76ers Rebuilding Project Is Running on Empty

The Philadelphia 76ers are in the middle of a tremendously puzzling rebuilding project.

GM Sam Hinkie has acquired as many high lottery picks as possible because of several consecutive seasons at the bottom of the standings. This is an attempt to have voluminous chances to “get lucky” by drafting a player who may turn into LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or Stephen Curry. Hinkie has also executed the trades that have sent away successful draftees such as Jrue Holiday, Michael Carter-Williams, Nikola Vucevic, and Evan Turner. If the Sixers keep neglecting to develop around their high draft picks, the rebuilding process in the City of Brotherly Love will take many, many years.

Every franchise eventually needs to rebuild – it’s merely part of the cycle. Rebuilding normally involves a couple of high lottery picks, and an attempt to build around those picks if they turn out to be successful. The 76ers have had the luxury of drafting young players who have showed the ability to capitalize on their potential.But rather than forming a team led by these players, the Sixers’ front office has continued to put themselves back at square one.

The evidence:

  • Jrue Holiday came into his own in his age-22 season. He averaged 18 points and 8 assists, and was named an All-Star. In the following offseason, he was dealt away in the trade that brought in Nerlens Noel.
  • Michael Carter-Williams was named Rookie of the Year in Philadelphia after being drafted 11th overall, as he averaged an impressive 17 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds in his first NBA season. The next year, Hinkie gave him up for a future first round pick.
  • In his fourth year in the league, Evan Turner seemed poised to take the jump into being an effective all-around player. He was averaging 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists when the Sixers decided to trade him for Danny Granger who quickly reached a buyout agreement with Philadelphia.
  • Nikola Vucevic, the Sixers’ 2011 first-rounder, was a fraction of what Philadelphia gave up for Andrew Bynum. Vucevic is now an effective starting center for the Magic, as he is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds over his five year career.

Thus, the 76ers have traded away every single one of their first-round picks from 2009 to 2013, despite recognizing the potential to mold a team with those pieces. In return for these players, Philadelphia acquired a plethora of future draft picks, including the Lakers’ 2016 pick if they finish outside the top three. In the end, this has just extensively delayed the process by relying deep into the future instead of building with the young pieces that they previously had.

On the bright side, the Sixers have on the roster the incredibly bright Jahlil Okafor, who is averaging 19 points per game. On the dark side, they have started the season with 15 consecutive losses and have lost each game by an average of 14 points. Philadelphia is managing to rank dead last in the NBA in points, wins, and turnovers. The team seems disjointed, as it is evident that this roster will look completely different in a couple years. Rather than allowing their players to grow in an environment that promotes winning, the 76ers seem to put a much larger emphasis on future draft picks.

Okafor is surrounded by undrafted free agents that the Sixers have brought along for the ride. In fact, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein:

Of the 12 players to suit up for the Sixers so far this season, six were undrafted and have combined to log 38 percent of Philly’s minutes.”

Even if the Sixers manage to attain more lottery picks, the team will need quite a few years to develop a full, productive roster. Employing Okafor and Noel with what is essentially a dozen mercenaries alongside them will only slow what is already a sluggish rebuilding process. Additionally, there is not one notable veteran figure on the team that can aid in the evolution of these young players, which could cause further growing pains.

The rebuilding process can be quicker, simpler, and more efficient than what the Sixers have undergone. Draft the best players available. Develop the young players. Build around those who show promise. Win more games each year than the last as the roster continues to mature. Then and only then will Philadelphia have a competitive basketball team again.

photo via llananba