When elite NBA teams, or those on the doorstep of true contention, want to add a pearl to the necklace of their rosters, they do what the Houston Rockets did this offseason in acquiring Dwight Howard. They go out on the market and buy a pearl.
When lower-echelon teams, those with less to offer in bargaining, either monetarily or in disposable players, want to do the same thing, they buy a bunch of oysters and hope for the best.
The 76ers are in the latter category, and during the first few months of Sam Hinkie's reign as general manager they are tonging the shoals of potential NBA talent with a single-minded fervor.
Somewhere down the line, when their catch is fully examined, the Sixers hope to have found a few pearls. The history of the league suggests that what you usually find is oysters. This does not particularly deter Hinkie.
"Any player we're investing in, we do it because we assume they're undervalued," Hinkie said.
This is the true basis of any analytical approach to assembling a roster, whether it is Billy Beane's Moneyball theories in baseball or Hinkie's current dredge work in the NBA. Get rid of players who are actually less valuable than the consensus of the market indicates, and acquire players who are more valuable. It doesn't get any simpler than that.
The trick, of course, is making sure your opinion of market value is smarter than the next guy's. That takes a while, and a lot of shucking, to find out. Ownership has bet heavily on Hickie's brains, but we are years away from judging the wisdom of that wager.
"I'm only trying to do what I think is right, and that's build something that the owners want and that I think the fans want. I want to build something that is lasting, and that is special with a capital S," Hinkie said.
So he is playing the long game. The Sixers grabbed Nerlens Noel because he is potentially a first-pick talent who slid to the No. 6 pick in the draft because the market was scared away by his knee injury. They took Michael Carter-Williams, a very athletic, tall point guard who was available at the 11th pick only because other teams thought he was less attractive than players who can shoot and take care of the basketball.
"We'll focus on building something that will end in a place everybody will be proud of. If our young players play great, then things will move on quickly. If they don't, then it will move along more slowly," Hinkie said. "It's a little early right now. [Noel and Carter-Williams] are both under contract for four years. That allows you to look around the bend a little bit, and look past a turnover or be patient with an injury."
It will remain a little early for the Sixers to be truly competitive for some years to come. They get the benefit of upcoming draft picks as long as they are not very good, so it isn't logical to rush the process. They can also delay giving up the two first-round picks they owe - to Miami in the Arnett Moultrie deal, and to Orlando in the Andrew Bynum deal - by continuing to finish poorly. (It is even possible that the Orlando pick will turn into a pair of second-round picks in 2018 and 2019 if they stink long enough. Not sure local patience could stretch that far, but just throwing it out there.)
Among the other undervalued players collected by Hinkie for very little risk are James Anderson, a guard whose resumé is underwhelming, and Tim Ohlbrecht, a 6-foot-11 German national with D-League experience, both of whom were claimed off waivers from Houston.
The Sixers also drafted Arsalan Kazemi, a 6-7 power forward, who was available with the 54th pick because he's a 6-7 power forward. And they traded with Houston for some hazy future considerations to acquire the draft rights to a young Turkish player named Furkan Aldemir, and Royce White, a 2012 first-round pick who suffers from an anxiety disorder that has so far prevented him from being willing to take part in frequent air travel.
That's quite a bunch, but maybe there's a pearl in there somewhere. If nothing else, Hinkie has proved himself utterly detached from what anyone else might think of his moves. He could become the only member of separate front-office staffs to acquire a first-round pick in consecutive drafts who doesn't play a single game his rookie season. White didn't dress last season - the only 2012 first-rounder who didn't play in the league - and it is possible Noel's rehabilitation from ACL surgery could stretch out over the entire 2013-14 season.
"If what we cared about most is Nerlens' long-term health . . . and having a 15-year career, what would we do? I will ask that every single time of every doctor we come in contact with to see how they perceive that," Hinkie said.
And anyway, the Sixers have no intention of competing this season. It would be counterproductive for them to do so. Hinkie's path for the franchise is the logical, analytical one to take in order to reach that elite level.
In the interim, obviously, you might not like the 76ers very much. It is advisable, however, to acquire a taste for oysters.