The past week has been beautiful for Philadelphia 76ers fans. On Friday evening, ESPN’s Marc Stein and Zach Lowe reported that the Boston Celtics and Sixers were in “serious talks” for a trade involving the Celtics’ No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. On Monday, the reported trade was made official. The Sixers acquired the first overall pick in exchange for the 2017 third overall pick and a future first-round pick. According to the Celtics’ official press release on the trade, in addition to the third overall pick in 2017, the Celtics would also receive “the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2018 pick if it’s within the No. 2 to No. 5 range of the 2018 draft. If it is not, the Celtics will instead receive either Sacramento’s or Philadelphia’s first round pick in 2019, whichever is more favorable. However, if either of those 2019 picks result in the first overall selection, Boston will instead receive the other first round pick.”
The trade seems like a solid move for both the Sixers and the Celtics. Philadelphia is hoping to bolster its roster by adding Markelle Fultz, the projected No.1 overall pick in this year’s draft, to its talented young core of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric. Fultz will be the perfect addition to pair alongside Simmons and Embiid in the Sixers’ lineup. The Celtics, breaking from the projections of many basketball experts, see the top four prospects in this year’s draft as generally equal and reportedly will choose the same player at number three as they would have at number one. Passing on Fultz is a huge risk for Celtics GM Danny Ainge, but if the Celtics get their top guy while also gaining a future asset in the process, it seems like a win-win on both sides.
It’s important to note, though, that this trade would have been impossible for the Sixers without the selfless work of one man: Sam Hinkie. After a disastrous 2012 trade brought the Sixers Andrew Bynum, who didn’t play a single minute for the Sixers, the team fired its general manager and hired Hinkie to fill the position in 2013. Since, his creation of The Process has become a cornerstone of Philadelphia sports lore.
Generally, Hinkie’s Process meant that the team would acquire long-term assets, such as draft picks and injured high-ceiling players, at the cost of short-term, on-court success. Hinkie realized that a bad team competing in the NBA was equivalent to being trapped in mediocrity, constantly missing the playoffs or getting dominated by more talented teams in the first round. In those situations, the team would receive a mid-to-late first round draft pick, which often isn’t good enough to provide a real difference maker. Hinkie identified the NBA Draft as the best way to re-tool a roster, following the mold of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s ambitious draft-based rise to prominence. The Sixers became the laughingstock of the league on the court, but a powerhouse in the front office, acquiring an obscene number of top draft picks and young, talented players. Because the team’s abysmal on-court play was apparently damaging the league and costing other teams potential revenue, Hinkie was pushed out of his job by Sixers’ owners and the NBA in April 2016.
While he hasn’t been with the Sixers for over a year now, Hinkie’s fingerprints are all over the team’s acquisition of Fultz. Both the Lakers’ and Kings’ picks potentially involved in the trade for Fultz were obtained thanks to Hinkie’s stealthy GM work. In February of 2015, Hinkie dealt reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams to the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-team trade that provided the Sixers with the Lakers’ pick, protected in 2016 and 2017 but free of protections in 2018. At the time, Hinke was criticized for sending one of the team’s best young players away, but Carter-Williams has not lived up to expectations since he left Philadelphia. It seems as though Hinkie made this move at exactly the right time and acquired at least a top-ten draft pick for a player who had already peaked.
Then, Hinkie swiped another heist from the Kings in the summer of 2015. The Sixers dealt the draft rights of Arturas Gudaitas and Luka Mitrovic to Sacramento in what amounted to a salary dump for the Kings, as the Sixers received the cumbersome contracts of Carl Landry and Jason Thompson in return. To sweeten the deal for Philadelphia, the trade also included 2014 top-ten draft pick Nik Stauskas, the 2019 Sacramento first round draft pick, and gave the Sixers the right to swap first round draft picks in 2017.
Again, Hinkie was criticized by some for this deal, but he won this trade as well, and it’s not even close. Stauskas has proven himself as a reliable bench player for the Sixers, but the real value lies in the draft picks. The Kings are awful and will probably continue their ongoing infamy for at least a few more years, so the 2019 pick carries real value. Also, without the pick-swap provision in the 2015 trade, the Sixers would have actually had the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft. That was their original lottery-assigned selection, but they were able to acquire the Kings’ third overall choice because of the pick-swap.
Without either of these trades previously occurring, the Sixers likely wouldn’t have been able to trade up for Fultz. The Lakers tried to move up to No. 1 and failed, but may have succeeded if they had a 2018 first round pick to offer. The deal may not have been sweet enough for the Celtics if the Sixers had the fifth overall pick in 2017 instead of the third or didn’t possess the Kings’ 2019 selection.
More broadly, the Sixers’ future prospects would be much more bleak without Hinkie’s contributions. You can thank him for Embiid, Saric, Richaun Holmes, Robert Covington, and the picks used to acquire Fultz. Technically, he had no part in the pick used to choose Ben Simmons, but the Sixers probably would not have been bad enough to receive the number one overall selection in 2016 without The Process. The only gripe I have with Hinkie is his selection of Jahlil Okafor in the 2015 draft – but that’s beside the point. Philadelphia now possesses one of the brightest rosters in the NBA, a roster that I’m sure a lot of NBA head coaches would love to have, and it’s mostly thanks to Sam Hinkie.
The Process may be close to complete, but that doesn’t mean it will translate to on-court success. The Sixers will now have three, possibly four, of the most promising young players in the NBA – Fultz, Simmons, Embiid, and Saric. Fultz and Simmons both haven’t yet played an NBA game, and Simmons has well-documented injury problems. They’re both incredibly talented and have extremely high ceilings, but how much of that will translate to the NBA level? Embiid has also been hobbled by injury issues since the Sixers drafted him with the third overall pick in 2014, but when healthy, he’s proven himself as one of the best centers in the game. Saric, on a true contending roster, would fit in as a solid sixth man. In addition, the Sixers are projected to have over $45 million of salary cap room this summer. If the Sixers’ young core pans out well and the front office surrounds them with talented veterans? The future will be delightful in Philadelphia.
Hinkie took a lot of shit for the Process, and it must be vindicating for him to see it all play out in roughly the way he envisioned. When the Sixers officially draft Fultz, it will mark the successful culmination of a four-year experiment, and the person behind it all won’t be there to fully appreciate it. Hinkie deserves a lot of the credit for the current state of the Sixers, so if you’re a Philly fan watching the draft on Thursday night, do me a favor: pour one out for Sam Hinkie.