Patrick Causey, on Twitter @PhillySportsPMC
“What we look at is, how do we add to what we're doing in a way that gets us closer to our goal? We don't think that it will necessarily be linear — that every year you will add five wins and after 10 years you will get to 50. That's not the way we think about the world. We think that it comes at fits and starts, and you have to be prepared to put yourself in a position that you might be able to make big leaps.” Sam Hinkie
Many people have looked at the Sixers' extended rebuild as though it will occur in a linear fashion. The Sixers would strip their roster of talent like a car is stripped for spare parts and stockpile high draft picks through shrewd trades and strategic tanking. They would continue to develop organically through the draft until they had amassed a bevy of franchise caliber players ala the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors. Once the right pieces were in place, the Sixers would be able to attract high quality free agents to supplement that core.
At least that has been the assumption so far.
But one avenue by which the Sixers can acquire top flight talent is via trades. That is the likely the approach that Sam Hinkie meant when he discussed putting the Sixers in a position to "make big leaps" in the win column. Hinkie has experience pulling off trades for superstar players -- he helped Houston acquire James Harden -- and given the Sixers collection of valuable assets, it is reasonable to assume he could pull off a similar trade with the Sixers.
And it could happen much sooner than you think. Like, next year.
Before you laugh, consider the following: at the conclusion of 2015-16 season, the Sixers will have the following assets at their disposal:
- Nerlens Noel;
- Jahlil Okafor;
- Joel Embiid (whatever he can provide);
- Dario Saric;
- Their own 1st round picks in 2016, 2017, 2018;
- The Lakers' top-3 protected 1st round pick;
- The Heat's top-10 protected 1st round pick;
- The Oklahoma City Thunder's top-15 protected 1st round pick;
- Rights to swap lottery picks with the Kings in 2016 and 2017;
- The Kings top-10 protected 1st round pick in 2018
If Sam Hinkie could help the Rockets land James Harden for Jeremy Lamb (meh) Kevin Martin (double meh), two first round picks (that were never likely to be in the lottery), and a second round pick, what type of return do you think he could yield with a collection of the above players and high draft picks?
Pablo Torre of ESPN.com did an in-depth look at the Sixers and provided the following anecdote about the Harden trade within the context of the Sixers follow-up interview with Hinkie right before he was hired:
That spring, Hinkie met [Sixer's owners] Harris and Blitzer for dinner and another interview in Manhattan. Less than a year after their initial conversations, the contrast between ownership's personal probabilistic sensibility and the current administration's older-school tack stung. And Hinkie, as if to underscore that divergence, walked into dinner carrying a laptop, complete with a massively detailed PowerPoint presentation that Sixers executives now recall as an "investment thesis." Its centerpiece was a diagram that illustrated, arrow by arrow, transaction by transaction, how Houston had amassed the assets -- two first-rounders and a second-rounder, along with guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb -- to acquire superstar guard James Harden from the Thunder in October ... a month after the Sixers had hired DiLeo. Hinkie's abstract vision for artfully delayed NBA production suddenly felt concrete.
While I have not seen this powerpoint presentation, it probably looked something like this -- a flowchart that tracks all the moves that Sam Hinkie has made while with the Sixers -- courtesy of CrossingBroad.com:
If this chart tells us anything, it's that Hinkie is a planned opportunist. He is not tied to acquiring a specific player or a script for how he is building the Sixers. He gives himself enough flexibility, be it with cap space, draft picks and players on expiring contracts, so that he can acquire value at a moments notice.
This is plainly evident from examining any one of the moves highlighted above. Like the Jrue Holiday trade, where he used a series of trades to turn the one-time All Star point guard into Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric, a 2017 first round pick, and two second round picks. Or the fleecing of the Sacramento Kings, where he was able to take advantage of a team desperate for cap space by getting Nik Stauskas, a 2018 first round pick, the right to swap picks in 2016 and 2017, and two veteran big men in Carl Landry and Jason Thompson.
Hinkie knows that as long as he maintains flexibility, he can aggregate assets into something more concrete, more discernible, more defined, ala the James Harden trade.
Will this type of trade happen? No one --not even Sam Hinkie -- can say for sure, since it depends on a number of factors outside of the team's control, like finding a team willing to trade a franchise caliber player.
But should a team make a top player available, few, if any, other teams will be able to compete with the Sixers collection of high draft picks and top flight young players.
But who could the Sixers target?
While the answer of "who" is less important at this juncture than the answer to "if" and "when," it is still fun to put on our armchair general manager hats and speculate about the possibilities.
One possibility? Kevin Durant.
As we reported earlier, the Sixers hired Todd Wright as Assistant Head Coach and Head of their Strength and Conditioning program. Wright has a very close relationship to Kevin Durant; he was key to bringing Durant to Texas and has remained close to Durant ever since. Durant has gone on record saying that Wright was instrumental in the success Durant has enjoyed in his career.
Durant is a free agent after this season, and there have been multiple reports that he could leave Oklahoma City. So far, the Washington Wizards -- Durant's hometown team -- and the Miami Heat – who are looking to replace LeBron James -- are considered the front runners to sign Durant should he become a free agent.
If the Thunder see the writing on the wall that Durant is not going to sign an extension, it would make sense to cash in on their superstar to facilitate a rebuild around Russell Westbrook. Oklahoma City is much like the Tampa Bay Rays of baseball in that respect; they know they cannot compete for high priced free agents, both from a monetary and location perspective (with all due respect to Oklahoma City, it is not exactly a destination city for young, affluent millionaires).
They did the same thing with James Harden, so they could easily do the same with Kevin Durant.
Enter the Sixers. Play asset roulette with the above list, and it is easy to see how a deal could be worked out. The Sixers could offer a package of Noel, Saric, and three high lottery first round picks (like their own 2016 first rounder, the Heat's first rounder, and the 2018 Kings first round pick) for Durant. Oklahoma City would instantly restock their team with a mixture of young talent and high lottery picks to build around Russell Westbrook, who would become the centerpiece of their franchise (assuming he does not leave in free agency as well).
This entire trade, of course, would hinge on Durant agreeing to sign an extension with the Sixers. Would a young core of Okafor, Embiid, Stauskas, and multiple first round picks be enough? Probably not. But remember, the Sixers would still have enough cap space to sign another max level free agent. Couple that with Durant's close relationship with Wright, the Sixers rich tradition of basketball and their new state of the art facility being finished in 2016, and it's not hard to see how all of a sudden Philly could be an appealing destination for Durant.
It goes without say that this is purely speculation on my part and should not be read as a "report" or even a "prediction" that the Sixers are favorites to land Durant in 2016.
Instead, this was meant only to open your eyes to the possibility that the Sixers could be major players for top flight talent via trade, and that it could happen much sooner than you think.