It was another great week for Sam Hinkie, the former 76ers general manager who devised the franchise's "Tank, Then Crank" strategy - well, at least the first part - but didn't stick around for the second act after a ritual deveining by owner Josh Harris.
Hinkie has never been more popular, particularly since Bryan Colangelo, the new GM, delivered an underwhelming return for Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova prior to Thursday's NBA trade deadline, and has presided over an organization that appears brutally dysfunctional on message.
That was never a problem with Hinkie. There wasn't any message. There wasn't even a signal flare. You couldn't complain about injury or rehabilitation reports because there weren't any. There was only a bad team, the embryo of something more perhaps, floating along in a bubble of amniotic fluid consisting of tall dudes on seemingly permanent disability and future second-round picks. It was like being in suspended animation, interrupted occasionally by the draft lottery.
That's what Sam left behind, and what Colangelo gladly took over, but even though there was brilliance in the construction of all this - the audacity of the Elfrid Payton-Dario Saric move during the 2014 draft is still stunning - it isn't as if Colangelo was dealt a pat hand.
Before he is hunted down by the online packs bearing torches and pitchforks, dismissed as a tanning-bed fraud who has ridden nepotism to the slippery cliff's edge of his own Peter principle, let's take a look at what he was facing here.
Bryan Colangelo was not the one who came out of three consecutive drafts with three lottery-pick centers. Who would do such a thing? Of course, the answer is Sam Hinkie.
Hinkie traded for Noel in 2013, drafted Joel Embiid in 2014, and drafted Jahlil Okafor in 2015. Three centers. Three centers taken at spots in the draft that are reserved for players who will at least be starters, if not something more transcendent. Had Noel not had a knee injury and Embiid not a foot injury, both would have probably been the first overall pick. Okafor went third, but he was considered in the conversation with any of the others. Great prospects. Great value. But, still, three centers.
Well, guess what? That created some problems, didn't it?
It meant you had three guys, all of whom expected to get paid eventually, all of whom expected to be starters, and all of whom would be fighting for the largest chunk of that 48 minutes at the center position. None of the three could be projected as operating away from the basket on a positional basis. And, tick, tick, tick, while they rehabbed from the various injuries that made them available in the first place, there was limited time to discover if they were, in fact, compatible.
That's what Colangelo got, and the clock was ticking very loudly. He tried for the last month to trade Okafor, but the offers he got were similar to the one Chicago proposed: Nicola Mirotic, even up. The first-round pick you don't like any longer for the one we don't. Colangelo passed and opted to scarf up what he could for the other guy.
There are sound reasons for the deal. Noel was not going to be happy as a 15-to-18-minute backup to Embiid, and that is where we were headed. He's a restricted free agent and was about to make a lot of money, starter's money. You want to pay Nerlens Noel $20 million a year to be unhappy? Me, neither.
Colangelo did the best he could. He got two second-round picks (fraudulently dressed up as a first-round pick for press release purposes), an expiring contract, and a physical, defensive-minded bench wing who can't shoot. For Ilyasova, who was a nice player but without Okafor's pedigree, he got the same thing, minus the guy who can't shoot.
Let's be honest. It isn't much. In fact, it stinks. It does keep the Sixers from being locked into a bad contract situation with Noel, however, and keeps him from walking away for nothing in free agency. They still have to deal with the Okafor situation, but he won't be eligible for restricted free agency until the 2019-20 season and - who knows? - Embiid could have two more surgeries by then.
It would be generous to give Colangelo any more than a "C" grade for the trade deadline moves and unfair to give him anything less. He had more time to maneuver if he chose to move negotiations forward to the June draft, or to merely make a qualifying offer to Noel and see if he actually got big offer sheets from other teams. But Colangelo was determined to move a center while he could and that's what he did.
Maybe another general manager could have discovered a better way out of the crowded hole and devised the trade equivalent of a half-court shot that hits nothing but net. Maybe Hinkie could have. We'll never know. Bryan Colangelo took the layup. It wasn't very inspiring, but it went through.