NBA Season Preview: Philadelphia 76ers


Projected record: 19-63, 15th in East


Sam Hinkie, Nerlens Noel
76ers GM Sam Hinkie (forefront), with 2013 draftee Nerlens Noel (background). (AP)

Head coach: Brett Brown
2013-14 record: 19-63
2013-14 ORtg: 96.8 (30th)
2013-14 DRtg: 107.5 (27th)
Players in: Keith Bogans, Nemanja Dangubic, Joel Embiid, Pierre Jackson, K.J. McDaniels, Dario Saric
Players out: James Anderson, B.J. Mullens, Adonis Thomas
Projected Starting Lineup: Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten, Hollis Thompson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Nerlens Noel

The last two songs on Philadelphia hip-hop group The Roots’s latest album, 2014’s ..And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, are “The Unraveling” and “The Tomorrow.” The pair of songs serve to aptly describe the 2014-15 Philadelphia 76ers, who used the offseason to continue unraveling their team, stockpiling young talent for a brighter tomorrow.

Or considering how young the Sixers are, a better pop-culture reference might be the 2004 film, “The Day After Tomorrow.” 

After a disappointing 2012-13 season, the Sixers hired Sam Hinkie, best known as Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s 35 year old consigliere, as GM and President. Staring down the barrel of mediocrity, Hinkie immediately turned the Sixers into the anti-Nets, shedding salary and adding draft picks in the ultimate win-later mode.

Depending on your viewpoint, Hinkie is either a disciplined folk hero or an evil man making a mockery of the league. As a fan of advanced stats, master plans, and elitism (Hinkie got an MBA from Stanford), and a detractor of NBA convention, I tend to think the former. But only time will tell.

Here are some of the highlights of the Sam Hinkie era, which now only has one player on the roster which Hinkie inherited (Jason Richardson), and only three players with three-plus years of NBA experience (Richardson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and the newly acquired Keith Bogans, who is likely to be waived):

June 27th, 2013: On draft night, Hinkie shipped Jrue Holiday, who had just made his first All-Star Game, and a second-round pick to New Orleans for the draft rights to sixth overall pick Nerlens Noel and a top-five protected pick in 2014. The trade made sense in Hinkie’s market-minded cortex: Holiday would never be a superstar, so trade him for valuable assets at his peak value. 

Due to injury, Noel didn’t play a minute in 2012-13. Hinkie knew that, perhaps even wanting it for tanking purposes. The Sixers also drafted Michael Carter-Williams 11th in that draft, and Carter-Williams won 2013-14 Rookie of The Year honors, joining Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only rookies to average at least 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game.

July 1st, 2013: Six Sixers (seriously, six) became free agents: Andrew Bynum, Royal Ivey, Charles Jenkins, Damien Wilkins, Dorell Wright, and Nick Young. Hinkie re-signed zero of them, which, coincidentally, is the number of s**ts he gives about what you, I, or anyone else thinks of his roster moves.

August 22nd, 2013: The Sixers gave up a future second-rounder and a trade exception for the 25th pick in the 2012 draft, shooting guard Tony Wroten.

February 20th, 2014: Sixers made four deadline-day deals, giving up bust Evan Turner, seven-foot turnstile Spencer Hawes, center Lavoy Allen, and a second round pick for Eric Maynor, Danny Granger, Earl Clark, Henry Sims, Byron Mullens, and six (seriously, six) second-round draft picks. Maynor, Granger and Clark were cut. Mullens came off the books at the end of the season. Sims costs them next to nothing.

Aggregate assets. Dump liabilities. Welcome to the Sam Hinkie School of Management. 

June 30th, 2014: The Riggin’ for Wiggins tank job of 2013-14 did not land the Sixers the top pick, but they did get the third pick, which they used to take injured Kansas big man Joel Embiid. The 10th pick, which they got in the Holiday trade, was traded away to Orlando for the 12th pick, which became Croatian national Dario Saric, as well as a 2015 second-rounder and a future first rounder. Saric is in Europe for at least one more year, meaning if Embiid’s injury is bad enough, no Sixers first-rounder from this year’s draft will actually play for the team in 2014-15. 

In total, the Sixers were part of four draft-day trades, including trading Mr. Irrelevant Cory Jefferson to the Nets for cash considerations. Along with Embiid and Saric, the Sixers also walked away with the 39th and 58 picks. 

August 23rd, 2014: As the third team in the famed Kevin Love trade, the Sixers received Miami’s 2015 first round pick (via Cleveland), forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and guard Alexy Shved from the Minnesota Timberwolves. For this, they gave up Thaddeus Young, the last NBA-quality player on their roster that isn’t an aging corpse or the reigning Rookie of The Year. 

It wasn’t max value for Young, but as Grantland’s Zach Lowe pleaded for back on draft day, sending the 26-year-old forward out of Philly should be considered a liberation and not a trade. It’s also a no-risk move for the Sixers: Cameroon native Mbah a Moute can mentor Embiid, and Shved has a slim chance at usefulness in the Sixers up-tempo, three-and-gun style. Plus, they’re both off the books at the end of the year.

August 28th, 2014: The beginning and end of the Hasheem Thabeet era: the former 2nd overall pick joined the Sixers, along with cash, for a protected second-round pick. Thabeet was immediately waved. So that answers the question: yes, Hasheem Thabeet is still alive. 

So there you have it, a roster that has the majority of its players in the bottom fifth of ESPN’s Player Rankings

Expect the Sixers to keep up the break-neck pace that lead them to lead the league in that category, at 101.6 possessions a game. They also topped the NBA with 9.3 steals per game, and remain the single greatest outlier in FiveThirtyEight’s theory of the hidden value of steals: stealing the ball in bunches doesn’t do much when you also have the worst turnover ratio in the NBA.

The Sixers will play hard and fast under second-year coach and former Gregg Popovich assistant Brett Brown. But they are young and untalented, so expect poor play and a lack of discipline. 

If the Sixers don’t care about the on-court product this year, they do care about the court itself. If 3-D court projections don’t get you to come see Philadelphia’s newest D-League franchise, could I interest you in a phone call from the head coach

It’ll be easy and fun to mock the Sixers as they chase the first pick again. But the putrid on-court product will also lead to some fun for their journalists and bloggers as well. The gang over at Liberty Ballers have a Sixers intern giving them an inside scoop at the franchise without his employers’ knowledge, and a List of “Things That Have Existed Longer than the Sixers Rebuild,” which includes things like Cool Ranch Doritos Tacos and Blue Ivy Carter

So in a way, it’s working: while freeing cap space and acquiring draft picks like they’re going out of style won’t assure success, it gives you a better chance than being the mediocre team than Hinkie inherited. But this year, they’ll be bad, so, so very bad. Just the way he likes it.