Aug 28 2015

Five Things You Learn From the New Allen Iverson Book

As part of a wholescale dedication to improve myself, I’ve made a concentrated effort to read more this year. So when my birthday came along the other week, you can imagine how thrilled I was to get the new Allen Iverson book alongside the latest volume of Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga. What could go wrong?, I thought at the time. A biography about my absolute favorite athlete ever, the six-foot-zero man who cared greatly about the outcome of every regular season he played, making a sports fan out of 12-year-old me through sheer passion for the game? This will be a great, happy read indeed.

Yeah, not quite.

In Kent Babb’s take on Iverson’s life, Not a Game, the Washington Post writer alternates chapters between the Philly icon’s young playing career and his present-day struggles. Throughout, Babb paints a cautionary portrait of a man consumed by depression, substance abuse, and fits of violence, who changed the game of basketball on a cultural level but never fully lived up to his potential due to an inability to mature until it was too late. Upon finishing the book, here were five things that stuck out:

1. It’s Not a Pretty Picture.

Babb himself admits in the acknowledgements section of his book that, without Iverson’s side of the story, Not a Game is an incomplete work. (He reached out to Iverson  but never heard back, which sounds about right given Iverson’s pattern of behavior outlined throughout the book.) And Iverson is certainly given his humanizing moments, particularly through his relationship with a member of the Georgetown training staff. Even so, the anecdotes from former teammates and coaches, associates like Reebok employee Que Gaskins, and – most devastating of all – the official testimony of Iverson’s ex-wife, Tawanna, throughout their divorce proceedings, are damning enough on their own. Though Babb himself admits on the final page that he found himself disappointed in Iverson throughout his research, mostly due to the way he treated Tawanna, the narrative he constructs here depicts a man broken enough to earn sympathy, yet stubborn enough to warrant criticism in equal measure.

2. Drunk or not, the “practice” rant isn’t nearly as fun anymore.

Babb heavily alludes to Iverson being drunk during his infamous “practice” rant in 2002, thanks in large part to the testimony of Larry Brown, though Iverson has disputed this since the book was released. Such behavior certainly falls into place with the rest of Babb’s narrative, but drunk or not, it’s hard to watch the press conference again in the same light. It’s just disheartening, knowing the discomfort and mortification that close friends, teammates, and Pat Croce experienced during the event, and you feel for Iverson having to (albeit, in good humor) recite his instantly synonymous line for the entertainment of others for pretty much the rest of his career. Amusing as it was, it was also a fairly vicious example of the media making light of the very real and troubling struggles of a depressed human being.

3. The Sixers could have been good for a lot longer if Allen Iverson was a different person.

The way Babb tells it, aside from maybe his rookie season and his first year in Denver, 2000-’01 was pretty much the only time that saw Iverson focused and determined throughout the course of an entire NBA season. Brown, Croce, and others lament what could have been if Iverson had only been able to change a few things about his lifestyle and attitude. But he couldn’t. “What could have been” scenarios are simply symptoms for any depressed individual, especially one with substance problems. Rather than lament a successful, multi-year Sixers’ playoff run that could have been, it would be better for Iverson to take those hard memories and use them to motivate any treatment he may or may not need.

4. There are a strange number of simple basketball facts that Babb gets wrong.

Babb never bothers to explain what the extent of his basketball fandom is, and you can argue that, given the larger story he’s trying to tell about Iverson’s personal life, extensive knowledge of the game isn’t a requirement as pertains to this biography at all. But when you’re trying to construct such a critical narrative about an athlete, it’s not helping your case when you’re clearly not doing simple fact-checking about details of the game itself. Babb rarely goes into great depth about Iverson’s games themselves – appropriately spending more time on behind-the-scenes practices – but he does open Chapter 13 by setting the stage for overtime of Game 1 of the 2001 Finals. The pass that will eventually lead to Iverson’s infamous step-over of Tyronn Lue is delivered to him, but in Babb’s version of the play, Iverson “caught a pass from Vernon Maxwell, the Sixers’ point guard.” Maxwell wasn’t even on the roster that post-season, having been put on waivers and signing with Dallas in December 2000. The Lue pass was delivered by Raja Bell.

