Basketball

For Sixers to Take the Next Step They Must Solve Big Man Roster Problem

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(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

The Philadelphia 76ers have been one of the most polarizing, and criticized teams since former General Manager, Sam Hinkie, took over in 2012. After a disastrous trade for Andrew Bynum, a big man who would never touch the hardwood in a 76ers uniform, Hinkie decided the best way was to start from scratch. Quickly cutting ties with all-star point guard, Jrue Holiday, in exchange for Nerlens Noel, and a top-5 protected pick from the Pelicans. He would also draft Rookie of the Year point guard, Michael Carter-Williams, later in that draft, only to trade him a few years later for a protected Lakers first rounder that has yet to be converted.

“Tanking,” is what they called Hinkie’s strategy, a concept that would split 76ers fans on to either side of Hinkie is doing the right thing, or he has no idea what he is doing. It made many NBA fans, players, coaches, staff members, question the ethics of dumping all veteran players, to acquire future assets, and be so bad you would be guaranteed to net a high pick. Whether the master plan will work has yet to be determined, for some sixers fans who watched game after game, of grueling ball-movement, questionable defense, and a team that lacked any sort of identity, the plan has already failed. Other fans, expect Joel Embiid to lead a parade down Broad Street several times before being inducted into the Hall of Fame twenty years from now, there is no in between.

After selecting Jahlil Okafor, with the third overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, questions immediately arose, with their top pick, the 76ers had selected a big man for the third year in a row. Even worse was that all three of them had little to no experience to even slide over to the power forward position, and doing so would just exaggerate their weaknesses, and/or hide their strengths.

Hinkie was slowly ousted by Sixers ownership last season, after bringing in Jerry Colangelo as a special adviser, people began to wonder if Hinkie’s time was coming to an end, and soon enough he had resigned. After an ‘extensive search’ Hinkie was replaced by former Raptor’s GM, and son of Jerry Colangelo, Bryan Colangelo. Thus, unfortunately Hinkie has only been able to watch the team that he created finally come together, from the comfort of his new home in Palo Alto, California.

After missing his first two NBA seasons with foot injuries, Joel made his much-anticipated debut this season, and has never looked back since. He is the frontrunner for rookie of the year, marginally missed the all-star game, is putting up historic per-36 rookie numbers, and is quickly becoming the poster boy for the NBA. Embiid has made Hinkie doubters forget what they were even arguing about, he has made the sixers enjoyable to watch again, he has them fighting for an eastern conference playoff berth. All this without the 2016 number one pick Ben Simmons, who is expected to make his debut sometime over the next few weeks.

However, not all is well in Sixers land, one huge problem remains, and that is the overload of big men on the roster. Over the summer, Noel chose to take an elective surgery late in the offseason, forcing him to miss training camp, and the early portion of the season. Meanwhile, head coach Brett Brown, experimented with Okafor and Embiid on the floor together, just the eye test would tell you the pairing didn’t work, and last year we realized Okafor and Noel were also incompatible, mainly because Okafor can’t protect the rim, or defend the pick and roll. Since returning, Brown has sparsely paired Noel, and Embiid together, which in itself makes you wonder that Noel’s time is limited here.

Hinkie, and Colangelo, each deserve blame for how the big man situation has been handled. Going in to this season, everyone knew that we would have three centers, who have all been drafted in the top 10 over the past few years, fighting for limited minutes. Colangelo himself even made some questionable comments about how one of them would have to move, yet here we are a few weeks before the trade deadline with nothing accomplished. Okafor’s trade value has plummeted, receiving several DNP’s in the month of January, when the Sixers had their best win loss record in a month, (10-5), since 2012. After questioning the lack of minutes for them to share in an interview a few months back, Noel’s trade value has most likely remained steady, he has been mostly inconsistent this year, especially on the defensive end where he shined his rookie year.

Keep in mind judging Colangelos moves, or lack of, must be taken with a grain of salt. It’s impossible to know what kind of offers he has received since making it obvious one of Noel, and Okafor, must go, if not both. Had he received a potential mid first-rounder for either in the summer, it would be easy to question why he didn’t jump on the offer. However, had he received underwhelming offers throughout, and has been holding off for a better deal, he may be doing the right thing.

The clock is ticking though, Noel’s rookie contract expires this summer, making him a restricted free agent. With him making only single digit starts so far this season, it’s hard to see the sixers matching a contract that a team like Brooklyn, could offer, considering the future paydays players like Embiid, Simmons, and Saric will command. The rotation of the three big men has become more intricate, and confusing, as ever as the trade deadline approaches. After suffering a bone bruise Joel Embiid sat for three games in a row, where the sixers went 2-1 without him. He then returned to face the Houston Rockets in a primetime matchup in South Philadelphia, only to be confirmed out for the next five games, which makes the handling of his injury questionable at the least.

After also missing three games in a row due to injury, including the game against the Rockets, Okafor was available to play two days later against the Bulls, but received a DNP for the game. Brown claimed he needed practice time before he could see the floor. Then was the starter the following night against the Sacramento Kings, which makes you question the truth behind Brown’s comments, and whether there could’ve been a conversation with the front office.

Maybe they feel this is their last chance to showcase Okafor and Noel before the deadline, but desperation time is coming upon them, at least one of the centers must be moved before the deadline, despite the return value, it will be more beneficial for the team all around. The next few weeks leading up to the deadline should be interesting, keep an eye on what the Sixers decide to do.

Brett Lane

Brett is the Philadelphia Flyers Lead Writer for DoubleGSports.com

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