The end of "The Process" for the Philadelphia 76ers was always sure to claim several victims beyond its leader, ex-general manager Sam Hinkie. The new regime headed by Bryan Colangelo plans to win sooner rather than later, and that will mean selling off current and future considerations for new players. Indefinite future draft picks do not have livelihoods to change, but the players now on the roster do.
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It appears that Colangelo could start to rebuild the team by trading away one of its highest-potential players. According to a report from Marc Stein and Chad Ford of ESPN.com, centers Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel are on the trading block in an attempt to bring in backcourt help or another top draft pick:
The Philadelphia 76ers will explore trading Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel in the buildup to the NBA draft on June 23, according to league sources.
Sources told ESPN that the Sixers are determined to gauge the trade market for both Okafor and Noel and are increasingly likely to move at least one of them in conjunction with the draft, in which Philadelphia holds the No. 1 overall selection for the first time since selecting Allen Iverson in 1996.
Sources describe Okafor, at this early juncture, as the most likely of the two to be moved in the wake of his rocky rookie season off the floor. [...]
Among the options the Sixers have is trying to trade Okafor or Noel for another high pick in the looming draft to address their backcourt needs or building a package around either one in a trade for veteran talent, either in June or in July after free agency starts.
This report is not especially surprising, because it looked like the two centers were a poorly matched pair well before Hinkie decided to step down. (In fact, our coverage of Okafor's season-ending knee surgery suggested that he could have seen his last days in a Philadelphia uniform.) Okafor is an excellent low-post scorer with limited defensive ability (especially in space), and Noel is a strong defender who needs to be near the basket to have any kind of offensive value. They occupy many of the same spaces at both ends and arguably limit each other's development when played together.
It also makes sense that Okafor would be identified as the better player to trade, and not just because of his early-season off-court troubles. The 20-year-old still holds immense potential as an interior scorer, a talent that has fallen out of favor with many NBA teams but maintains a great deal of value in a general basketball sense. Trading him could even be seen as a similar move to what Hinkie did with Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams in 2015 — sell high on a player with deficiencies who many other GMs still like.
Meanwhile, Noel fits better with the other Sixers forwards (and soon-to-be Sixers), including Dario Saric, Robert Covington, a functional Joel Embiid, and either Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons. He's the more reproducible player compared to Okafor, but he impressed greatly in his rookie season and could very well develop into a top defensive center.
The greater question isn't why Colangelo would trade one of these players, but what he hopes to get back. No matter what he prefers, it likely will not be a draft pick. It figures that the Sixers want a starter-caliber guard, but only Providence point guard Kris Dunn, Kentucky guard Jamal Murray, and Oklahoma shooter Buddy Hield foot seem like safe bets in this class (and even then maybe not until a year down the line). Neither Okafor nor Noel would seem likely to get the top-six pick necessary to draft either one of those players. That leaves a trade for a veteran guard, which should work out considering there are plenty of NBA teams who want to rebuild and the Sixers have lots of cap space.
So let's assume that Noel, Okafor, or both will bring back one or two members of the Sixers' 2016-17 starting backcourt. Given that any player will have been willingly traded by his former team, it's fair to say that he'll be a reasonably talented player most assuredly not of All-Star quality. So the Sixers will have, at best, a good backcourt capable of eventually getting them into the postseason. Meanwhile, they will have to depend on the development of several high-potential frontcourt players to become a championship team, and that's before considering the possibility of any other moves that could disrupt the rotation further.
It's hard to know what team will look like, but it's probably not going to be a championship contender any time soon. That result can be both good and bad for Sixers fans who have been promised a contending squad through Hinkie's rebuilding process. On one hand, the 2016-17 Sixers should be measurably better than they have been. On the other hand, that team could only win 30 games instead of 10, end up with a middling lottery pick, and look like a No. 6 seed at best over the next few seasons. It would be wrong to say that Hinkie's grand experiment was never going to end up in the same place — not every team ends up a winner, obviously — but it's still much less exciting than a potential champion.
The point here isn't to say that Colangelo is going to fail in his attempt to build a winner in Philadelphia, but that whatever he does build figures to be familiar to NBA fans. No matter your opinion of Hinkie's team, it was impossible to deny that the Sixers were fascinating to think about and challenged many assumptions of what a roster should look like. Whatever trades and draft picks Colangelo makes will be much more line with common NBA practices.
It's almost certainly going to result in a more watchable team from game to game. But it's OK to lament the end of one of the most extreme experiments in front office history. The new process is just a little dull by comparison.
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