Later, when detailing the 2006 trade that sent Iverson to Denver, Babb describes Andre Miller, one of the pieces the Sixers received in the trade, as “a talented young point guard.” Miller was certainly talented, but by December 2006 he was 29 years old, soon to turn 30, and an eight-year NBA veteran. If by “young” Babb meant “less than a year younger than Iverson himself,” he was accurate, but despite Miller’s career longevity, an outlier in itself, a 30-year-old point guard should never be described as “young” when evaluating a trade. Finally, when recounting the exit interviews Larry Brown conducted after the 2001-’02 season, Babb lists George Lynch as one of the exit interviewees, even though the Sixers traded Lynch to Charlotte at the beginning of that season. Speaking of George Lynch…

5. George Lynch was a long-time forward for the 76ers.

Lynch, “a long-time forward for the 76ers,” was re-introduced that exact same way at least the first three times he was mentioned. I kept finding this amusing. (Though this, also, isn’t entirely accurate. Lynch was only on the team for three seasons.) By the end of the book, you may or may not think of Allen Iverson differently, but you’ll definitely know who George Lynch is.

 

In the end, it’s easy to see why Iverson took so long to officially announce his retirement. Though Babb’s book is decidedly not about basketball itself, he makes it clear that the basketball court was the one place where Iverson was at peace with himself. You can’t come out of the reading experience without hoping he finds some way to stay connected to the game that fuels him. Babb’s story ends on a cliffhanger, on a life in transition, and one hopes that Iverson is able to write his own, happy ending.

I hope some can see past the alleged behavior depicted here, even though some of it is undoubtedly disgusting. But I’m rooting for A.I. now more than ever; as Babb frequently reminds us, the Allen Iverson Sixers fans fondly recall from his glory years was simply an overgrown kid who loved drinking at TGI Friday’s after games, playing monopoly with friends, and reminding Tyrone Hill how much he looked like Skeletor. Not A Game will almost certainly be remembered as a cautionary tale for young athletes, but it’s also a healthy reminder to fans how human each athlete they admire truly is.

Jul 30 2015

Time Is Running Out … Sort Of

Jordan Clarkson is as good a second-round pick as you’ll find. The Lakers guard had an impressive debut season — he was named to the All-Rookie First Team — and his strong play continued into Summer League. Sure, he just turned 23; he’s older and more developed physically than most of his Las Vegas competition. But at 6-foot-5, he possesses the size, skill and athleticism to excel as a combo guard for the better part of the next decade.

Jordan Clarkson is also on the last year of his contract, diminishing some of his value and making him a potential liability after this season. After being selected 46th overall, the Missouri guard inked a two-year deal totaling $1.35M that expires this offseason. If he continues to progress, he’ll be one of the most sought after free agents next summer, demanding a salary 10 times the size of his current six-figure deal. As ESPN Insider’s Kevin Pelton ($$) noted, the first two years won’t exceed the mid-level exception due to the “Arenas provision.” The third year, though, could see an Omer Asik/Jeremy Lin-esque jump to $20-plus million. Even with a salary cap expected to surpass $100 million, that’s a massive price tag.

Right now, Clarkson is a solid rotation player with a borderline all-star ceiling, but his value is less in his production than his $845,059 salary that takes up 1 percent of Los Angeles’ salary cap. Though his impending raise shouldn’t impact his on-court value, it could limit the Lakers’ flexibility, pushing them that much closer to the salary cap as they look to bring in other high-profile players through trade or free agency.

So, what does this have to do with the Sixers? Yesterday, RealGM’s Shams Charania reported that Philly signed second-round pick Richaun Holmes to a multi-year deal, with the first two years “significantly guaranteed,” according to Jake Fischer of Liberty Ballers. It’s another Hinkie special¹; a fringe NBA player is offered about $1M annually usually over four seasons, with only a portion of the money guaranteed.

The Sixers have at least seven players on this type of contract, including Holmes, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Pierre Jackson, JaKarr Sampson, Hollis Thompson, and Scottie Wilbekin. (Full details on T.J. McConnell’s haven’t been reported). Each of those aforementioned players are cheap, potential contributors. They’ll earn less than $7M combined if they remain on the roster through the end of the 2015-16 season.

Contract information not exact.

Contract information not exact.

Not all of the Hinkie specials will turn out. In fact, there has already been a few that haven’t. Similar contracts were signed by including the since-waived/traded Jarvis Varnado, Drew Gordon, Malcolm Lee, and Brandon Davies. But the cost of bringing them in was minimal; just a temporary roster spot and a tiny fraction of the salary cap, as the contracts weren’t guaranteed.

