NBA PM: Bold New Direction For Philadelphia
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Bold New Direction For Philadelphia
A year ago the Philadelphia 76ers were talking about the playoffs, and perhaps even contention. A four-way trade with the Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers had netted them All-Star center Andrew Bynum, and expectations were sky-high for the pairing of Bynum and All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday.
Just one year later, we find the 76ers in a completely different place. The Bynum acquisition turned into a nightmare as knee issues claimed his entire season and the subsequent trade of Holiday has the team facing a complete rebuild. New general manager Sam Hinkie knew he was in for a challenge when he took the reins of the team in May, but he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s been a busy time, as you might have guessed,” Hinkie said to HOOPSWORLD. “I’ve been in Philly now 50-55 days, something like that. It’s been hectic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We have a big challenge ahead of us, but this one I’m excited about.”
Hinkie has been open to taking on a GM job for several years, having cut his teeth and learned the ins and outs of the NBA during his time with the Houston Rockets.
“I was lucky to be around some good people, Carroll Dawson in Houston, people like Dennis Lindsey in Utah, Daryl [Morey], of course, in Houston, for seven years we were together, I was there eight years total,” said Hinkie. “I’ve also been around a lot of coaches who have seen a lot in their day, from Kevin McHale, Rick Adelman, Jeff Van Gundy. If you ask as many questions as I do and pay attention then hopefully you can pick some things up along the way.”
The Sixers are primarily going to build through the draft and through internal development, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t at least keeping an eye on free agency. Prior to Bynum agreeing to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Hinkie was even open to the possibility of bringing him back.
“We haven’t ruled anything out,” said Hinkie. “We’re still open-minded about a lot of things. This is the time of year when a lot of things come to fruition and we’ll be ready as opportunities come across the wire and he’s one of those. “There’s a chance every free agent still might, (Bynum) included, I think. That’s the kind of thing where you try to keep an eye on what’s happening, try to be involved with the agents about what might happen with other teams. The hard part about the last several days is that there are all these interesting (summer league) games to watch and your phone is just ringing off the hook with either deals or talks or beginnings of talks with agents, so as we try to see what’s out there, he’s one of those as well.”
Surprisingly, when Hinkie first presented his rebuilding plan he got little resistance from ownership. Even trading Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for Nerlens Noel and a top-five protected 2014 first-round pick, which many have questioned, was seen as an early step towards building a long-term winner. The 76ers aren’t likely to win many games this season, but building through next year’s star-laden draft looks like a solid plan.
“I would say that our owners have been very committed since the first time that I met them and they wanted to build something great,” said Hinkie. “They made that clear in a number of decisions that they’ve made over the years and in some of the decisions that they’ve made in the brief time since I’ve joined. They’re very serious about building a winner in Philly and they realize that it’s a hard league and everybody is trying to get to the same thing, so on occasion, you might have to do some things unconventionally in an effort to get there.”
As much as rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams is being looked at to replace Jrue Holiday, Hinkie doesn’t see it that way. The 76ers are not looking for Carter-Williams to be Holiday, but merely to work hard to become the best player he can be.
“I think that’s natural to compare them just because they play the same position, but Michael is trying to be the best player he can be and we’ll try to help him with that,” said Hinkie. “He’s done some good things here (in the Orlando Summer League) and he’s gotten a glimpse of what the real NBA is like and this is not even the NBA; this is the kiddy pool of the NBA. He got a sense today where he got trapped a lot on every pick-n-roll where the game plan is just to take the ball out of your hands and make your teammates make plays. Life is hard when that’s the whole game plan in a place like this. It’s an opportunity to learn and adjust and I’m obviously excited about his future and what he could be, but he’s got some real work, just like a lot of these players do if he wants to get to the place where we all hope he might get to.
With just one game remaining in the Orlando Summer League schedule, Philly is 0-4 and tied for last. Of course, while some of the teams are in Orlando looking for wins, the 76ers are just trying to get a good, long look at some players who might help them come training camp.
“I think it’s been a pretty good week overall,” said Hinkie. “Arsalan (Kazemi) played well today and continues to be really active. He gets his hands on the ball a little bit, it feels like he wins every loose ball. He’s rebounded well and he’s just made plays that you might not have anticipated, I think that’s been good. I think Justin Holiday, even though he missed a little time has been OK, as well, and fought through some adversity today which I thought was good. Even the local product, Michael Eric from Temple, has played hard all week. It’s one of the things that we demand from our players is that they bring effort every night and that they play hard all the time to give ourselves the best chance we can.”
Overall, Hinkie’s philosophy for his summer league squad has been that every player play like they have something on the line. He sees summer league performance as just one step along a very long offseason journey.
“I think it’s really important that each individual on this team cares about winning, but it’s less important to me in this setting, summer league, our particular record,” said Hinkie. “But, like anyone, I don’t want to see anyone of our guys lay down, stop competing, that’s a big part of it. We’re obviously focused on their skill development and taking a measure of where they are right now, what it is that they need to work on so we can fold that into their development the rest of the summer. This is a measuring stick for the summer, but this is not the summer. Summer is what has happened to here and from here. I’ll be just as focused on that as I am on this; this is just a good place to test yourself.”
Hinkie is also being tested, as surely as his young players. He has a big challenge ahead of him, taking the 76ers back to the beginning and developing a team from the ground up. Given his background in helping build very competitive teams in Houston, however, there is little doubt that the 76ers are in good hands.
The Next Big Risk: Greg Oden
If you want to know just how hard it is to find a starting center in the modern NBA, just take a look at the fervor over Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden over the last couple of weeks. Bynum, of course, has serious questions about his health and his willingness to work hard to help prevent further issues. As for Oden, there are serious doubts about his ability to ever take the court again, yet he is being courted by numerous NBA teams that still need size.
Bynum, of course, will play for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, with a contract that is heavy with incentives and could only cost the Cavaliers $6 million if he can’t get back on the court. Despite missing all of last season, Bynum was of great interest to teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks, who missed out on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. The Cavaliers are hopeful that Bynum can get back to form, and were willing to put a two-year deal on the table to demonstrate their commitment to helping Bynum get back to form.
With Bynum off the table, teams in need of frontcourt help are turning to an even more likely candidate. Oden has played just two seasons in the NBA after being the top pick in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. He missed his entire rookie year following microfracture knee surgery and played in just 61 and 21 games, respectively, the following two seasons due to knee issues. The Blazers finally waived him on March 15, 2012 so they could move on. Oden has been trying to find a team willing to take a flier on him, and his camp is now reportedly in talks with the San Antonio Spurs, Miami HEAT and Mavericks in hopes of beginning his unlikely comeback.
The fact that teams are willing to take risks with players like Bynum and Oden is a testament to just how hard it is to find decent seven footers in the NBA. A league that was once dominated by the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing is now bereft of game-changing centers. A generation ago the majority of match-ups involved showdowns in the low post, where even the lesser guys would now be considered dominant. Brad Daugherty and Mark Eaton, for example, were footnotes in the discussion of great centers in their time, but they would be heralded as superstars in the modern NBA.
Bynum is going to get another shot at proving he can be the All-Star center he was when fully healthy; it remains to be seen whether or not Oden will get such an opportunity. It’s safe to day that there is absolutely no chance they would have been given as many chances to get right when dominant centers ruled the paint.
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