There hadn’t been much buzz coming out of Sixer headquarters. Hinkie hadn’t said much publicly about his vision for the team in 2013. There was little indication on what he’d do with pending unrestricted free agent Andrew Bynum. There had been little indication that he was anywhere near close to hiring a coach. And there certainly were no signs that he was getting ready to deal away the only All-Star on his roster.
But then Hinkie’s calm ended on draft night when the general manager struck, sending major shock waves throughout Philadelphia with the news that he had shipped away point guard Jrue Holiday in a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans that brought the team highly-regarded draft prospect Nerlens Noel along with a protected first-round pick.
The trade signifies a lot of things. For one, the acquisition of Noel all but closes the door on any possible chance that the Sixers would have re-signed Andrew Bynum, putting a quiet end to what will easily go down as one of the most disappointing trades in all of Philadelphia sports history.
But most importantly, the deal represents an unquestionable philosophical change within the Sixers’ organization.
Over the better part of the last decade, the Sixers have gone about things the wrong way. For too long, they were unwilling to part with their home grown players, and were content with fielding teams that were just good enough to slip into the playoffs, but were never serious contenders.
This was the franchise that held on to Andre Iguodala, and for years tried desperately to make Philadelphia believe that he was an NBA superstar that the team could build around. That same franchise also destroyed their salary cap room by signing Elton Brand to a max deal simply because he was a big name, ignoring the reality that Brand didn’t mesh well with the up-tempo style of the team when he joined the club in 2008. Even though the team squeezed a couple of decent seasons out of the Iguodala/Brand led teams, the city never truly got excited about those squads because they saw them for what they were: a mildly entertaining team with very limited upside. As hard as those teams fought, there was no way they’d ever be able to compete with the top teams in the league.
However, the organization always seemed comfortable with the results. They were hellbent on holding on to Iguodala and the core of those teams unless they were to receive a deal in which they would clearly come out on top. And as such, Iguodala remained a Sixer until last when team thought they finally found the “deal of a lifetime” that they had been looking for when they stumbled upon a chance to bring one of the top centers in the league to Philadelphia.
But now, that line of thinking has changed.
The trade of Jrue Holiday was a surprise on many levels. Holiday was one of the only watchable players on the team, and he was a guy that (unlike Andre Iguodala) was pretty well liked by the fans. He was a good young point guard, with a nice shot, solid offensive skills, and still had room to grow following his first All-Star season. After signing a contract extension less than a year ago, he seemed destined to be the guy that the team would build around, and that the organization would market as the main attraction for years to come. Before Thursday night, it seemed absolutely unthinkable that the Sixers would seriously entertain the idea of moving their young star.
But Sam Hinkie had other ideas. When the Sixers hired Hinkie, the former Rockets’ assistant promised to bring a new approach to the franchise, and he’s done just that by moving Holiday.
Hinkie has gotten the organization to think about what’s best to do for three and five years from now, instead of what’s best to do for the immediate future. Hinkie’s plan is to take the Sixers out of NBA purgatory, and put them on the road to relevancy. And anyone who follows the NBA closely knows that there is no such thing as a quick fix in this league. If you want to contend in the NBA, you’ve got to accept the fact that your franchise may have to suffer through at least several brutal years in order to put themselves in a position to get a top lottery pick to land themselves the league’s next legitimate superstar. The Sixers were already a bad team last year with Holiday, and taking the All-Star out of the picture makes a 30-win team even worse.
But suffering through a bad year or two is still no guarantee that the franchise will land an elite talent. But the other little bit of brilliance in Hinkie’s scheme is the cap room that he’s created for the team by dealing Holiday. The Sixers will now save about $11 million a year, and next season will have even more money available to them once the likes of Jason Richardson, Spencer Hawes, and Kwame Brown come off of the books. Add in the near $17 million that they’ll also receive this year from the imminent departure of the center who never played a minute for them, and they’ll be in a position in 2014 where they’ll likely have more money to throw around than anyone.
No plan for the future is foolproof in sports, but the blueprint put together by Sam Hinkie may be by far the strongest legitimate light of hope that the Sixers have had in some time. It’s refreshing to see the organization drop the shortsighted approach that kept them stuck in mediocrity over the last decade, and finally take steps toward a brighter future.
2013 may be a rough ride for the Sixers, but better days are ahead.
Denny Basens is the editor of GCobb.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org