The Hinkie specials that do work out, though, could turn into significant assets. Though some established veterans took discounts to play on winning teams (Gerald Green, David West), the market rate for rotations players like Jae Crowder (5/35M), Iman Shumpert (4/40M), Patrick Beverley (4/25M), Brandon Wright (3/18M), Kyle O’Quinn (4/16M) and Cory Joseph (4/30M) ranges from 4M-10M annually. Those salaries are likely to rise with the salary cap, which is $70M this season and projected to increase to $89M in 2016-17 and then $108M in 2017-18.

This makes it all the more imperative that the Sixers start spending soon. To date, Sam Hinkie has expressed no interest in putting a winning product on the floor, prioritizing draft picks and cap flexibility over wins. It’s an unorthodox, although totally reasonable team building strategy that’s netted the franchise a several high-upside prospects — Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric — along with a slew of future picks and young players locked into team-friendly contracts. But the advantage of the latter group — the Thompsons, the Covingtons, the Sampsons, the Holmeses — isn’t in their upside or production. Role players are always available through trades or free agency. Hell, the Sixers got a first-round pick, Nik Stauskas, and two pick swaps just to take on the contracts of Carl Landry and Jason Thompson.

The advantage, instead, is the cap flexibility they provide. Converting on a few of the second-round/undrafted rookie gambles could cut bench costs to about $10M, leaving more money for productive, high-upside players — the types that are plucked immediately in free agency.

But take another look at the Hinkie specials currently under contract. Thompson, signed prior to the 2013-14 season, is entering Year 3 of his four-year deal. He doesn’t do much, but he’s a versatile defender who can hit 3-pointers. At his current salary, $947K, his production far exceeds his cost, though that won’t be the case when he signs his next contract. While his on-court value might be on the rise, his off-court value is dropping as he approaches free agency.

The same goes for Covington, who signed early last season. He’s arguably the most productive Sixer, which is to say he might be an average NBA player. He too is outplaying his contract, but the margin becomes smaller as we get closer to 2018.

Jerami Grant, meanwhile, produced at replacement levels in his rookie season, as did JaKarr Sampson. But there’s a market for athletes with upside; K.J. McDaniels just signed a three-year, $10M deal (Year 3 team option) after putting together a rookie season not all that different from Grant’s and Sampson’s. It’s not clear how much these unproven sophomores would command if they reentered free agency, but it would likely exceed their current deals.

And yet, those contract “wins” will be all for naught if the Sixers don’t take advantage of them. They’ll add some on-court value and make the in-game experience a bit more palatable for the fans, but the players themselves won’t be any more productive than the ones readily available in free agency.

What the Sixers have going for them, though, that these players are signed to four-year deals, not two. The demand for four years of team control might be irritating some agents and limiting his free agent/second-round pick pool. (It cost the Sixers McDaniels). But it’s also extended the window for which they can capitalize on their cheap production. But now in Year 3 of the rebuild, time is running out on the first crop of Hinkie specials. While it’s not a disaster if their production-exceeding contracts go to waste, it wouldn’t be the asset maximization we’ve grown accustomed to.

(Really, though, this was all an excuse to post this).

1. No, the Hinkie special isn’t immoral. Nor is it some form of indentured servitude. As with any deal, there are pros and cons. Pros: an NBA roster spot, exposure, guaranteed money. Con: flexibility is limited, free agency is delayed.

Jul 12 2015

Joel Embiid Likely Out For Season. What’s Next?

Joel Embiid is getting another surgery on his injured right foot, and it’ll likely force him out of the entire 2015-16 season. Missing just next season would be the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that he’ll be sidelined forever, and that the bum foot will end the big man’s career before it even started. That’d be sad for the Sixers, NBA fans, and most of all, him.

This news (reported first by The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Keith Pompey) is crappy for everyone, though not at all unexpected. Embiid, the third overall pick in the 2014 Draft, was a question mark when the Sixers selected him. That, not his talent, is why he was the third overall pick. The recovery appeared to be on schedule until last month when a report came out saying he had a setback. Some theorized it was some sort of smokescreen — an elaborate plan orchestrated by general manager Sam Hinkie that’d turn the Sixers into a credible threat to take Jahlil Okafor, and thereby raise the trade value of the third overall pick. (That was both ridiculous and hilarious).

Meanwhile, the pessimists and realists prepared for the worst. It turned out they were right to do so. What was once the Sixers’ most valuable asset is now being looked at as the next Greg Oden and Sam Bowie. He’s one more setback away from getting the “damaged goods” label. I’m not sure there’s anything that anyone could’ve done — or can do — to change that. Health is unpredictable. Embiid has been dealt a bad hand, and the flop hasn’t bailed him out. There’s still the turn and the river, but the odds of him having a healthy professional basketball career are looking slimmer than ever.

