The NBA is one of the biggest sports leagues in the world, and I have been a fan for nearly three decades.
Sam Hinkie: The Architect of the Process
Whenever "trust the process" is evoked, one could think of former Philadelphia 76ers general manager and president Sam Hinkie. After all, he started the "process" and encouraged the Philadelphia fans to be patient while he rebuilt the team.
Hinkie is actually a very smart man. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Oklahoma and was the leader of various student organizations. He also earned an MBA from Stanford University. While earning his master's degree, Hinkie moonlighted working for teams such as the San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, and Houston Rockets. This is where he became a fan of analytics.
Analytics is the use of structured historical data in order to make decisions in terms of rosters, trades, drafting, and lineups.
Upon the completion of his master's degree, the Houston Rockets picked up Hinkie and made him a special assistant to general manager Carroll Dawson. Hinkie would climb the ranks of the organization and would become vice president. He would work with Daryl Morey, another advocate of analytics, in order to improve the Houston Rockets.
In 2013, the Philadelphia 76ers nabbed Hinkie to spearhead their rebuilding process. Hinkie wanted to build Philadelphia into a championship contender and not a mere fringe playoff team. In order to do this, sacrifices had to be made for the long-term success of the team.
Hinkie's goal was to accumulate as many assets as he could and parlay said assets into players who could make the Sixers a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference.
2013: The Dawn of the Process
Being a Stanford graduate, Hinkie was no fool. The Sixers were a bad team but not bad enough. They were too close to playoff contention. The team did not have many tradable assets either. Their most tradable asset was All-Star Jrue Holiday.
Hinkie decided to blow it up and traded Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans and got Nerlens Noel and the top 5 protected Pelicans pick for 2014. This was not at all a bad haul for the All-Star. Nerlens was one of the top prospects in the draft and was even projected to be the top pick by some analysts.
The Pelicans were not a good team. They had Anthony Davis and not much else. Getting a talented point guard in Jrue Holiday to get the ball to Anthony was a shrewd move.
The Sixers also drafted eventual Rookie of the Year winner Michael Carter-Wiliams with the 11th pick of the draft.
2014: The Sixers Gambled on Embiid
Even though the NBA has become a jump-shooting league, big men are still important. The Sixers chose Joel Embiid despite the fact he was projected to miss most of his debut seasons. It turns out that his broken foot would cost him his entire freshman and sophomore campaigns. Joel would only start playing in 2016, two years after getting drafted.
With the 12th pick in the draft, the Sixers chose Dario Šarić from Croatia. Dario was essentially going to be the Sixers' modern-day Toni Kukoc—a really tall guy who can stretch defenses with his three-point shooting ability.
The Sixers were also able to salvage Robert Covington off the waiver wire. Covington would later prove to be a valuable defensive stopper who could stifle the opposing team's best players.
2015: The Sixers Trade the Present for the Future
The Sixers had the third pick in the draft and used it on Duke star Jahlil Okafor. Okafor was a polished offensive big who reminded a lot of people of Tim Duncan. Okafor had a solid debut season, averaging 17.5 PPG with 7 RPG and 1.2 BPG.
Later in the season, the Sixers would get rid of their former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams in exchange for a protected draft pick. Those picks would be top five protected in 2015, top three protected in 2016, and unprotected in 2018.
At this time, people were surprised that the Sixers would trade a player who looked like a future star for the uncertainty of a draft pick.
2016: The Sixers Grab LeBron 2.0
The Sixers were fortunate enough to get the top pick in the draft and selected generational talent, Ben Simmons. Ben was projected to be the next LeBron James as they were both big men who played like guards and who had exceptional passing abilities.
Simmons was not well known in the United States and many questioned his ability and character. Coach Brett Brown of the Sixers knew Simmons and his family and quickly dismissed rumors about the basketball prodigy.
As much as Sixers fans were excited to see their new basketball savior, Simmons rolled his ankle and missed his entire rookie campaign.
2017: The Markelle Fultz Sweepstakes
With the infamous Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade, the Boston Celtics owned the Nets' 2017 pick. There was speculation on who the Celtics would grab to bolster their already formidable lineup. Most of the speculation revolved around Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball.
In the end, the Celtics grabbed neither and instead traded the number one pick for the number three pick and draft considerations. Either they will get the 2018 Lakers to pick if it falls between 2-5 or the Sixers or Kings pick in 2019, whichever is higher top one protected. So if say, the Kings' pick is number one, then the Sixers will give the Celtics their pick.
To bolster their lineup, the Sixers acquired JJ Reddick through free agency. The crafty veteran is a sniper and can make it rain from downtown.
The Sixers traded former lottery pick Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas, and a 2019 second-rounder to the Brooklyn Nets for Trevor Booker. Okafor did not live up to his potential as he never got better on the defensive end.
The Sixers shipped Nerlens Noel to the Mavericks for a package of Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and two-second rounders. This was essentially a heist for the Mavericks as Justin Anderson was a mere rotation piece. Andrew Bogut was already beset by injuries and was not the same person who helped the Warriors win the title in 2015.
2018: Drafting the Hometown Kid
The Sixers cashed in the pick they acquired in the Michael Carter-Williams trade and used it to select Mikal Bridges, the hometown kid. This was a feel-good moment for the city of brotherly love. Mikal's mom also worked for the 76ers. They immediately shipped Mikal to the Suns in exchange for Zhaire Smith and the Miami Heat's 2021 first-round pick.
While this was a bummer for Mikal, he should look forward to teaming up with studs like Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton in the valley of the Suns.
The 76ers also bolstered their bench by adding versatile veteran Wilson Chandler. Chandler is a versatile wing who can guard multiple positions and can shoot from the rainbow territory.
The Sixers also got a second-rounder for taking on Wilson's contract and in return, the Nuggets received cash considerations.
The half a decade process of the Sixers has brought them back to relevancy and back to title contention. The Sixers have not been this good since the days of Allen Iverson.
While the Sixers were able to grab two generational stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, they have also made some missteps. With the pick they used to nab Nerlens Noel, they could have easily got C.J. McCollum, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Rudy Gobert.
The pick they used to get Jahlil Okafor could have been better used to nab Krystaps Porzingis, Terry Rozier, or Devin Booker. Many also felt that the Mavericks fleeced the Sixers in the Nerlens Noel trade as the Sixers ended up with very little to show for it.
Of course, this is all in hindsight. Only the future can tell if the Sixers can go back to the promised land.
Overall, the rebuild seemed to go well but unfortunately, the Sixers are left stuck with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Tobias Harris without the cap space to make any major moves. The team has not even made the Eastern Conference Finals and is far from being a championship team.
© 2018 Jan Michael Ong