You already knew the truth. You just hadn’t heard it uttered out loud. No one in the Sixers' front office had articulated the point in public -- until last week.
On the day the Sixers introduced former Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams at PCOM, new president and general manager Sam Hinkie also fielded questions. Not surprisingly, he addressed several topics, including the Sixers’ newly adopted plan, which was set in motion on draft night with several striking and bold moves.
When the Sixers shipped Jrue Holiday and a second-round pick to the New Orleans Pelicans for Kentucky center Nerlens Noel (the sixth overall pick in this draft) and a top-five protected first-round selection in the 2014 draft, Hinkie’s strategy became obvious: Start over and build for the future.
This is not a team that’s built to win right now. It wasn’t in the condition to do that when Holiday was still in town, and it certainly isn’t in any shape to do so now that the 23-year-old All-Star plays the point in New Orleans.
That’s the truth, and you knew it all along. Then Hinkie admitted as much, saying the Sixers are “future focused.” He hedged a little during the MCW press conference, promising the Sixers would keep an eye on the “present and the future,” but he knows that you know the situation.
“If you ask me, I’ll continue to talk about we should try to keep our end goal in mind, which is to try to build a championship caliber team in Philly,” Hinkie said. “That won’t come overnight. That’s not a surprise. That doesn’t make me -- it’s not Dr. Doom to say it won’t come overnight. We need to keep focused on that, and I’ll keep the pedal to the metal that should be our primary focus as we think about going forward. Historically, it’s the best way to guarantee yourself a chance to be in the mix long term is to focus on it and to focus, maybe, with a little longer lens than others might.”
It doesn’t make him Dr. Doom, but it does make him Mr. Patient. That long lens Hinkie talked about? It’s the right approach. But while you’re looking through it and fantasizing about the future, you’ll realize how hazy and out of focus the here and now has become. Because building for tomorrow generally comes at the expense of wins today.
Monday, it should be noted, was the start of NBA free agency. At present, and not counting what they’ll have to pay Noel and MCW, the Sixers have about $35 million in salary commitments for next season. Even after they sign their latest draft picks, that should still leave them well below the salary cap, which is expected to be around $60 million.
The Sixers will eventually grab some players in free agency to help round out the roster, but you shouldn’t count on them being players with big names who will be here for the long term. More likely, you’re looking at bit players who will come and go pretty quickly. And that’s fine, because while the Sixers have some cap space this offseason, they should have a whole lot more next year if they go cheap and young for now.
Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown are both in the last years of their contracts. If the Sixers let them walk and move Evan Turner (who will be a restricted free agent next season) and/or Thaddeus Young -- who has three years and about $27 million remaining on his deal -- they’ll have significant cap space a year from now when the free agent class is much deeper. Until then, don’t expect many flashy free agent additions -- though the Sixers could continue to reshape the roster via trades. The latest report has them interested in Rockets center Omer Asik.
“I don’t think you’ll see us try to do lots of quick fixes or fill holes immediately that maybe we could fill in time,” Hinkie said. “I think we’ll be open minded and look for what we think are good additions to our team and players who can be helpful for our team both now and in the future. And I mean both. Both now and in the future.”
He means both -- but that doesn’t mean those right-now additions will stick around long term or wow anyone. More likely, the roster will be filled out with unspectacular NBA journeymen and veterans who can help the young guys develop.
It won’t be easy to watch, and there probably won’t be many wins. Not right away. But you already knew that. Now, with what Hinkie has done and said, you have confirmation.