More thoughts below …

Was it the wrong pick?

If the Sixers did their due diligence, no. Embiid was considered the top prospect by just about everyone. He’s a 7-foot (and then some?) super athlete with soft touch and great defensive instincts despite having just picked up the sport a few years ago. The organization consulted with plenty of doctors (slightly more qualified than the experts on Twitter) to determine the likelihood of Embiid having a healthy career. I’m assuming the Sixers listened to those doctors, and acted accordingly on draft night, taking him knowing full well the risks of his injury. Yes, he was far from a sure thing. Though it’s not as if any of the guys behind him screamed certainty.

That’s not to say it was the right pick. There’s too many unknowns to make that determination. But at the very least it was a defensible selection, both then and now.

Handled with care

The Sixers are an evil corporation run by heartless hedge fund billionaires who lie about injuries, treat players like assets and want to move the team to New Jersey. That’s the narrative some would have you believe, and it’s not entirely untrue. Players are traded left and right as Hinkie looks to gain an edge in the competitive marketplace that is the National Basketball Association. It can be a cold, cold place.

But no colder than any other sports franchise. By most accounts, the Josh Harris/Sam Hinkie Sixers have been a player-friendly organization which cares about its personnel, even if the motives are selfish. There’s the 400K contract handed to the injured Pierre Jackson, the Evan Turner ride to the airport, and the Dario Saric visits  — those are nice little gestures. Their delicate handling of the Embiid and Nerlens Noel injuries has, in some ways, been much tougher to pull off. Players want to play and fans want to see the best talent on the court. The Sixers don’t seem to care. Noel sat out his entire rookie year, much longer than most have historically been sidelined after ACL surgeries. The Sixers could afford to do that, in part because they didn’t care about regular season Ws. (Who knows whether he’d have taken the court for the Sixers if they were a playoff bound team). But regardless of motive, he wasn’t rushed back, and he was physically prepared heading into his rookie season.

Embiid’s injury isn’t comparable to Noel’s, but the Sixers have been equally cautious. The organization made it clear that it was prioritizing a full recovery, rather than a speedy one. (At least, it appears that way based on the painfully slow and thorough recovery process.)

Have the Sixers taken a conservative approach because they care about Joel Embiid the person? Or do they simply care about Joel Embiid the basketball player? It’s probably a little bit of both. The result, though, is the same. He’s been given access to world class medical experts, who are trying to maximize his chance of a full, long-term recovery. That’s an environment he deserves to be in. That’s also an environment that I’m not sure other, less patient organizations would provide.

This starts when?

The Sixers are not going to be a good basketball team, but it won’t be because Embiid is missing. Rookies are typically below average NBA players. Even the best ones don’t usually move the needle. I mean, look at Kevin Durant in his first couple seasons. He was a +/- disaster.

In the short-term, the Sixers will lose far more highlights than Ws. Even if Embiid had a productive rookie season, it’d have been in a somewhat limited role. (You think they were going to let him play 30-plus minutes a game?). Being without Embiid certainly won’t help things. But the frontcourt is the one area where the Sixers have depth. Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel will likely take up the majority of the minutes and center and power forward, respectively. Furkan Aldemir, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, and possibly Richaun Holmes could also be part of the rotation, while Jerami Grant and Robert Covington could play some PF in small-ball lineups.

Long-term, this will hurt. A healthy Embiid (on a rookie contract) is the type of player that can singlehandedly turnaround the franchise while in his prime. But the second surgery delays his progression by at least a year, if not indefinitely.  While it’s not impossible that they become competitive in 2016-17, Embiid’s setback makes it a hell of a lot less likely.

Jul 10 2015

One Week Later: How the Nik Stauskas Trade Has Changed Our Lives

Remember last Wednesday? Many NBA fans probably don’t, because that was the day we were captives to Twitter like Deandre was captive to the Clippers, as free agency opened and Woj bombs flew like confetti for 24 hours straight. By nightfall, I knew I had to get out of the house. A friend of mine was celebrating his birthday, so I took him out for a beer, a side of garlic knots with marinara Sauce, and a vow that I wouldn’t look at my phone for two hours.

Upon returning home, I found I had several text messages that read, simply, some variation of “Saaaaauuuuuce.” In any other reality, it would be fair to assume that all of my friends had suffered simultaneous brain aneurisms. Instead, I knew what was happening immediately. My life flashed before my eyes, except instead of my life, it was basketballs going into hoops thousands of times. I was ecstatic. I was also terrified. The price of water in the middle of the desert isn’t cheap; what could the price for this man possibly have been?

