Sixers demand your patience -- like it or not

ap-sixers-saric-embiid.jpg

Sixers demand your patience -- like it or not

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.

Instant Replay: Sixers 99, Pelicans 88

Instant Replay: Sixers 99, Pelicans 88

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS -- The Sixers avoided setting a franchise mark of consecutive road losses with a 99-88 win over the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Prior to Thursday’s victory, the Sixers had lost 23 straight away from Philadelphia. Their last road win was Jan. 20, 2016 against the Magic. They also had dropped 23 consecutive games on the road from March 29 - Dec. 23, 2015. 

The Sixers held Anthony Davis, the NBA’s leading scorer, to 26 points, below his season average of 31.6. They were led by Ersan Ilyasova, who dropped 23 points again after scoring 23 in the Sixers’ last game against the Grizzlies. 

Third-quarter transformation
The Sixers trailed the Pelicans 57-52 at halftime and struck back defensively in the third. They held the Pelicans to 5 for 25 shooting from the field and 2 for 12 from three in the quarter. The Sixers outscored the Pelicans 19-12 in the quarter to regain the lead. 

Inside the box score
• Davis recorded a 26-point, 11-rebound double-double. He shot 8 for 21 from the field, 0 for 2 from three and 10 for 12 from the line. 

• Ilyasova scored 23 points (9 for 16 from the field, 2 for 6 from three, 3 for 4 from the line), eight rebounds and four assists.

• Joel Embiid contributed 14 points (5 for 15 from the field, 0 for 5 from three, 4 for 5 from the line), seven rebounds, two assists, four blocks and three steals in 27 minutes.

• Sergio Rodriguez gave a solid 16 points (6 for 13 from the field, 4 for 8 from three) and eight dimes.

• Nik Stauskas and Dario Saric combined for 27 points off the bench.

• St. Joe’s alum Langston Galloway dropped 19 points (8 for 16 from the field, 3 for 6 from long range) off the Pelicans’ bench.

Trusting the process in New Orleans
It follows Embiid on the road. Fans chanted “trust the process” while he was at the free throw line. The volume was more quiet than at the Wells Fargo Center, but the effort was there nonetheless. 

Injury updates
The Sixers were without Jahlil Okafor, who remained in Philadelphia battling gastroenteritis. Jerryd Bayless also missed the trip because of left wrist soreness. Former Sixer Jrue Holiday sat out with turf toe. 

Up next
The Sixers will return home to Philadelphia to get in some practice before heading back on the road. They will play the Pistons in Detroit on Sunday.

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

NEW ORLEANS — Nerlens Noel made another step toward his return from arthroscopic left knee surgery by joining the Sixers in New Orleans for their game against the Pelicans.

Noel arrived on Wednesday with Robert Covington, who is slated to start after missing the last three games with a left knee sprain. Noel is not cleared to play, but Brown doesn’t think it will be long until he suits up. 

“I don’t think far away,” Brown said of Noel’s regular-season debut after shootaround.

When asked about the possibility of Noel playing this weekend when the Sixers face the Pistons on Sunday in Detroit, Brown replied, “Maybe.” 

Noel has missed the entire regular season recovering from elective surgery for an inflamed plica in October. He completed the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Ala. and has been continuing his work with the Sixers. This trip to New Orleans is the first time he has been with the Sixers on the road. 

“[He is] integrating with the team, studying a lot of tape, scripting with his teammates with the understanding that we have a chance to see him soon,” Brown said. “All that trying to ramp it up where he can go to an NBA court more comfortably.”

Noel spoke out about his displeasure with the Sixers crowded frontcourt at the start of the preseason. He recently stuck with his stance, saying, “I don’t think the roster’s changed.”

Brown is working to keep the team moving forward as a unit while still being aware of and recognizing Noel’s perspective. 

“It does,” Brown said when asked if Noel’s open frustration concerns him as it pertains to team cohesiveness. “But I feel like it’s so much a part of what we try do around here that it’s not like you’re going to blink and you’ve forgotten something that equals camaraderie, that equals team, that equals trying to keep this together, and you’ve left it for a week … 

“It’s a day-to-day focus for me and it’s a very candid conversation with me and the player. The team hears it, the individual hears it, we all understand it … We need to coexist and we need to understand the reality of it all, too. There’s a human side you understand. It’s also pride, it’s competitiveness, it’s do your job, it’s nothing is given, you’ve got to take stuff, draw your own line in the sand, competitors rule the day.”

Last season Noel averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game. The Sixers will look forward to having him back on the court in that once-crowded frontcourt that is now shorthanded. Jahlil Okafor remained in Philadelphia with gastroenteritis. Ben Simmons still is rehabbing from a right foot fracture. 

"Soon you’re going to see Ben Simmons coming to a team bench where he doesn’t come out with boots and have to push him in some type of wheely apparatus," Brown said. "We’ve dealt with so many injuries trying to find that balance of dealing with their health and so on, and then trying to integrate them back into a team is part of growing a program."