SO WHERE is the 76ers organization right now, three years into the Sam Hinkie rebuild? Is the situation as dire as a recent Sports Illustrated story portrayed, reporting of rifts between ownership and Hinkie and coach Brett Brown (which Brown vehemently denied Friday); of complete insubordination by injured center Joel Embiid; of many of the large ownership group growing impatient with the slow process; of some concerned with the capabilities of coach Brown?
Many have thrown their hands up in disgust of The Process, which has accumulated 37 wins in 164 games over the past two seasons. Season ticketholders are growing weary of shoveling out big bucks to watch an organization fill a roster with subpar players who, despite playing hard night in and night out, simply don't have the ammunition to put up a fair fight.
Some are annoyed with the lack of transparency by Hinkie and the organization, which only divulged information of Embiid having a setback in early June after it was reported. Then, in early July only after multiple reports came out, did the team confirm Embiid would need another surgery.
Of course, there are bright spots in the distance also. While the injury to Embiid, which will cost him another year away from the court, is devastating to the reconstruction of the team, Hinkie has put the organization in the rare spot of being able to overcome the big man's absence, whether it be for just this season or many more to come. The Process yielded the third overall pick this past draft, which landed Jahlil Okafor, who may or may not make fans forget momentarily what they are missing in Embiid. Then there is next year's draft in which the Sixers could land multiple lottery picks with as many as four first-rounders.
And don't forget about free agency. While the Sixers put themselves in the enviable position of having a huge amount of money to lure free agents, the rest of the league will catch up quickly once the new television contract comes into play, which will raise the salary cap from $63.1 million from last season to $70 million this year. Next year it is expected to catapult to somewhere around $90 million.
But you have to think that at some point they are going to be major players in the free-agent market. The hiring of strength and conditioning guru Todd Wright makes one wonder if that move was part of a scheme to lure Kevin Durant here during the upcoming offseason. Wright spent 14 years at the University of Texas and is said to be a big reason for the development of Durant, who will be a free agent after this season. The two are reportedly very good friends.
In their first meetings with the media prior to this season, both Brown and Hinkie stated their desire to do a better job of working with Embiid on his recovery. It was probably a preemptive strike against stories like SI's in which it was said the center's unwillingness to comply with diet restrictions, particularly a love of Shirley Temples, and orders on how to treat his healing foot, led to a hindrance in his progression.
Having a hold on their players seems to be a problem the organization has dealt with the past few seasons. Both Nerlens Noel and Embiid have been fined thousands of dollars for tardiness through the years and Brown said one of the priorities of training camp was to instill the importance of players being on time and learning how to be adults. The organization can't let the inmates run the asylum, so to speak, and it appears they now know they have a serious problem that needs to be snipped immediately.
As for discord between Hinkie and Brown, specifically when it comes to the trade of Michael Carter-Williams to the Milwaukee Bucks at the trade deadline last season, there is no question that deal was a kick in the gut for the coach. He admitted that decisions like that come about after discussions between the two, "but the ultimate decision is Sam's, and I trust him."
The discussion here isn't whether the trade was a good one or not, it's the way that it affected the coach. At the time of the trade the team was playing the best basketball of Brown's tenure and there appeared to be a glimmer of light at the end of the long, long tunnel. But that light turned instantly dark and the coach had the carpet pulled out from under him. Brown's reaction, though outwardly politically correct, was undeniable. Clearly he thought the organization was in good hands with MCW as the point guard, obviously the general manager didn't.
Rarely do Brown or Hinkie talk without mentioning the importance of sports science to the progression of the franchise. Yet, no team is suffering from more injuries than the Sixers this preseason. While numerous draft picks have been accumulated in Hinkie's three seasons, only one (Okafor) will probably be in the starting lineup on Oct. 28 in the season opener.
But that has to be stated with a caveat because so many more future assets were acquired with past picks.
And that sums up where the Sixers are right now: in unknown territory. This rebuild is unprecedented in all of sports. No team has stripped down a roster the way Hinkie has. Will this summer be the telltale one in which draft picks are plentiful, progression of players is seen, free agents are acquired? Or will pieces again be moved and more future assets be gained?
There are many concerns and many possible bright spots. I continue to take the unpopular stance of waiting and seeing. It's really all you can do.