Then it started coming out. No Saric. No draft picks. In fact, Sauce was personally bringing a first-round draft pick and two first-round swaps with him, like the baby Jesus being the one giving gifts to the three wise men. The Sixers sacrificed a future second-rounder and two recent second-round selections, neither of whom is named Sauce Castillo. It was the greatest trade of all time, and that includes the Louisiana Purchase. The man who orchestrated it was Sam Hinkie, hereby known as The Bringer of Sauce. Like Prince Doran Martell, The Bringer of Sauce had been strategically dormant for the majority of the day, remaining patient despite constant pleas to strike from the snakes (er, bloggers) surrounding him. He realized that the Sacramento Kings are currently being run by a Tommy Wiseau character and proceeded to pry Stauskas from Vivec like Mark stealing Lisa away from Johnny. (In case you are wondering, yes, Vlade Divac is Denny in this analogy.)

Having a living god on your roster obviously changes everything, not just from a team standpoint but to how we as human beings perceive the game. The Sauce is the red pill, and now that we’ve taken him, we can’t see the world the way it used to be. Basketball courts look different to me now; suddenly, the area between the low block and the three-point arc looks like fucking quick sand, and any player lingering there can go ahead and sink for all I care. If any Sixer attempts a mid-range jumper next year while Sauce and Covington are both on the floor, they should be demoted to the D-League immediately and be ineligible to return for at least two seasons. They should also have to handwrite a 300-page essay about why they didn’t pass the ball to Sauce and personally give it to him. He won’t read it, but he might punch you in your face.

Sauce Castillo is necessary right now because he completely embodies the current 76ers’ culture of yeah, why not? Move the rookie of the year for a lottery pick? Yeah, I can roll with that. Draft a series of highly-touted big men other teams have passed on because of injury concerns? Sure, that’s a gamble worth taking. Trade for some lanky, white Michigan sensation who shot 36% from the field in his rookie season but, in his best moments at college, played like a friend who occasionally reminds you that he served jail time? Why the fuck not? Actually, hell yes. The 76ers have been looking towards the future for years, but the present involves a whole lot of saying “yeah, why not?” And the present looks a lot like this.

In The Bringer of Sauce we trust.

At the risk of letting this 140-flame-emojis-worthy hot take run long, here a few parting stray observations and concerns that are absolutely necessary to conclude with:

– When Sauce isn’t on the floor, the other players should say “…Where’s Sauce?”

– If Sauce drains a three-pointer when there’s no one around to see it, does it still count as three points?

– There is going to be a shortage of Sauce jerseys very soon and the city should be worried about it.

– When does Sauce become eligible for a max contract and why hasn’t Sam Hinkie given it to him yet? Are we to assume this is part of “the process?”

– Who will guard Sauce during practice without tearing up from the beauty of his jump shot?

– With the game tied and three seconds left on the clock, will Sauce still take the shot even when he’s quintuple-covered?

– The city will shut down the day after Sauce hits his first half-court shot, so you might as well take off whatever the day after the Sixers’ first game is now.

– Can we just change the number “3” to the word “SAUCEMONEY” already?

– With the Sauce now in the Eastern Conference, why hasn’t Lebron James retired from basketball yet? Is he hoping he gets traded to Philadelphia so he can play with the Sauce?

After a week of being partially paralyzed with joy, it’s good to finally be able to look back at this trade rationally and see it for what it is: a guaranteed 11 championships. I’m not ready to call 70 wins next season just yet, but only because a healthy Embiid could up that total to 80 or even 90. The 76ers are boldly walking into the 2015-’16 season with the new team motto “This starts now.” But they’re wrong. This started on October 7, 1993.*

* – That, uh, was the day Nik Stauskas was born. If that wasn’t clear.

Jul 02 2015

STAUSKAS! … And A 1st, And Two Pick Swaps

After a quiet draft night, and then a dead silent 23 hours of free agency, the Sam Hinkie made another blockbuster deal, perhaps his most lopsided one yet. This time, the victim was Sacramento Kings crazy owner Vivek Ranadive.

Here’s the details, via Derek Bodner/Pablo Torre:

Sixers receive: Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Protected 2018 1st (earliest), rights to swap 2016 1st (if T-10), rights to swap 2017 1st (if T-10)
Kings receive: Arturas Gudaitis (47th pick), Luka Mitrovic (60th pick), 2nd-round pick.

