Beyond the Bison: “Long Term Parking”

Julien Dorey, Staff Writer


A couple weeks back, the much-expected NBA lottery reform failed to pass through in the NBA Board of Governors’ meeting. The architects of the reform designed it to take away a high-percentage chance of “awarding” teams with poor records high draft picks. The complex system was, in a nutshell, the NBA’s attempt at collegiate draft socialism.

The proposed-reform said that if a team was going to be bad, it had better figure out how to fix it because the new system would take away any guarantees that the cream of the NCAA crop would be theirs to have at the end of a losing season. To the shock of everyone—including respected reporters who claimed the reform was a mere formality in the hours leading up to the vote—13 teams voted against the reform, leaving the 2015 draft format unchanged.

Why was this such a shock? Because of one team: the Philadelphia 76ers. For the past two years, since General Manager Sam Hinkie took hold of the sinking ship that was the Philadelphia franchise, the team’s strategy has shifted in a direction never truly seen before.

Hinkie didn’t come in and try to turn things around right away. He tried to make them worse. And boy, has he been successful.

Hinkie’s belief is that the great NBA franchises in the modern league are born only from dark ashes of destruction. He inherited a team that had been stuck in the “middle 20 franchises” for the past 15+ years. They never had bottom-five status, but they never contended top five-six team status either.

They were stuck in a perpetual basketball purgatory. So Hinkie acted to change this right away by trading away anything and everything that could help the team squeak out some meaningless wins and ruin their highest-draft-pick-possible status. Sprinkle in his decision to draft a red-shirted Nerlens Noel and follow it up a year later by doing the same thing with Joel Embiid and, well, you get the picture.

Hinkie has been overseeing a ship sabotage job that would have made the likes of Socks Lanza jealous if he were still around to see it.

Everything the analytical and steadfast GM has done has been to acquire high-draft picks that form young assets and later come together to develop into a super team. The initial pieces are there: Michael Carter-Williams, Noel, Embiid, and Dario Saric (the Sixers’ other first rounder from this past year who will play in Europe this season), but the general consensus is that they need at least one more talented young prospect to form their future core. With another dismal season already off to a “perfect” 0-7 start, the team will surely add one or two more assets in the draft this summer before finally digging the sunken ship from the ocean depths.

There was a worry that the final step to the plan would be hindered with the Board of Governors’ vote, but some last second back-door politicking obviously did the job. Now, the Sixers’ “tanking” masterpiece can stay the course and complete its three-year painful oil painting that has seen ticket prices fall to as low as $12, attendance routinely at the bottom of the league, and fans and media alike using the team as a ridiculed punchline.

The sentiment behind closed doors had been strongly opposed to the Sixers’ “mockery” of the system for so long. Report after report had featured “sources” describing their disgust at the Sixers’ blatant embarrassment of a roster. But there is a reason the vote did not pass. The precedent of changing a major system like the draft in-season would be too great to manage. Many teams had conditional trades set for this draft (and even the 2016 and 2017 drafts) that they made only on the basis of the current rules set forth. Changes could affect their fortunes unfairly.

My guess is that Hinkie and the Sixers knew this and they simply reminded their “friends” around the league. If that is so, Hinkie’s grand plan has officially become a boom-or-bust conspiracy rivaling what Pat Riley and LeBron James may have cooked up in 2009 or 2010.

The Sixers supposed “final year of the tank” has the green light they so desperately needed. Time will tell whether or not the pain a great sports city like Philadelphia has had to endure was worth it.

But if Hinkie is half as good at talent evaluation as he is at scheming, there’s going to be a few parades down Broad Street sometime in the next decade.

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