There were moments Thursday night and Friday morning I was trying to figure out if I was on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange or covering the Sixers' 2013 NBA draft. Sam Hinkie’s move after move had heads spinning.
Draft night is always filled with chatter -- teams talking about swapping picks and shopping players. It is an ideal night for teams to exchange ideas. A lot of it is usually a conversation that goes nowhere.
That was not the case for the Sixers Thursday night. The Sixers were extremely serious with their chatter and given how quiet they were for the two months that led up to the draft, it was a 180.
Stars get moved. Dwight Howard was traded. Andrew Bynum was traded, as was Carmelo Anthony. There are circumstances in each mentioned case, but the point is there are few untouchables in the NBA. LeBron James is an untouchable. Kevin Durant is untouchable. But they are superstars; the others are stars.
So when the Sixers traded all-star Jrue Holiday -- the best player on their roster last season -- and the 42nd pick to New Orleans in exchange for the selected sixth pick Nerlens Noel and the Pelicans' 2014 first-round pick (which is protected through five), it was surprising, but telling of Hinkie’s plan for the franchise.
He covets draft picks. He wants to completely revamp this roster. And he is not afraid to be bold, as he said when he was introduced as the team’s new president and general manager on May 14.
This trade also creates significant cap space next summer. By trading Holiday, the organization unloaded their highest salary -- Holiday was set to make $11 million in each of the next four years.
Because trades need to be approved by the league office, the move is not official and therefore Hinkie couldn't speak directly about it, but he did his best to say something.
“It was a challenging night in a bunch of ways with one gut-wrenching phone call,” Hinkie said, presumably referring to calling Holiday and informing him he will no longer be a Sixer. “All in all I think it was the right thing to do.”
Hinkie would later show his affection for acquiring picks and using them. He traded No. 35 for the 38th and 54th picks. The 38th pick was then moved for the 43rd and he later traded that to Dallas. With the 54th pick, he selected Arsalan Kazemi, an Iranian who played for Oregon.
The Sixers' president was a busy man, to say the least, running a draft war room for the first time as the man in charge.
“The ownership here and the people in this organization have a real commitment to build something lasting and something big,” Hinkie explained. “Sometimes that requires taking risks and often it requires doing things differently. I think tonight is a summation of the kinds of things we will have to do moving forward. We will have to find more and more players to be a pipeline of talent. The draft is not the only time."
Reaction to the Holiday trade was mixed. Noel is recovering from ACL surgery and will not be back on the basketball court until Christmas. Bringing a center to Philadelphia with a knee injury has not worked out in the past. The names Andrew Bynum and Jeff Ruland cause some heads to shake and make fans say "Please, not again."
But the flip side of that argument is had Noel not had knee surgery, he would likely have been the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. He is said to be a lesser version of Anthony Davis, who went first overall in last year’s draft, also to New Orleans. Davis averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds his rookie season, comparable to his statistics in his lone college season at Kentucky, where he averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Noel followed in Davis’ Kentucky footsteps and averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and an extremely impressive 4.4 blocks as a freshman. He is a runner and a jumper, but needs to bulk up. Still, it has been awhile since the Sixers had a rim protector. Samuel Dalembert was the last. Let’s hope Noel’s hands are better then Dalembert’s were and his offense develops.
Commissioner David Stern, announcing picks at his 30th and final NBA draft, then announced the Sixers' selection at No. 11, Syracuse sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams. Carter-Williams becomes Holiday’s successor. Like Noel, he brings size, defense and athleticism.
A theme is developing. The Sixers will be young and athletic, but will likely struggle to win games because they will need player development.
“I meant it when I came here and said exact status quo wouldn’t get it done,” Hinkie said. “We should recognize where we are and the challenges ahead of us and how to make the best decisions every day that puts us on a path that our fans can be proud of and our fans will really want to be a part of.”
On a conference call, Carter-Williams said with confidence that he is ready to lead the Sixers into a new era.
“He is a 21-year-old point guard with incredible size, great passing instincts, really impressive athleticism and a guy who sees the floor and gets anywhere he wants to be on the floor,” the GM described. “This is a player that in time we think we can really grow with.”
At the summer league in Orlando, Carter-Williams will have his first opportunity to lead a group of young players, including last year’s 27th pick overall, Arnett Moultrie. Moultrie also fits the young, athletic mold the franchise appears to be coveting. Kazemi should be on the roster as well, depending on when he agrees to a contract.
What’s next for Mr. Hinkie? Hire a coach who has patience and excellent player development skills.