Hinkie's playing a long game

Posted: June 28, 2014

This is why Brett Brown insisted his coaching contract with the 76ers would be guaranteed for four years instead of three, or get yourself another guy.

General manager Sam Hinkie told Brown the goal, but was also honest about the path. It would be slow. There would be a lot of losing, probably for more than just one season.

Following Hinkie's philosophy, the Sixers would identify the best talent and then try to get it for a bargain. All the better for getting maximum bang from the team's draft picks, trade scenarios, and free-agent dollars. Buy low, sell high. Wait for the market to come around.

The man didn't lie. For the second straight draft, Hinkie acquired a player who had been considered the top pick in the draft but became a value pick when he slid to the Sixers because of injury.

A year ago, it was power forward Nerlens Noel. On Thursday night, it was Joel Embiid. Noel didn't play a minute last season and, depending how conservative the Sixers choose to be with Embiid, the third pick in the draft, there's no guarantee their latest acquisition will see much time in the season to come.

The 7-foot center from Cameroon who played a freshman season for Kansas has a stress fracture in the navicular bone of his right foot. He had surgery last week and is expected to be unable to play for as much as six months. That's somewhere around the first of the year, according to the doctors. According to the wishes of Sam Hinkie, who wouldn't mind another lottery bonanza a year from now, maybe it would be longer than that.

So, now you know why Brown wouldn't put himself in position to be associated with the losing before getting a chance to be associated with the winning. This is the long game.

That became even more clear when the Sixers traded the 10th pick in the draft, Elfrid Payton of Louisiana-Lafayette, a poor-shooting clone of incumbent point guard Michael Carter-Williams, for the NBA rights to 6-10 power forward Dario Saric of Croatia, who just signed a two-year contract (with a player option for a third) with a professional team in Turkey. Saric would have been taken among the first six or seven picks had he not signed overseas, and that made him a value pick, too. He was taken with the 12th pick by Orlando.

There you have it. Neither of the two players taken in this long-awaited draft will be on the court when the season begins and neither of them might play a minute. Barring a contract buyout, Saric definitely won't. Barring a sudden desire to forfeit next year's first-round pick, Embiid might not, either.

The Sixers owe their 2015 first-round pick for the Arnett Moultrie trade that was made by the previous administration. But only if they make the playoffs. If they hit the lottery again, they owe Boston (via Miami) two second-round picks instead. In Hinkie's world, that's a big difference.

And in that world, there is plenty of time to put the roster together. There is time to decide if Noel is a legitimate NBA power forward and can eventually play alongside Embiid. If not, enter Dario Saric. If Noel turns into a monster, Saric's NBA rights can be traded. The same goes with the other two overseas players, Arsalan Kazemi and Furkan Aldemir, whose rights are also held by the Sixers.

It's all about the patient build. Putting coins in the bank, jingling them around, waiting for them to add up to something. Hinkie added a few more for the future in the Saric deal with Orlando, getting a second-round pick and a first-round pick, which is reportedly the pick they lost in the Andrew Bynum trade, which wouldn't have come due for another two seasons.

That's good someday, although after all the losing and all the pain of last season, the starting lineup for opening night won't be much different from the lineup that finished up 19-63. Noel should be available, but, as of now, little else of the core will have changed.

That's the path, and it is probably the right one. We won't know for sure until Embiid is healthy, until the Noel/Saric conundrum is resolved, until Michael Carter-Williams starts playing somewhere other than the rim, until a true shooting guard is located. and on and on. But the coins are being collected and someday they might add up to a jackpot.

It is a plan. It is also why Brett Brown insisted on that fourth year.

Maybe he should have asked for another.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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