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Hinkie's master plan for Sixers has some potential flaws

Brett Brown's comments hint that Sixers' best-laid plan for last June's draft ran into a snarl.

76ers general manager Sam Hinkie (left) and head coach Brett Brown (right). (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
76ers general manager Sam Hinkie (left) and head coach Brett Brown (right). (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)Read more

I DOUBT we'll ever know for sure what Sixers president/general manager Sam Hinkie's endgame was for "Tank Job, Part I," which he implemented for the 2013-14 season.

We do now know, however, what Sixers coach Brett Brown at least thought would be the reward for winning only 19 games - University of Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins and University of Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas.

Whether it was he was just being honest or he momentarily slipped off the front office's no-information strategy, Brown told reporters the other day: "I was expecting we were going to draft Stauskas and Wiggins and rolling out two playing players this year."

Even with getting only the No. 3 overall pick instead of winning the NBA lottery, the Sixers seemed poised to grab Wiggins on draft night.

Wiggins' teammate at Kansas, freshman center Joel Embiid, was projected as the No. 1 pick and expected to go to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Milwaukee Bucks had all but guaranteed they would take Duke University freshman swingman Jabbari Parker with the second pick - leaving Wiggins to the Sixers.

Everything changed when Embiid came up with a foot injury that needed surgery after already having a back issue that ended his collegiate season prematurely.

Cleveland took the safe route and drafted Wiggins, who was later dealt to Minnesota. Milwaukee picked Parker.

Hinkie made a calculated risk that might turn into a franchise-altering jackpot by taking Embiid.

The second part of Brown's dream scenario crashed when Stauskas was drafted eighth overall by the Sacramento Kings - two spots before the Sixers' second lottery pick at No. 10.

Hinkie drafted point guard Elfrid Payton and quickly traded him to the Orlando Magic for Croatian forward Dario Saric, who is contracted to play in Turkey for at least another season, a 2015 second-round pick and future first-round pick.

Brown, who expected to have 2014 two lottery picks playing, got none.

This isn't about whether Hinkie made the right picks. That will be determined when Embiid and Saric actually play for the Sixers and begin showing what kind of NBA players they will be.

They might turn out to be the best moves in the long term. Still, what happened did illustrate the potential pitfalls of Hinkie's massive plan to tear down the Sixers and rebuild primarily on the potential of future high-draft picks and other assets.

The problem is that a high-risk plan that requires so many things to go right to get the high reward can result in a fragile and unreliable future.

As the 2014 draft proved, the unexpected can happen and lay waste to the best of ideas.

It's not even just unexpected things. Some easily identified issues could cause some incredible headaches as soon as the end of this season. Those issues include managing the NBA salary cap - which many blame for forcing teams into the vicious cycle of getting really bad to get high picks, so that they can get really good.

The Sixers have the lowest payroll in the NBA at $31.8 million. For the 2018-19 season, they have no player with a guaranteed salary.

That will change dramatically as rebuilding becomes contending, and Hinkie might lose the upper hand in negotiating which players get what money.

Player agents are smart, too.

Rookie swingman K.J. McDaniels, who was drafted with the second pick of the second round, looks like one of the major steals of the 2014 draft. But because he and his agent were not happy with the Sixers' multiyear offer, McDaniels is on a 1-year contract for $507,336, the second lowest on the team.

According to reports, the Sixers can keep McDaniels' status that of a restricted free agent by making him a qualifying offer $1.2 million by June 30.

But if McDaniels continues to play at this level and beyond, it won't be that cheap for the Sixers to keep him.

A 21-year-old super athlete such as McDaniels will be attractive to other teams.

The Sixers would have the right of first refusal if they make the qualifying offer, but, based on the "Gilbert Arenas" provision of the CBA, a team that is $8 million under the salary cap - and there will be at least 10 of those next season - could offer McDaniels up to $24 million over 3 years or $32 million over 4.

I doubt McDaniels would get an offer averaging $8 million a season, but it is not unreasonable to think he could get one of about $4 million or $5 million a season.

That would put his annual salary in the same area as 2014 lottery picks Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams, who are controlled by first-round contracts through 2017-18.

If McDaniels gets that kind of offer and the Sixers matched, he, Noel and Carter-Williams could be up for new contracts for 2018-19.

If player development is the goal, you assume the Sixers would want those three as foundational players.

The flip side is that kind of development equates into near maximum-type contracts.

Around the same time, Embiid will be owed a qualifying offer of at least $8 million, but if he becomes everything the Sixers hope, he'll have a second contract near max-level before it gets to that point.

Whenever Saric decides to come over from Europe, the Sixers will have to pay him considerably more money than he would have gotten under a set contract as the 12th overall pick in the 2014 draft.

They also will face the issue of adding the salary of a top-five pick in 2015 and likely 2016, and whenever the Sixers do decide to dabble into free agency, the rebuilding stature of the club will likely force them to overpay to persuade any difference-maker to come to Philadelphia.

That's a lot of contract money, and Hinkie won't be able to pay everybody.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, who play the Sixers tonight at the Wells Fargo Center, is the franchise many say Hinkie's plan is modeled after. Beyond the fact the Sixers don't have a player who has shown the potential to be a superstar like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, OKC had to work through a major glitch in its buildup because of the salary cap.

In 2012, after reaching the NBA Finals, the Thunder signed center/forward Serge Ibaka to a 4-year contract worth $48 million, but could not persuade shooting guard James Harden to sign a deal reportedly worth $52 million to $55 million.

Ultimately, OKC traded Harden to the Houston Rockets, where he's become a two-time All-Star, All-NBA first team and Olympic gold medalist.

Those kind of franchise-determining decisions are just around the corner for Hinkie. He must deal with them correctly.

If Hinkie gives the wrong deals to the wrong players, his rebuilding plan could blow up and the Sixers will be again trapped in a cycle of mediocrity that they can't escape because of a strangling salary cap.

Brown has found out how fickle a plan can be by watching Wiggins and Stauskas play for other teams. Hinkie will find out as he pushes things forward.