Sam Hinkie told you this would happen. He told you the rebuild would take a while. He told you the Sixers would be the tortoise and not the hare. Maybe you didn’t believe him. Maybe you should have.
Here’s what Hinkie said almost a year ago after trading for Nerlens Noel, who was recovering from an ACL injury. Here’s what he said while people looked at the roster and scoffed. Here’s what he said while some fans and media members got all worked up that the Sixers still didn’t have a head coach at the time.
“I’m only trying to do what I think is right,” Hinkie said, “which is to build something that our owners want and I think that I want and I think our fans want -- which is to build something that is lasting and build something that is special with a capital ‘S.’”
Capital “S” for special? Could be. Capital “S” for slow? Definitely. If you didn’t already understand that Hinkie is a patient man, he made sure to re-teach the lesson Thursday evening.
The Sixers took Joel Embiid with the third pick of the 2014 NBA draft. The Kansas center is a special talent -- a man league executives have mentioned, in all seriousness, in the same sentence as Hakeem Olajuwon -- but he also fractured the navicular bone in his foot. The recovery time for that injury is approximately four to six months, though it may take Embiid nine to 12 months before he plays competitive basketball again. The Sixers had his medical records and evidently felt confident that he’ll make a recovery (or at least they felt like it was a good gamble).
For the second year in a row, the Sixers acquired a big man who will spend most, if not all, of the season convalescing. Last year it was Noel. This year it will be Embiid. This is Ron Burke’s line, and it’s a good one: The Sixers’ colors are redshirt, white and blue now.
There’s more. With Hinkie there is always more, and it almost always requires more patience.
The Sixers took Elfrid Payton with the 10th pick, then flipped him to the Magic for Croatian forward Dario Saric. If you’ve read any of my pre-draft copy, you know that makes my inner hoops nerd quite happy. It might make you less happy. Saric is only 20. He’s regarded as an excellent passer and capable ball handler, and he’s working on his three-point shot. All to the good. But he recently signed a three-year deal with a Turkish team that many people believe will keep him in Europe for the next two years. At least.
With their first two picks, the Sixers took two guys you won’t be seeing in a Sixers' uniform for a while. I’m cool with that. It’s understandable if you aren’t. But, then, you don’t have a choice.
Maybe this will help. The Saric trade also includes two draft picks: a second-rounder in 2015 and a first-rounder in 2017. That 2017 pick is significant. It’s reportedly protected 1-11 in 2017, or it rolls over to 2018 (protected 1-8).
Why is that significant? Because it helps Hinkie and the Sixers undo the errors of the previous administration. Just as Hinkie made a move that could pay down the Arnett Moutlrie debt, that first-round selection would undo the first-rounder the Sixers were scheduled to forfeit to the Magic in 2017 as part of the Andrew Bynum trade. To review, that means Hinkie got two picks and a player to move back two spots. That’s a really good haul -- and he evidently pulled it off at the last second.
Feel any better now? No? That is something of a shame, because the Sixers will continue to ask for your patience. And if you don’t give it? If you refuse to buy tickets? That won’t sway them. If you buy one ticket or all the tickets, it won’t matter. The price of the franchise will keep going up whether you endorse the plan or not.
But how about this. One more sweetener. Yes, the Sixers are likely headed for another dismal season. Count on lots of losses in 2014-15. But also count on them landing a high pick in the 2015 lottery. More assets. More young pieces. Then you can look forward to another new guy. And (maybe) a healthy Embiid. And eventually, in a few years, Saric. (Also maybe.)
Imagine how much fun the Sixers might be in 2017. Seriously, imagine it, because that’s all you have right now –- your imagination.
Hinkie’s approach is clear: Acquire assets, remain cap flexible, stay patient. He’s proven to be really good at all three of those things even if you can’t stand that last component.
If, like me, you’re on board with the slow, slow, how-slow-can-they-go method, welcome. Sit back and enjoy the show. It’s going to last for a while. If not, if you need a pick-me-up, here’s a picture of Joel Embiid. Doesn’t he look happy? Look how happy he looks.