Philadelphia 76ers Showing the NBA How Rebuilding Is Done

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2014

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Thaddeus Young's departure from the Philadelphia 76ers was but one piece of a much broader puzzle.

The 26-year-old forward was sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of a three-team deal centered around the exchange of disaffected star Kevin Love for 2014 first-overall pick Andrew Wiggins.

Per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, "The Timberwolves will send Philadelphia the Miami Heat's 2015 first-round pick Minnesota will acquire as part of the Kevin Love deal with Cleveland, sources said. The T-Wolves will send forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and guard Alexey Shved to the Sixers."

Wojnarowski adds, "The draft pick is lottery protected to No. 10 in the 2015 and 2016 drafts, and unprotected in 2017."

According to 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie, that draft pick was key to the organization's involvement in the deal.

Meanwhile, Young has a player-option for the 2015-16 season, meaning he very well could have walked away from the $9,721,740 he was owed—and leaving Philadelphia with nothing to show for it.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 26:  Thaddeus Young #33 of the Minnesota Timberwolves poses for portraits on August 26, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this
David Sherman/Getty Images

To be sure, however, this deal was about more than hedging bets. It was part of Hinkie's long-term effort to rebuild a franchise that wasn't going anywhere fast, an effort that began in earnest with last season's 19-63 record.

Ugly as it may be in the near-term, the franchise's deliberate approach to starting from scratch is treating the NBA at large to a crash course on how one rebuilds.

It's a valuable lesson.

Beset by public pressure and overly optimistic prognostications, many organizations rely on half-steps and band-aid solutions in their respective bids to turn the corner. More often than not, the result is sustained mediocrity—teams that are just good enough to miss out on premier draft position while nowhere near good enough to contend for a title.

These are the clubs that barely miss the playoffs or quickly exit in the first round, the kind of middling disappointment that characterized Love's years in Minnesota.

Philadelphia will have none of that. It understands big ambitions often entail even bigger sacrifices.

Parting ways with Young and the 17.9 points he averaged a season ago is only the most recent of those sacrifices.

The first was probably the team's decision to acquire big man Nerlens Noel despite the risk he'd miss his rookie season after tearing his ACL in the February before the draft, a risk that eventually came to fruition.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 16: Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the game against the Chicago Bulls on July 16, 2014 at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using
Jack Arent/Getty Images

"The draft is an important pipeline of talent for our team and our intention was to add players who could position us well for the future, while also allowing us to capitalize on attractive opportunities to acquire top-flight talent or additional future draft choices," Hinkie said at the time, per the team's statement. "Nerlens Noel and an additional 2014 first round draft choice give us two new opportunities to add talent to our team."

That logic similarly characterized Philadelphia's approach to this summer's draft.

With the No. 3 overall pick, the organization selected Joel Embiid out of Kansas. Like Noel before him, the 20-year-old may miss his rookie season—this time on account of recovery from surgery performed to repair a stress fracture in Embiid's foot.

According to's Matt Lombardo, "Hinkie outlined a similar plan for Embiid to the one that allowed Noel to miss an entire season in order to fully rehab before making his anticipated debut this summer in the Orlando Summer league."

"We will focus on the long-term health of the player," Hinkie said, per Lombardo. "That's all that matters. Will we be smart about that? Of course. Will we be patient? Yes. If he can remain healthy, he can have a fantastic NBA career."

SANTA MONICA, CA - MAY 8:  NBA Draft prospect Joel Embiid behind the scenes on May 8, 2014 at Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user
Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

Indeed, Hinkie and Co. are all too happy to remain patient.

After all, they followed up their selection of Embiid by also acquiring No. 12 overall pick Dario Saric from the Orlando Magic. The Croatian forward won't make it to the NBA for another two years at the very soonest.

So while this season will offer Noel and 2014 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams plenty of playing time with which to hone their skills, the 76ers will have to do without any help from this summer's draft. Two immediate contributors wouldn't have radically altered Philadelphia's immediate fate, but they very well might have improved the team's record by a handful of wins.

And therein would have lied the problem.

Those extra wins would have jeopardized Philadelphia's chances at landing more premium draft talent. In fact, if the organization's 2015 pick isn't among the first 15 selections, it would belong to the Boston Celtics.

Beyond jettisoning Young and using this summer's draft to think long-term, Hinkie's involvement in the free-agent market was non-existent. While there probably wasn't a lot of interest out there among prospective targets, Hinkie wouldn't have it any other way.

His end game is the exhaustive aggregation of assets. The best kinds of assets are young, affordable prospects with loads of upside—the kind of guys you typically acquire via the draft.

There will come a time when the 76ers are prepared to invest their ample cap space in outside talent. There will come a time when Hinkie uses the trade market to acquire guys like Young rather than set them free.

That time isn't now. 

It probably isn't even a year from now.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 5: Michael Carter-Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers speaks to the media as he receives the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy for the 2013-14 Kia NBA Rookie of the Year at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on May 5, 2014 in Phila
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

But if you fast forward to 2016 or so, things start falling into place in a big way. Carter-Williams and Noel should be entering the primes of their careers. Embiid will have a full season under his belt. Saric will arrive from overseas. And by that time, you can rest assured another prominent draft pick or two will have entered the equation.

A young core will slowly but surely evolve into a respectable one where the sky's the limit.

The Oklahoma City Thunder traveled a similar path, drafting the likes of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka. After missing the playoffs in four straight seasons, the new-and-improved OKC has subsequently qualified for five postseasons in a row—once reaching the NBA Finals and twice coming up just short in the conference finals.

It remains premature to predict similar success for the Sixers, but the common theme is that short-term suffering begets much better things in time—even if it takes a long time.

Sam Hinkie is in no rush.


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