By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — When it comes to our general managers’ credibility, the Philadelphia fan base sets its bar in curious places.
The Flyers’ Ron Hextall? Jury is out, but it is legitimate to be concerned that he’ll follow the same old approach of drafting 7-foot-6, 300 pound defensemen from Saskatoon instead of a skilled skater from Stockholm.
The Eagles’ Howie Roseman? Although his track record seems pretty sound, most of the Iggles’ faithful can’t get past the fact that he looks like he should be doing your taxes and not building your football team. A little unfair, perhaps, but that will be the reality until there is the long-awaited parade down Broad Street.
The Phillies’ Ruben Amaro? Hah!
He graciously accepts interview requests, but the more Amaro talks, the deeper the hole gets. At this lowest of low points, both in his tenure and in current franchise history, he is to the local sports community what Barack Obama is to the Tea Party.
And then we have the curious case of Sam Hinkie.
Unlike Amaro, constantly jabbering about the sorry state of the Phillies, the 76ers GM says very little. And when he does open up, we don’t understand what the heck he is talking about anyway.
His track record? At face value, pretty lame. He traded away an all-star in Jrue Holiday for the draft rights to a guy, Nerlens Noel, who played as many minutes last season as Andrew Bynum did the year before. The team was so bad that it sparked arguments as to whether the 2013-14 Sixers were going to be worse than the ignominious1972-73 version that managed a grand total of nine wins.
And yet, Hinkie gets a pass.
And rightfully so.
The NBA is a dysfunctional league, and he is in the midst of beating it at its own game. The only way to make the journey to the top-heavy circuit is to tear the team completely apart, get lottery picks and create cap space.
Presuming Noel comes back next season – and we all know he could have played a little this year, but the risk-reward factor was clear on Hinkie’s AC (analytics calculator) – he will join forces with rookie of the year Michael Carter -Williams to form a formidable nucleus.
The impending 2014 draft (june 26), which is touted as a once-in-a-decade collection of talent, will ultimately define where this team goes.
The Sixers finished with the second-worst record, and got the third pick. The Holiday deal netted them the No. 10 pick from New Orleans. Wheeling and dealing has also left the Sixers with a grand total of five second-round picks.
The intrigue grows daily. The speculation du jour is that the Sixers are so enamored with Andrew Wiggins, who could conceivably fall to them at No. 3, that they would consider moving up to No. 1 to get him from Cleveland.
The cost? It would have to add up to a plus on Hinkie’s AC.
Because he has the Sixers so far under the salary cap that they are flirting with being at the mandated minimum, Hinkie can afford to take on a “bad” contract to consummate a deal. That is crucial in the NBA, and he knows it, having played the rest of the league like a fiddle.
It is conceivable then that the Sixers could put together a package of the No. 3 pick, solid forward Thaddeus Young and something else (one of their seconds, the rights to Iranian forward Arsalan Kazemi, etc.) and send it to Cleveland for the top pick and a player the Cavaliers want to unload (Jarrett Jack, or last-year’s No. 1 overall bust-in-the-making Earl Bennett).
If it were a different GM, one that has left us rightfully gun-shy, we wouldn’t trust such a move.
But not with Uncle Sam.
In Hinkie we trust.
As we should.
The purported infatuation with Wiggins, which could be more smoke than fire, is logically more from the head coach, Brett Brown, than Hinkie.
Again, for whatever reason, Brown inspires enough confidence that we believe he foresees Wiggins as the best fit – short- and long-term – while some might see him as of equal value to one of the others considered in the top three of the class (center Joel Embiid or swing forward Jabari Parker) and not worth the cost of trading up.
No matter which of those three the Sixers eventually come away with, this draft may ultimately be defined by who they pick – or pass on – at the No. 10 spot.
And no one says they have to stay at that spot, either, where they could land a much-needed sharp-shooter (Nic Stauskas, Doug McDermott, Rodney Hood). Can they trade up a few slots – maybe high enough to get power forward Julius Randle, a human double-double who would instantly put an end to the opposition feasting on second-, third- and 18th-chance buckets?
Can they target a player that they like, but believe will be there in the middle of the first round, and trade back?
Do they take a page from the book of the San Antonio Spurs, the team where Brown honed his craft as an assistant, and select a European, like forward Dario Saric, and not even pressure him to come over this year?
Keep in mind, there is still no major incentive to make the playoffs in 2014-15. (If the Sixers do sneak in, they would owe their first round pick to Miami for the underachieving albatross Arnett Moultrie.) Considering another abysmal season doesn’t help morale or inspire confidence of an eventually bright future, just being more competitive on a nightly basis and winning in the range of 30 games would be a ray of necessary sunshine while keeping a first-round pick for 2015 in the arsenal.
And then there is the question of what to do with the plethora of second-round picks, and don’t necessarily expect Hinkie to follow conventional wisdom that he is going to be careless with them.
In most years, second-round picks are treated almost like gnats to swat away at a July 4th picnic.
This year, though, with the first round being so deep, players that would normally be drafted between 20 and 30 are those still in play between 30 and 40. The Sixers, in addition to the third and 10th picks, have picks at 32 and 39 overall. The others are at 47, 52 and 54.
New York Knicks president Phil Jackson, in stupefying arrogance, wants to “buy” his way into the draft and hopes the Sixers – among others with several picks – are selling.
“We have a limited amount of funds that we can use,” Jackson told New York reporters early this month. “It’s been prorated now to every team. You know, teams do sell draft picks.
“We are going to approach teams and ask them if they’re willing to allow us to buy a draft pick if we feel like there’s a player we want to have at a position that comes up.”
There were no reports if Jackson, who has admitted to using LSD in the past and is an advocate of legalizing marijuana, was in an altered state at the time.
His rationale, other than that the world revolves around him and his objective of getting into a loaded draft where the Knicks have no picks, is that the Sixers can’t fit seven new players – the two firsts and five seconds – onto a roster that can max out at 15.
Actually, Mr. Zen, your math is wrong.
Noel, Carter-Williams,Young, Tony Wroten, and Moultrie are the only Sixers signed to guaranteed contracts next season.
That’s five (actually 4½, if counting Moultrie, but five against the roster and salary cap).
Two others – has-been Jason Richardson and never-was, Byron Mullens – have until the end of the month to decide on staying, which would only be logical if they find no other place to go. The Sixers have the same deadline to pick up team options for next season on Elliot Williams and James Anderson, two players whose talent is about the level of any second-rounder in this year’s pool.
If all options are accepted – which is not likely, especially if Hinkie plays the under-the-cap card and takes on a “bad/expiring” contract or two to consummate a deal – that puts the roster at nine.
Seven picks equals 16, one over the limit.
So, in reality, the Sixers could – and probably should – retain all their second-round picks. Two, if not three, can be spent on foreign players whose rights can be carried over without counting against this year’s roster.
That would allow for retaining a player or two of minor consequence – the list includes Henry Sims, Hollis Thompson, Jarvis Vernado, etc. – who finished out the season here on non-guaranteed deals.
In other words, Phil, make an offer. How about an ascending player for two seconds? How about a “protected” first rounder (either a pick not in the top five, or in the lottery), to be used in the next several years, for the same price?
The Sixers aren’t selling picks for cash, like beggars on the street.
And, if they are, we are trusting in Hinkie more than we should.
This is what we have all been waiting for, after a laughable season of “tanking.”
It’s an exciting draft, one that will define where this once-proud franchise goes more than last year, so let’s place our faith in the hands of the one GM who seems to register the highest on the credibility meter right now.
The column initially appeared at http://www.phillyphanatics.com