This was essentially a salary dump. The Kings want in on the free agent frenzy and don’t have any cap space. The Sixers, meanwhile, have all the cap space.

So, SAC sent Stauskas — 8th overall pick in 2014 coming off a disappointing rookie season — along with Landry (owed $6.5M in 2015-16, $6.5M in 2016-17) and Thompson (owed $6.43M in 2015-16, partially guaranteed $2.65M in 2016-17) to Philly, and gave the Sixers a 1st and the rights to a couple pick swaps for their troubles.

This trade has jackpot potential for Philadelphia. While the Sixers are made up of borderline role players and unproven rookies, they’re playing in the Eastern Conference, where 35 Ws can land a playoff spot. The Kings meanwhile have been terrible for the last decade. Even if they land the likes of Rajon Rondo and Wesley Matthews, they’re likely to remain in the lottery the next couple seasons. There’s a realistic scenario where the Kings get high lottery picks the next two years — and maybe even win the damn thing — and would have to swap picks with the Sixers. All because they wanted to sign Rajon freakin’ Rondo.

That’s not to mention Stauskas, who the Sixers were reportedly targeting in the lottery last year. And Landry, who not that long ago (when healthy) was a productive NBA player. This is a heist no matter how you look at it.

Here’s a breakdown (Insider) from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton. He gives the Kings an F and the Sixers a B+.

“In a sense, then, this trade is Hinkie betting on his own team and against Sacramento. The latter, at the very least, has an excellent chance of paying out.”

More on this and free agency later.

Jun 26 2015

5-on-5: Can an Okafor-Noel-Embiid Frontcourt Work

 1. Odds Okafor is wearing a Sixers uniform on opening night?

Eric Goldwein: 65 percent. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where a frontcourt of Okafor, Embiid and Noel can coexist on a contending team — especially given Okafor’s lack of versatility, and Noel’s offensive shortcomings. But the Sixers don’t need them to fit well right now. All they need is for them to continue showing they’re promising players. If there’s an offer on the table, then certainly the Sixers will be listening. But for now, I think they’d be content letting the three bigs share the frontcourt.

Bryan Toporek: 35-40 percent? It all depends on what doctors say about Joel Embiid’s foot. If it’s serious enough to keep him sidelined for a portion — or all — of the 2015-16 season, Okafor won’t be going anywhere. If Embiid is healthy by opening night — or if his foot isn’t a long-term concern — it’d be pretty shocking if Hinkie kept all three of Okafor, Embiid and Nerlens. Barring a huge trade offer, though, the Sixers might as well keep Okafor through summer league to see whether the concerns about his defense were overblown.

Benjamin Smolen: Around 75-80 percent. The Sixers will be open to a trade, as is their responsibility, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Sam Hinkie it’s that he’s patient. He will take all the time he needs before dealing one of his bigs, and I assume that will mean starting the season with all three. And to editorialize a little, I know a lot of people are split on this pick, but I think it was absolutely the right one. We are obligated as a team to take the best player available at this juncture. Despite all the heat Okafor took during the pre-draft process (unfairly I think), he was that.

Daniel Christian: 70 percent. I’m pretty confident Okafor will be with the Sixers at the start of the season, just because he fits next to both Embiid and Noel better than they fit together. He’s probably the best offensive player of the bunch and that opens up the possibility of trading one of the other two. The only reason the percentage isn’t higher is because someone is going to be shipped off eventually. I’m not sure who it will be, but it makes more sense to keep Okafor for the time being to see what you’re working with.

Marc Nemcik: 75 percent. I don’t see anyone creating an offer intriguing enough for Hinkie to move Okafor. Aside from all of the Boogie trade rumors, which are probably more smoke than fire, does Boston really have the firepower to make a “Godfather offer?” My guess would be that Nerlens Noel is the one getting shipped out, particularly with Embiid’s value at an all-time low. Hinkie has time to make this decision with no pressure to be a good basketball team next season and Embiid potentially missing.

2. Can an Okafor/Embiid/Noel frontcourt work?

Goldwein: It’s certainly not ideal. Though a healthy Embiid could theoretically play at the four and five, Noel and Okafor are more limited; the former being an offensive liability, and the latter being a defensive liability. That said, there’s 96 minutes to go around. Embiid, I suspect, will be on a minutes restriction, and it can’t hurt to keep the mileage down on the other two. Given the focus is still presumably on development — and not Ws — this can work for now. Down the line there may be some tough calls.

