Why Philadelphia 76ers Stole the Show at 2014 NBA Draft

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Why Philadelphia 76ers Stole the Show at 2014 NBA Draft
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie is giving the NBA a crash course into how a rebuild is done. It isn't pretty, and it's not supposed to be pretty. 

As the South Jersey Times' Rob Edwards put it, "Hinkie proved he is still building for the future, while frustrating the Philadelphia fan base in the present."

Perhaps that fanbase will ultimately learn something from this—namely that delayed gratification is a virtue in this business. 

Some will pejoratively call Hinkie's techniques "tanking," which begs the question: Who cares?

Certainly not Hinkie. He's doing what it takes to build a winner, and building things the right way takes time. It also takes the kind of risk-taking that manifested itself on Thursday during the NBA draft.

The first of those risks was taking Kansas center Joel Embiid, a highly touted prospect whose value came tumbling down on account of concerns over his health. Those concerns have been well documented by now, and they'll almost certainly keep Embiid off the floor for most—if not all—of the 2014-15 campaign.

So yes, that means the Sixers' big takeaway from this draft won't make an immediate impact.

And that's fine.

For Philly's purposes, it's better than fine. It means this club will in all likelihood suffer through another losing season and again find itself with a top-shelf selection in 2015's draft. After pooling together Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Embiid and Dario Saric, one thing has become abundantly clear about Hinkie's rebuilding strategy.

It involves the wholesale collection of assets.

It should pay off eventually, but not before the opportunity to add to that assortment of assets. They're the kind of good thing of which there's never too much. They're the kind of good thing that can mature in value and ultimately yield dividends in any number of ways—as trade chips, as recruitment ploys in free agency or simply by virtue of their contributions on the floor.

Accordingly, Hinkie noted on Friday to reporters that, "I think there'll be a lot of opportunities for us (with cap space, via trades, free agency). I think we'll be open-minded."

Drafting Embiid wasn't about putting a winner on the floor next season. No one in this draft would have yielded an immediate turnaround for the Sixers. At best, this team could have improved itself just enough for a middling season and the middling draft pick that would come with it.

Some might object that even when Embiid is healthy, he doesn't fill a position of need given the presence of Noel in the middle.

Two responses.

First, it may well be the case that one of these guys gets traded before all is said and done. And if they develop according to plan, the organization should be able to acquire a king's ransom in return for either of them.

Second, the belief within the franchise is that the two will actually be able to play together.

A menace indeed—quite possibly the best interior defensive tandem we've witnessed since The Admiral and Tim Duncan teamed up in the late '90s.

A way forward will become clear soon enough. The important thing—again—is that the organization is accruing assets. Should Embiid prove a healthy commodity, he could well become this draft's most valued prize. That will give the 76ers options.

And in the meantime, it ensures this team will be bad enough to acquire another prized prospect a season from now.

That had to be the thinking behind Philadelphia's second pick too.

He won't play with the team for at least two more seasons.

Per the Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins:

Although the Magic selected Dario Saric 12th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft on Thursday night, the Magic have agreed to send Saric's rights, a protected 2017 first-round pick (the same pick the Magic received from Philly in the Aug. 2012 Dwight Howard trade) and a 2015 second-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the draft rights to Payton.

Saric might have gone even higher than No. 12 were it not for the fact that he'll remain overseas for another couple of years. For teams seeking an immediate impact, that's just too long of a wait. For the 76ers, it's a perfect, tank-inducing scenario.

And like Embiid, Saric should be a valuable contributor when the time is right.

As CBSSports' James Herbert put it, "Saric is the most versatile offensive player in the draft, and he plays with an edge in addition to being incredibly skilled. The more you watch him, the more you fall in love with him."

If nothing else, Saric is another asset—a familiar bottom line by now.

So too are the draft picks acquired along with him. 

Hinkie learned from one of the best during his time with the Houston Rockets. From 2007 to 2013, he served under general manager Daryl Morey—widely regarded as one of the league's very best.

Houston didn't build its star-driven enterprise overnight. It first required stockpiling draft picks and young prospects, the kind of things that could land someone like James Harden via trade, the kind of things that would eventually turn into competent players like Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones. And yes, the kinds of things that would eventually convince Dwight Howard his best chance to win was in Houston.

If you take the long view, Philadelphia could be well on its way to similar returns. 

In the meantime, young talent will continue to evolve. Rookie of the Year Carter-Williams will look to develop an improved outside shot. Noel will get his feet wet after spending the 2013-14 season recovering from surgery.

They'll be joined by two second-round steals, both further testament to the fact that Philadelphia got the best of Thursday's draft. Clemson's K.J McDaniels and Syracuse's Jerami Grant both fell to the Sixers in the second round, and both were projected to be taken in the first round by a number of mock-draft scenarios.

They won't make headlines, but they'll certainly make this team better.

If not now, soon enough.

That should be just fine with Hinkie and Co. They're thinking about the future.

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