Does Philadelphia even know what they’re doing?
Sam Hinkie is about to lose the patience of his few loyal, staunch fans in the City of Brotherly Love.
After all, the Philadelphia 76ers were behind only the Milwaukee Bucks for worst attendance in the NBA last season. Ranking 29th in a category that’s a good indicator of how well you’re appealing to fans, isn’t where any management team wants to be.
Since Jrue Holiday‘s departure during 2013’s draft, the outlook for Philadelphia has been one of reservation, as Hinkie continues to protract the rebuilding. His first significant move after becoming General Manager in May 2013 was trading his All-Star point guard in exchange for Nerlens Noel.
Living in the heart of the Bluegrass, I know a thing or two about the former Kentucky standout. He was on pace to be just as jaw-dropping defensively as Anthony Davis, but the ACL tear took everyone by storm. In today’s NCAA game, you rarely find a player with the hype Noel had surrounding him taking a major injury blow. It sidelined Noel for the rest of the season, and his chances at being a top five pick were shot.
Hinkie traded a sure thing in Holiday, for a guy that wouldn’t see the court in 2013-14. Rebuilding … massively. It should be mentioned, however, that Noel caused speculation late in the year, as he declared that he was ready to suit up after recovering. Philadelphia wasn’t interested, and went into complete revamp mode with the 7-footer. Shooting coaches helped re-develop his technique, and lord knows he had gobs of time to work on his interior post offense.
This upcoming season was supposed to begin the “block party” Noel coined on draft night. It’s going to be his debut, and the fans might have another asset to cheer for other than Michael Carter-Williams.
Wait, Hinkie just raised some more eyebrows. Including mine, which jumped off my face and touched the clouds on Thursday.
The third overall pick in the 2014 draft belonged to the 76ers, as they never inquired the Cavaliers for the top selection.
With that spot, they had no hesitation. Joel Embiid, 7-foot center out of Kansas, was their man.
The part where they’ll get heckled? He was discovered to have a serious, complicating foot injury during pre-draft workouts. Like Noel, he was supposed to slide. Embiid went as far to say post-draft that he thought he’d fall all the way to the second round.
Not with Hinkie sitting at No. 3. “Missed opportunity” is a term that doesn’t walk through his door.
Embiid didn’t fall to No. 6 compared to his new teammate, although Boston would’ve had a field day. Instead, he was picked to play with another 7-footer, and the choice was quickly ridiculed.
Embiid’s injury — a stress fracture in the right navicular bone — was believed to take 4-6 months to heal, allowing him to step onto the court in December. Hinkie revealed that doctors are now telling him 5-8 months, but that’s not necessarily the approach he’ll take.
Remember, these 76ers are all about the long 3,000 mile journey with traffic lights and stop signs. Not the 1/2 mile drag race to the Finals, or playoffs. They want to compete by as soon as 2016, not right now. It takes star power to win in this league, and there’s only two ways you obtain that star power: The draft, or free agency.
Unfortunately for the city of Philadelphia, free agency is out of the question. I’ve always found it fascinating; Philly is one of the best, largest markets in sports. It’s a city that has the capacity to support large franchises, and the lucrative deals that come along with them. It’s a place that’s experienced mild success through recent years in other professional sports. In the NBA, however, they’ve yet to develop a Finals roster since 2001, when a top three scoring point guard in history took them to new heights.
Free agents don’t want to move their families to Philadelphia. They aren’t willing to put up with the outrageous temperatures from December-March (66 percent of the season!) and, with this management, use LeBron James as an example. The devil has a better chance at holding a snowball for 10 seconds than do the 76ers at landing LeBron. He knows that in any bottom tier organization — not just Philly — winning immediately is out of the question. Present any highly praised free agent with the idea that they’ll have to wait 2-3 years to see May basketball, and it’s over. Before it even began.
Heck, Hinkie even had that spine-chilling grin on his face when asked just how they’ll handle Embiid’s foot, and possible return. “Guess what our approach will be,” he said after the draft. “We’ll focus on the long-term health of the player.”
For Embiid, the long-term is more than just dicey …. it’s horrifying.
Who knows if the foot will hold up, or if his previous back issues prevent him from playing 100 percent pain free down the road? Not Hinkie, not head coach Brett Brown, and not Joel Embiid. Nobody reads the future, but there is a such thing as reading reality. Reality says this roster has two 7-footers in the frontcourt. Both of them are coming off lower body issues, but they’re also below 21 years old. That helps, tremendously.
Noel, drafted last June, doesn’t have the offensive virtuosity to compare with Embiid, but is just as powerful of a defender on the block. Brown and Hinkie could figuratively have the complete package in their frontcourt. But, the first question that shot into my brain when Silver announced the No. 3 pick was: “Can Philly co-exist Noel and Embiid, or is this a stepping stone for a future trade?” I didn’t even think about the foot injury, or the 76ers’ need for shooting next to Carter-Williams.
Brown, now entering his second season with the team, tried to alleviate the hate.
“I do think that Joel and Nerlens can co-exist,” Brown said. “I think I can find a way to play those two guys together. It’s a really good problem to have.”
I’m not sold, and probably just as curious as the rest of the NBA media world.
In order to work together on the front line, Noel and Embiid will have to complement one another, and provide space for everyone to operate on the floor. That’s an extreme need for Carter-Williams, who finished 6th in the entire league in “drives,” with 681 slashes to the rim. That’s 9.7 per game, and he only shot 37.8 percent on his attempts off drives. If Brown is contemplating playing the two 7-footers together with his beloved point guard, there has to be room.
How do they create that room?
One of the two will want to be able to play outside the paint a bit, and develop a mid-to-long range jumper. This isn’t ideal for players with their size, but Embiid and Noel are definitely young enough to experiment with anything. It’s something to think about, and while nobody is expecting him to become a Chris Bosh with his touch, Embiid already has the makings of that smooth jumper.
While I would have went with Dante Exum or Julius Randle to fill spots on the roster, the thought is that you go with the best overall player. If you’re atrocious enough to go on a 26-game losing streak, you can’t be fishing for roster needs. The best available player becomes a necessity, and that’s what Philadelphia got on Thursday.
There was criticism, but there’s also a bright spot.
The beauty of the move is that if Noel turns out to be a bust in his first year, Hinkie can quickly use him as trade bait.
Think about it …. not a ton of people were ever sold on his offensive contributions coming out of Kentucky. Sure, he’ll be a wizard on the defensive end. But, if Hinkie believes Embiid can step in and play just as sound defensively while putting on a clinic with his offensive talent, Noel is gone. It’s good to only use one year of evaluation for Noel here, since it would maximize his trade value. You don’t want him sticking around for years without contributing much. Teams will lose attraction. Instead, examine what he’s going to be, and you have a chance to actively shop him. Noel will only be 21 by the time of the 2015 Draft, so it gives the 76ers flexibility in a hot commodity most teams would love to have.
That’s how high I am on Embiid. Besides Andrew Wiggins, who’s playing with a better point guard in a city that needs his contributions now, Embiid will be the most astounding asset in this draft.
Why am I so fixated on the next Hakeem Olajuwon? I’ll dive into it