Toporek: Unless Noel and/or Okafor extend their shooting range significantly, I don’t see how it could, especially when you throw Saric into the mix. Okafor would work best with a 4 like Serge Ibaka — a weak-side shot-blocker who stretches the floor offensively. Nerlens doesn’t have the shooting range to make that pairing work, and I’m not convinced Embiid is laterally quick enough to guard 4s defensively. Brett Brown was already stressing about the Embiid/Noel fit… I feel even worse for him now.

Smolen: Remember all the positive things I said to answer the first question? Well, I (almost) take them back. No, it can’t work. And that sucks. But it won’t need to long-term. If Sixer fans are willing to adopt “Optionality” as a catch-phrase six months ago, they need to hold onto it now. Okafor gives us options. I’m disheartened, because this was anti-climactic and next season may not be much fun, but I am certain that this gives us the best chance to be better down the road.

Christian: No, it can’t, and that’s why one of them eventually will have to go. There just isn’t enough space on the floor for everyone to operate. But there is no rush to make this work. The Sixers can take their time and see who actually fits best together and move from there. I don’t think we’ll see Hinkie’s resolution for this conundrum for a good while.

Nemcik: No, not at all – but the Sixers don’t need that frontcourt to work. At least one of these three will get traded eventually, although I’m concerned about drafting for value to this extent. Okafor was clearly the best player available at that point, but other teams know that Philadelphia will eventually have to move one of their big men. Does that hurt their value? Maybe.

 

3. What grade would you give the draft?

Goldwein: C+. It didn’t go how some might’ve hoped, but they didn’t screw up, and they very well might’ve come away with the rookie of the year.

Toporek: C. Despite the fit concerns, Okafor was the right pick at No. 3 once the Lakers took Russell second. He was the best player on the board — the presumptive No. 1 for much of the year — and if Embiid’s foot is a long-term concern, he’s about the best contingency plan the Sixers could ask for. That said, it’s hard not to feel at least somewhat deflated after Towns and Okafor looked like the clear-cut top two for much of the draft process. Trading Guillermo Hernangomez gets two thumbs up from me, but I’m extremely bummed Hinkie couldn’t move into the 20s and get a guy like Jerian Grant, Delon Wright or RJ Hunter to round out the perimeter rotation. Lady Luck was not on the Sixers’ side tonight.

Smolen: C+. It’s not all doom and gloom–Okafor is still a hell of a prospect–but, more than any other time, this feels like kicking the proverbial can down the road. The Sixers essentially have a mission statement to improve through the draft, and this draft, while giving them a great talent, didn’t do much to help build their roster in the short term. We weren’t able to get back into the first round, we still have no guards, we still are just collecting and waiting. All in all, even if individual decisions were mostly alright, it’s nearly impossible to walk away from this draft feeling anything but a little deflated.

Christian: C. The Sixers really needed a nice guard prospect for their vision to take the next step, and Russell seemed like the perfect guy. Watching LA take him after weeks of penciling in Okafor at number 2 was certainly a swift kick to the gut, but the 76ers were right taking him third. This certainly delays the process. Where is Philadelphia getting backcourt real, useful backcourt talent? Probably not free agency. Maybe via trade of one of the bigs, but it’s going to take some time to determine what big needs to be traded. If anything, this draft only raises more roster questions, but I don’t think there was anything the team could have done about it.

Nemcik: C. Not many things went right for the Sixers – but that really isn’t all their fault. If the Lakers take Okafor instead of Russell the outlook would be different. I think it’s easy to get distracted by fit, but Philadelphia still got one hell of a prospect that realistically could have gone first overall.

 

4. What’s next for the Sixers?

Goldwein: Free agency. At some point they’ll have to start spending, and what better time than now. A player like Danny Green would give a lot of credibility (and more importantly, floor spacing) to a team that’s been one of the NBA’s worst the last couple years. The Sixers have the cap space and roster spots to pull off that type of move.

Toporek: First and foremost, figure out what’s up with Embiid. If there’s no reason to worry about his long-term health, sort out this frontcourt logjam, presumably by trading either Nerlens or Okafor. From there, use free agency to load up on guards and wings. Point guard is still a glaring hole that needs to be addressed — maybe throw an offer sheet at Cory Joseph, who Brett Brown should know well from his San Antonio days? The Sixers clearly aren’t gunning for a playoff spot next season — nor should they be — but they’ll need to begin making some tangible progress or they’ll be on the outside looking in during the 2016 free-agency bonanza.

