem here is that these are archetypes, and not actual names. And when you plug a name in, things start to fall apart.
Maybe Philly could act as Sam Presti’s trading partner in a deal featuring Russell Westbrook, but what does OKC need with yet another big man? Though Westbrook would look wonderful bounding around the baseline without the ball, waiting for that lob, would he give up the rock to a teenager in Ben Simmons for long stretches?
And why would Russell Westbrook, who turns 28 this year and is coming off of three knee surgeries and too many missed postseason opportunities to count, commit to the Philadelphia 76ers next summer as a free agent? Just because he can make more money there?
That’s the hope Hinkie always had, and that’s the mess Sam Hinkie left Bryan Colangelo with.
These aren’t salted crops. It’s just that, in the end, Sam Hinkie just turned into Old Man Peabody:
Have fun with your phone, Bryan Colangelo. At least, with you around, someone will see that the Philadelphia 76ers are calling, and they’ll actually pick up.
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