Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie, the architect behind the organization's massive rebuilding project, has maintained that this painstaking process will take some time.
When All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday was traded for Nerlens Noel and a future first-round pick at last year's draft, the first jab was thrown. The trades and the dumping of assets that followed during the ensuing season built up to the loaded 2014 draft—with two lottery picks, seven total—for Hinkie's eventual knockout blow.
But instead of unleashing a devastating haymaker, he threw a few more body shots.
With the No. 3 pick, Philly selected Joel Embiid, the bruised and battered 7-footer. He was penciled in as the first overall pick barely a week ago before surgery on his foot's navicular bone was performed.
Then at No. 10, the 76ers drafted University of Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton, who they parlayed to Orlando for the rights to Dario Saric, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2015 second-rounder. More body blows.
Assuming Embiid's foot heals properly and remains healthy, he has arguably the highest ceiling of anyone in this draft. This is a guy who was the consensus No. 1 pick just a few short weeks ago. Assuming Saric is the skilled big man with top-10 talent everyone is confident he is, then he would form a tremendous frontcourt with Embiid and Noel.
Then Hinkie can come out of the corner wailing away on the rest of the NBA.
Until then, the 76ers are firmly in asset acquisition mode. They are strategically sticking and moving. Hinkie and the front office won't see the fruits of their labor for a while, and until then, they will continue stockpiling young talent and tinkering their roster one piece at a time.
With the draft in the rearview mirror, the offseason is in full swing, and there are still plenty of moves to make before the 2014-15 season tips off. So many more punches to throw.
Deciding Who Returns
The 76ers paraded players on 10-day contracts through the Wells Fargo Center all last season. They plunged through the NBA scrap heap to find potential diamonds in the rough, and some of them actually started to shine if you held them in just the right light.
There are a handful of contributors from last year whose contracts for this season are not guaranteed, and decisions need to be made regarding their futures.
Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson played well enough last year to warrant a return. Thompson has good size at 6'8" and shot 40 percent from three-point range. Sims came to Philly from Cleveland as basically a throw-in from the Spencer Hawes trade and gave the team solid minutes. He averaged 11 points and seven boards in 26 games. Both have a long way to go but show promise.
Veteran James Anderson started 62 games last season, but with Jason Richardson exercising his $6.6 million player option, it's unclear if he'll be in play at the 2-guard spot this year.
Elliot Williams, the 6'5" guard who played in 67 games last season, could find himself on the outside looking in also. Brigham Young's Brandon Davies is in the same boat.
The roster is a revolving door. Hinkie will plug and play guys until he finds something that works, and that starts with figuring out who from last year is worth holding on to.
Assess the Free-Agent Market
Even in a perfect world where Embiid, Noel and Saric were all playing together next season alongside Michael Carter-Williams, you'd still notice a glaring hole in Philly's roster—wing players who can score.
Second-round picks K.J. McDaniels and Jerami Grant will get ample playing time, but their contributions will mostly be seen on the defensive end and on fast breaks. Neither one can really create offense for themselves or are knockdown shooters.
The 76ers have so much cap space they don't know what to do with it. Not factoring in Embiid's or any of their second-round picks' salaries, Philly has just over $30 million committed to a salary cap that's expected to increase to $63.2 million this upcoming season, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
While the 76ers have remained steadfast in their plan for building a long-term championship contender, it would behoove them to at least peruse the market and see if some of this available money would be best served at acquiring a young wing.
Guys like Eric Bledsoe and Kyle Lowry, while very dynamic and explosive, will probably demand salaries too rich for Hinkie's taste when free agency begins on July 1. Utah guard Gordon Hayward could be a fit, coming off a career-high 16 points a game last year. The versatile but unpredictable Lance Stephenson is available, but I doubt Hinkie pursues him.
At the next tier down, there are guys like Jordan Crawford, Avery Bradley and the immortal Nick Young, who could all be had for much cheaper and can contribute offensively.
Bradley is an intriguing name. The 23-year-old is coming off his best year as a pro, having averaged 14 points per game while shooting over 39 percent from three-point range.
Exercise Extreme Patience
Any possibility of the 76ers making tangible strides this season with the addition of two ready-to-roll lottery picks was shot down when Hinkie drafted injured center Embiid and Croatian stash forward Saric.
Hinkie said in his press conference Friday that Embiid's recovery timeline is five to eight months, more than the four to six that was originally reported, per CSNPhilly.com.
"Timeframe—I've seen reported some four to six months—that's not the number that I've heard," Hinkie said. "The number that I've heard from the surgeon himself was five to eight months."
This marks the third year in a row that a new, franchise-altering center will spend a season on the bench. The 76ers plan on being extra cautious with Embiid, as they should, so don't expect to see him on the court anytime soon.
It's the best thing for the long-term health of the player and the greater good of the 76ers. Embiid is a cornerstone piece, and they need to do everything in their power to make sure he's the great player they drafted him to be.
Saric, on the other hand, just inked a new three-year deal with Turkish powerhouse Anadolu Efes, per ESPN.com's Chad Ford. According to the report, Saric won't be able to join the 76ers for at least two years, when he gets a buyout option.
The versatile 6'10" forward, who compared his game to that of fellow lefties Lamar Odom and Toni Kukoc, will be a welcome addition when he finally arrives.
Once all these long-term assets finally come together and are joined by future draft picks, the 76ers will finally cash in their chips and be ready to push the table limits. For now, they are saddled with Rookie of the Year Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young and Noel leading a cast of misfits and afterthoughts through another difficult season, taking plenty of lumps along the way.
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