Offseason Grades: Philadelphia 76ers
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: Nerlens Noel (No. 6 pick in 2013 draft), Michael Carter-Williams (No. 11), Royce White, Tony Wroten, James Anderson, Tim Ohlbrecht
Losses: Jrue Holiday, Dorrell Wright, Nick Young, Justin Holiday, Royal Ivey, Charles Jenkins, Damien Wilkins
Other Moves: Hired Sam Hinkie as general manager to replace Rod Thorn/Tony DiLeo, hired Brett Brown as coach to replace Doug Collins, drafted Arsalan Kazemi (No. 54, expected to play overseas this season), traded for Furkan Aldemir (expected to play overseas this season)
What Went Right: Hinkie’s decision to shift the team’s priorities and bail on a middling roster. Philadelphia finished with the ninth-best record in the Eastern Conference last season but wasn’t positioned for a climb toward contention. Not every core on the brink of a playoff berth is worth pursuing, and in this case the Sixers were wise to give up on a merely decent collection of players to chase a more extraordinary talent.
They rolled the dice with Bynum, experimented with Evan Turner and overburdened Holiday as a solo star. But none of those courses justified a long-term investment, all while the Sixers were too good to angle for a high lottery pick and too heavy with mid-level salaries to toy around with max-level cap room. Philadelphia could have made additions to surround Holiday and forward Thaddeus Young with a stable supporting cast, but stability isn’t so valuable to a roster with a ceiling so low.
Hinkie took that reality as reason to scrap the concept. Philadelphia didn’t liquidate its roster entirely, but it dealt Holiday — the team’s best trade chip by far — to New Orleans for an injured rookie with promising defensive potential (Noel) and a protected 2014 first-round pick. Both serve the Sixers’ purpose of working toward next summer, while rather transparently punting on the season to come.
Such a plan won’t make for particularly heartening basketball in the meantime, but, frankly, it does Philadelphia little good to field even a passable team. A league-worst record would maximize the Sixers’ odds in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes, or at the very least guarantee a top-four pick in what promises to be a deep draft. Even with a mere 25 percent chance (at best) of landing the top pick, this is a gamble worth making.
Losing Holiday — a 23-year-old All-Star point guard — is tough, but it’s not a substantial enough loss to invalidate this process. Holiday is a fine two-way player and should only get better, but he’s not exactly a luminary among his point guard contemporaries. Such a reality shouldn’t take anything away from Holiday so much as clarify his relative value. That Holiday isn’t uniquely productive among point guards conveys that his contributions can be replaced, if not easily.
With Hinkie’s approach, Philadelphia, on a macro level, has only conceded the possibility of eking into the postseason and losing decisively in the first round. That’s a small price to pay for franchise redirection, particularly when Noel, Carter-Williams and two first-round selections to be named later could provide the basis for an effective and affordable reboot.
What Went Wrong: Even in understanding that the Sixers actively wish to win as few games as possible, their roster is still a bit dry on long-term assets. Noel was a great get and Carter-Williams should be a pro-level contributor at the least, but otherwise only Wroten, a 20-year-old guard, boasts particularly interesting potential or credentials among the players acquired this summer. White, Anderson and Ohlbrecht are worth taking for a spin, but they are roster filler for the most part — prospects left over from Hinkie’s turn as Rockets assistant GM, each unfit to make Houston’s final cut.
The clock hasn’t run out on the possibility to take bigger risks, though, as Philadelphia will undoubtedly have the means to absorb unwanted contracts, obtain draft picks for accepting those contracts and gamble on other cast-offs as the season progresses. We won’t know the full ramifications of the Sixers’ summer until they make use of the pick acquired from the Pelicans and cap space that’s been created. Both are effective mechanisms for improvement in theory, but methods that require further action to be fulfilled.
Swapping Holiday for Noel and a future pick is a smart play for the team’s future, but Philadelphia isn’t guaranteed a great return because neither acquired piece is a sure thing. That the logic of the deal is sound doesn’t protect the Sixers from the inherent risks involved in trading a young, All-Star guard for less-known quantities.
Grade: B+. The Holiday deal wasn’t such an overwhelming success as to push the Sixers to a perfect grade, but they deserve high marks for understanding the limits of their previous core and moving on effectively.