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.

Sergio Rodriguez ready for 'opportunity' of 2nd NBA stint

Sergio Rodriguez ready for 'opportunity' of 2nd NBA stint

GALLOWAY, N.J. — It’s Round 2 for Sergio Rodriguez.

Ten years after beginning his first stint in the NBA, he is back as a veteran point guard on the Sixers. The green 20-year-old is now 30, with European and Olympic experience behind him. Rodriguez is looking to build upon his previous four NBA seasons, which culminated in 2010, in a leadership role in Philadelphia.

“It feels great,” Rodriguez said Thursday after the training camp morning session at Stockton University. “It’s a second opportunity for me.”

Rodriguez played three seasons for the Trail Blazers from 2009-10 and split his fourth year with the Kings and Knicks. He averaged a quiet 4.3 points, 2.9 assists and 1.3 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game. Rodriguez returned to his native Spain and found a higher level of success, including winning the EuroLeague title with Real Madrid, being named EuroLeague MVP, and competing in the Olympics. Last season Rodriguez averaged 10.9 points (40.9 percent from three), 6.2 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 24 minutes for Real Madrid. 

Head coach Brett Brown considers Rodriguez one of the top point guards that had played in Europe. 

“He just has a real gift for understanding, especially offensive tempo,” Brown said. “I think that his ability to run a pick-and-roll and figure out how teams are playing it and where they’re rotating from about a pass sooner, one dribble sooner so he can pick off rotations. He’s very gifted in that environment. I think he’s got a bounce to his game and a pace to his game that he will be absorbed in how I want to play well.”

Both Brown and Rodriguez anticipate challenges on the defensive end as Rodriguez re-acclimates himself in the NBA. He will be tasked with guarding some of the league’s toughest point guards, and will also be involved in numerous pick-and-rolls each game. 

After years of playing in Spain, Rodriguez has to get to know a new group of players. He considers the responsibility of a point guard to be getting his entire team involved, particularly with all the youth on the SIxers.

“I will try to feel comfortable for my teammates. For a point guard, you need to have the confidence that everybody is happy playing with you,” Rodriguez said, also noting, “Always the point guard has to run the show. Especially for this team, we have so many young players that need to develop and need to know how to win.” 

So far that is working.

“Sergio’s great,” Nerlens Noel said. “He’s a real vocal leader, even with that little accent he’s got. He makes it work. I think as the season goes along, we’ll continue to get on the same page and really start to mesh a little better.” 

Rodriguez left the NBA as a young guard and is now ready to make a comeback with years of experience. 

"I’m very excited to have this upcoming season and to be successful for my team, my teammates, the organization," he said.

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Brett Brown left training camp last September with an unsettling feeling. He had just completed long days of scrimmages, drills and planning, and yet he sensed the Sixers were not ready to tackle the 82 games that lied ahead. 

“I remember driving back to Philadelphia last year knowing in my heart of heart that this group was going to be challenged,” Brown said Thursday following the morning practice session at Stockton University. “That was a frightening drive home. That drive home scared me because I felt like, I know what we have and how are we going to be able to maneuver through this?”

Brown was right. The Sixers lost their first 18 games and began the season 1-30. They stumbled the rest of the way, finishing the 2016-17 campaign with a dismal 10-72 record. 

“We really didn’t know who the point guard was,” Brown said. “We came in extremely injured, we were trying to make the Nerlens [Noel]-Jahlil [Okafor] thing work, there really weren’t a lot of veterans to look around [and see], and you knew it.”

Now in his fourth training camp as head coach, with 47 wins and 199 losses with the Sixers behind him, Brown has different emotions as the team nears the end of training camp on Friday. 

Instead of a constantly-changing lineup of players, the Sixers are building a roster that can serve as the foundation for the future. There are nine new players on the team, including first overall pick Ben Simmons and rookie Dario Saric. Joel Embiid will make his NBA debut after two years of injuries, and the Sixers added veteran leaders in free agency.

Brown has a clearer picture of what the team could look like this season and beyond. He is coaching training camp to enter a new chapter, not to simply make it through the upcoming months. 

“You can leave and you can sniff reality,” Brown said. “Now what I see is there’s depth. There are challenges positionally as we’ve talked about. But there’s talent. There’s point guards. They’re sprinkled in with some veterans. How we grow it and play it is still on the table. To me, it’s a completely different feeling that I have now that I did not have last year.”

The additions of Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez at the one spot lessen the coaching load for Brown. He also can turn to T.J. McConnell from last season. The depth is a far cry from when the Sixers were quickly changing at that position and didn’t find a consistent starter until they traded for Ish Smith in late December.

“That position, I think, is vital when you start putting a bunch of 20-year-olds around it and trying to find some type of organization,” Brown said. “You just can’t replace a point guard’s intellect. You can’t replace, I think, somebody that has great command from that position. It certainly helps me.”

Brown expects to feel “proud” when the Sixers wrap training camp on Friday. He is looking forward to getting the season underway, beginning with two practices at the new training complex in Camden before their first preseason game Oct. 4 against the Celtics. 

Brown anticipates his drive home this time will be a much different trip. 

“I feel comfortable that we’re ticking boxes and we’re achieving the goals that we set out from the start of what we wanted to get done in Stockton,” he said.

The Sixers continued to monitor load management on Thursday, as Okafor, Embiid and Gerald Henderson did not participate in the morning scrimmage. Bayless also did not go through the scrimmage because of a sore left wrist.