It’s hard to tell if the 76ers went into the draft last Thursday with the intention of accomplishing anything aside from landing Matisse Thybulle of the University of Washington – that was made clear to the entire basketball world – but they certainly didn’t exit the draft having done much else.
The organization is weary at this point of comparisons involving recent front offices and the one constructed by Sam Hinkie, but, sorry about this, it would have been fascinating to see the landscape of their five draft selections as drawn by the brushstrokes of the Process pater familias.
What we got instead was finger-painting, and not terribly creative finger-painting at that. The Sixers had to make another two-for-one trade with Boston (those have worked out well) to get Thybulle, and then they gave away two second-round picks for financial considerations and future second-round picks, before finally using the 54th selection on Marial Shayok.
» READ MORE: Meet the Sixers’ draft class
The team under Hinkie was one that valued assets to an absolute fault, and bamboozled less savvy organizations into parting with their own assets, usually because the victims had either spent themselves into a corner or made extremely bad decisions.
The current Sixers are now on the other side of the coin, although there are some good reasons for that, and, no doubt, Hinkie would have altered his methods as well. With the cornerstone pieces of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in place, and assuming the return of at least one of their high-profile free agents, Hinkie’s 10,000-year clock needed to speed the turn of its hands.
That’s all understandable, but the team’s philosophy, as expressed by general manager Elton Brand, that the Sixers are now too good to bother with a bunch of young players with NBA potential is ludicrous. It’s a 15-man roster and I am very sure room could have been found for a Carsen Edwards or a Bol Bol or a Terance Mann. None are sure things, but they, and others, are intriguing and could become useful eventually.
The Sixers like the young players they have, but the odds are against Zhaire Smith, Shake Milton, and Jonah Bolden all developing into what is hoped for them. The same can be said of Thybulle, by the way, if his poor shooting last season wasn’t an aberration and if his exceptional college defense doesn’t translate as fluidly to man-to-man at the NBA level.
Maybe all of them will be fine, productive players, but this is a you-never-know league and Hinkie padded the corners of that reality by maximizing the swings he had at the plate. Brand and the Sixers were content to take a walk Thursday. It wasn’t a look that inspires confidence, particularly as the brain trust approaches the free-agency period that was so spectacularly unsuccessful a year ago.
One of Hinkie’s draft-night masterstrokes in adding assets for zero outlay was in 2014, when the Orlando Magic telegraphed their intention to draft point guard Elfrid Payton and Hinkie snapped him up ahead of Orlando, demanding the Magic draft Dario Saric for the Sixers (the player he wanted, anyway) and return the first-round pick the Magic received in the Andrew Bynum deal. Orlando was sold on Payton and had no choice but to acquiesce to the swap.
Fast-forward to Thursday night, and the Sixers lying in wait at No. 24 for Thybulle. They had settled on him early, promised him a first-round selection, and persuaded him not to work out individually for other teams in predraft settings. When a player declines workouts, teams make it their business to find out why.
The Sixers’ intentions were not a secret within NBA circles, at least not to Danny Ainge.
Boston, picking at No. 20, was going to steal Thybulle, but would trade the pick instead for No. 24 and No. 33. The Sixers had to go along, victims of running a ship with too many leaks beneath the waterline.
Their alternative spin was that they feared Thybulle would fall before No. 24 and it was the Sixers who approached the Celtics. Kindly old Uncle Danny was just happy to help. You may pick the interpretation you prefer.
In any case, it doesn’t look smart, and moving up with the aid of Boston to secure a guard from the University of Washington should make any Sixers fan shiver. The stakes were much higher when Bryan Colangelo did his two-for-one to get Markelle Fultz, but nevertheless, it was kind of eerie.
Brand’s contention that the team had to be concerned with cap considerations on draft night has some merit, but the relative savings were minuscule compared with what the team is apparently prepared to commit to Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Offloading the contract of Jonathon Simmons was part of that economic strategy, as were financial gains that can be used to pay down the luxury tax threshold. Very exciting.
The bottom line is important, of course, but the bottom line from draft night was that the Sixers just didn’t seem very decisive or very sharp as an organization. It might be that the muddled power structure, with ownership voices joining the front office chorus too easily, tends to blunt individual creativity.