Inside the Sixers: 76ers wise to try to emulate Spurs

76ers center Nerlens Noel. (Tom Gralish/Staff Photographer)
76ers center Nerlens Noel. (Tom Gralish/Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 14, 2014

LAS VEGAS - Sam Hinkie talks often about the "winning program" he wants the 76ers to become.

There are mountains for the Sixers general manager to climb, and he may never complete his journey. But he's doing the wise thing by trying to emulate the team that won its fifth NBA championship last month.

The San Antonio Spurs are the league's gold standard for long-term success and are the Sixers' model. Their blueprint, however, is hard to follow in an impatient society.

Instead of luring quick-fix free agents, the Spurs are all about drafting and developing talent. They also scour the globe to find the right players to put into well-defined roles.

The Spurs have more international players than any other NBA team. And even most of their American players weren't exactly household names.

Yet the team stands atop the NBA.

That's because the Spurs front office has been able to support Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili with unheralded but adaptable role players. And they've been doing it for some time. The Spurs' big three have been together for 12 years. It also helps that Gregg Popovich has been the only coach they've known.

The Sixers are nowhere near that right now. But Hinkie is trying to put the pieces in place to build continuity.

He nixed all the Michael Carter-Williams trade rumors by stating that the rookie of the year is his point guard of the future.

Hinkie also made moves geared solely toward the future.

He traded for Nerlens Noels last summer, despite knowing the 6-foot-11 rookie center would likely have to sit out the season recovering from knee surgery. Hinkie used this year's first-round picks on 7-foot center/power forward Joel Embiid and 6-10 forward Dario Saric. Embiid will most likely miss this season while rehabilitating a stress fracture in his right foot. Saric won't play for the Sixers until the 2016-17 season because he signed to play in the Turkish League.

Before their injuries, Noel and Embiid had been expected by many analysts to be the first players taken in their respective drafts. Saric graded out as one of the top four players in this year's draft. He slipped all the away to 12th because of his overseas commitment.

If everything works out, however, the Sixers in a couple of seasons will have a big four of Carter-Williams, Noel, Embiid, and Saric.

The Sixers also hold the rights to overseas standouts in Turkish power forward Furkan Aldemir (via a trade) and Serbian point guard Vasilije Micic (a second-round pick).

Carter-Williams and Aldemir, both 22, are the oldest players in the group. Noel, Embiid, Saric, Micic, and another second-round pick, Jerami Grant, are all 20. They also have 21-year-olds in second-rounder K.J. McDaniels and the returning Tony Wroten.

The Sixers have time to develop this core group and wait for players to finish their overseas obligations.

"I think we are clear about what's important to us and what we need to do," said Hinkie, whose squad is expected to have its second consecutive struggling campaign this season. "The day-to-day is just that. It's day-to-day. We are focused on stuff a little longer than that."

That's why the Sixers aren't throwing money at free agents who could turn them into instant Eastern Conference contenders, as some fans want them to do.

Sure, they could attempt to do what the Miami Heat did four years ago when they lured LeBron James and Chris Bosh to South Beach.

The Heat had a nice run, winning back-to-back NBA titles in four consecutive Finals appearances.

But they will be hard-pressed to make a fifth consecutive Finals after James opted to rejoin the Cavaliers. Now they are forced to overpay Chris Bosh and will probably do the same with Dwyane Wade. That could hinder the team's long-term future.

Meanwhile, at $30 million under the league's $63 salary cap, the Sixers are in great position to take on expiring contracts from other teams while also accumulating more future assets.

All part of Hinkie's plan to follow in the Spurs' footsteps.


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