Smolen: Forgive the unoriginality, but Bryan really nailed it. The major thing is to figure out, as soon as humanly possible, what Embiid’s outlook is. If healthy, he still has the highest ceiling out of our….Triplet Towers (?). If he is healthy, I mean, I start looking for trade partners for one of them. There’s no rush, but you never know what opportunity might present itself. From there, I suppose it would be hard to have a basketball team without any guards? So, yeah, let’s sign some of those why not.

Christian: The first thing the Sixers need to address is their non-existent backcourt. It’s painful on the eyes to keep trotting undrafted free agents and second round picks out there in starting roles, so I wouldn’t be against the 76ers looking to sign some legit NBA players.The team’s current construction is still in such disarray, however, that it would be difficult to attract even average role players. The reality of the situation is that Philadelphia will continue to rely on project players to handle the guard duties. It’s probably not what most fans want to see, but this is the biggest remaining hurdle in Hinkie’s build-through-the-draft plan. The 76ers were supposed to find the young balance in this draft through D’Angelo Russell. Instead, things are more confusing than ever. Everything takes time, whether it’s awaiting Saric’s arrival, Embiid’s healing process or figuring out which heralded center will be traded, but eventually things have to begin to take shape. The backcourt is the furthest behind in that regard.

Nemcik: The abundance of second-round picks is clogging the roster. Guys like J.P. Tokoto may have to endure the same fate as Jordan McRae last season, so signing an abundance of players in free agency realistically isn’t in the cards. It’ll be difficult to convince players to sign for the Sixers unless they overpay, which isn’t something that Hinkie would do. Despite that, this free agency may provide a great opportunity for Philadelphia to pick up solid players on deals that will look like grand theft in a year or two. As previously mentioned, figuring out the frontcourt logjam will be a pressing concern.

 5. What does this draft say about the value of 1st- and 2nd-round picks?

Goldwein: That their value fluctuates year to year. The Hardaway for Jerian Grant (No. 19) trade suggests that mid/low first-round picks didn’t have a ton of value this draft. Is that because of this particularly draft class? Is it because of the expiring CBA? None of that’s clear, but Hardaway and Greivis freakin’ Vasquez just netted first-round picks .. Robert Covington could’ve probably gotten the Sixers into the lottery.

Toporek: I don’t know that we learned anything we didn’t know already. Some teams will always make panic trades — see: the Atlanta Hawks punting No. 15 for Tim Hardaway Jr. and two future second-rounders — so, theoretically, teams that have compiled a bunch of assets stand to benefit. The fact the Sixers couldn’t capitalize on Thursday is somewhat surprising — I, for one, expected Hinkie to package OKC’s first-rounder next year with either 35, 37 or 47 to move into the 20s — but the potential of having four first-round picks next year, two of which figure to be top-10 selections, remains insane. Let’s just hope we don’t have to endure another lost year before enjoying that prospective scenario.

Smolen: Far beyond picking Okafor, this is what upset me the most tonight. You’re telling me that the Raptors can get a first rounder for one year of Vasquez, the Knicks can get the 19th pick for Hardaway Jr., and the T-Wolves can get 25 for two early seconds, but the Sixers couldn’t make any noise? I guess what it shows me is two-fold: One, Hinkie HIGHLY values his future picks; and/or Two, he just didn’t think too highly of the talent in the tail-end of the first round this year. Either way, woof.

Christian: I think it reinforces ideas we’ve always known to some degree. Teams looking to make a leap will sacrifice assets for what they perceive to be an immediate benefit. I think when you have teams who don’t necessarily need that first round pick like Atlanta and Milwaukee, you get some funky, if not irrational, deals from their end. That’s always been the case on some level. I, like everyone else, am surprised that Hinkie couldn’t match the seemingly skimpy offers that netted the Knicks and Raptors first round picks. But it could just be that none of the remaining prospects within reach enthused Hinkie enough to lose anything. Not surrendering any of his plethora of future first rounders shows that the team places immense value in them, and that’s because this team really does need those first round picks. But the fact that teams were likely rejecting offers full of second round picks left and right might reveal some waning value in picks after 30.

Nemcik: The value of draft picks swings on a year-to-year basis. Hinkie couldn’t capitalize on teams trying to trade their way into the second round – other than the Knicks. Fewer teams were willing to part with higher relative value to grab a player this year, resulting in a number of draft-and-stash selections. The trades resulting in the affluence of picks were opportunistic and didn’t hurt the team in the long run, but it still indicates lower overall second-round value.

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