Why The 76ers Plan Isn't About Losing

The 76ers Plan: "Don't be good, be great"

The jokes flew Thursday night as the Philadelphia 76ers picked Joel Embiid at number three and Dario Saric at number ten in the 2014 NBA Draft. Embiid is a 7-foot center out of Kansas who has drawn comparisons to Hakeem Olojuwan. Saric was the best European player in the draft and many think he could be one of the top 3 players in this draft when it's all said and done. Seems smart, right?

So why the jokes? Neither player will play this season. Saric won't even be in the United States. He just signed a new deal with his Turkish League team that not only will keep him away this year, but the next year as well. Embiid has a broken navicular bone in his foot, an injury that has crippled more than a few big men over the years. It is highly unlikely he plays this season. 

So the worst team in the league had two picks in the top 10 and took two guys who won't play this year. And it was absolutely the right thing to do.

There is no one in the draft that could make the Sixers remotely competitive this upcoming season. That includes Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker who came off the board before Philly was on the clock at number three. In fact the only way the Sixers win anything next year is if LeBron likes he has an irrational love of cheesesteaks. However the Sixers brass has figured out what the rest of the league either refuses to acknowledge or is scared to: there is no point in being on the upper echelon of terrible.

With that knowledge in mind, the Sixers moved to the next step of their plan which was to aim as high as possible when they are ready to be good.

The NBA is the ultimate star driven league. You can make the playoffs without a superstar, but your'e not winning a championship without one. It's happened once since 1980 and that was a 2004 Pistons team that started 5 all-star caliber players in the primes of their careers in the absence of one of the league's best players. Not exactly a bunch of bums. The Sixers know they need stars, so they've drafted guys with the highest upside possible, no matter their floor.

It started last year with Nerlens Noel. He was coming off a torn ACL and didn't play all of last season, but in the worst draft in over a decade, why not take a player with the potential to be one of the best rim protectors in the league? They struck again at #11 with Michael Carter-Williams, a 6'6" point guard with loads of raw skill and a killer instinct. He was raw, but he turned into the rookie of the year (not something to brag heavily about in that rookie class, but something nonetheless). 

That brings us to Thursday where they took Embiid and Saric. If Embiid gets healthy, his unquestioned best case scenario is hall of fame center who plays both ends of the court in a dominant fashion. Talk about a high ceiling. Saric is a very skilled offensive player who makes plays for himself and others. He's not a great defender but on a team with Embiid, Carter-Williams and Noel that shouldn't be a problem. The Sixers also took high upside guys in the 2nd round including Jerami Grant, Carter-Williams teammate at Syracuse who would've been a lottery pick in many drafts with his elite athleticism and KJ McDaniels, a hyper athletic forward out of Clemson who could be a defensive stopper for years to come. They also took a few more European "draft-and-stash" players who they hope will develop into something in the future.

Of course it could all go wrong and in the short term, it's pretty brutal for the fan base. The team they put on the floor I'm not entirely sure could beat some of the all-time great college teams because it included guys who just weren't NBA players. In order to have a shot at the best talent, you have to be really bad and the Sixers took being really bad really seriously.

Long term, Carter-Williams could be soured by all the losing in the short term, develop bad habits and leave Philadelphia to try and reclaim his career. Noel and Embiid could have injury problems or just never be the same players. Saric could decide to stay Europe longer than expected and throw the timing of the whole plan off. There are possibilities in between too, but the Sixers have given themselves a chance.

Few organizations have the patience to do what Philadelphia is doing, but they're doing it right. They know they're not going to be good, so why try to be mediocre? Give yourself the best chance possible to great. That involves multiple shots at getting elite players which means being as bad as possible a few times, and more importantly swinging for the fences on draft picks. They've swung. Come back in three years and let's see if they've made contact.


Other Notes:

The Top - Congrats Cleveland!! You didn't eff it up! The Cavaliers got the player that best fits them, wants to be there and has been thought to be the best prospect in this draft for three years. Clearly the trade for Aaron Afflalo, the number four and number twelve picks was never on the table because there's no way in hell Orlando trades Afflalo for Evan Fournier and a 2nd rounder when they could've gotten #1. In hindsight for Cleveland if they wanted Embiid, that worked out because he wouldn't have been there. Which leads us to...

Things I like

I love what Orlando wound up doing at number four. They add Aaron Gordon there and Eflrid Payton at number ten (via trade with Philadelphia for Saric) to last year's first rounder Victor Oladipo and they're gonna be terrifying defensively if still together in a few years. I don't know how they score outside of transition but good luck scoring on them. I know a lot of Magic fans wanted Dante Exum, but if they now have a terrific base to build around.

My favorite draft of the night was the Celtics. Boston got Marcus Smart, which allows them to eventually trade Rajon Rondo after Smart learns the tricks of the trade from him, and then stole James Young at 17. Opposing point guards are going to hate playing the Celtics. The worst defender you might see all night is Rondo. Smart and Avery Bradley both need to become better shooters if they Celtics are going to win big with them as a backcourt, but they're going to be sensational defensively. Young has every raw skill you want and will get better in Boston under Brad Stevens.

The Bulls got a shooter and cleared cap space. Every bit of cap space is critical in the pursuit of Carmelo Anthony, but even if they don't get him they made their team better.

I liked what a lot of teams did which is kinda the point. It was hard to screw up last night because there were so many options both in players and trades. If you couldn't get what you reasonably wanted, you probably shouldn't have a GM job.

Things I don't like:

The Thunder were one of two teams where I went "what the hell are you doing?" Mitch McGary is a top 10 pick last year, a lottery pick this year if not for injury. That said, they passed on guys who can start for them this year and provide shooting where they DESPERATELY need it in favor of him. Why not draft PJ Hairston? He's their starting two-gaurd next year. Without question. So is Rodney Hood. At best McGary is a backup for Ibaka and Steven Adams. I guess they have Jeremy Lamb, but they still tons more shooting. Fisher's gone. And they were playing Derek freaking Fisher.

The other was the Raptors. When they selected Bruno Caboclo the universal "wtf?" was loud and in unison. Apparently they feared he'd be gone at 37 when they came around again so they took him at 20. ESPN's Fran Fraschilla said on the telecast "he's two years away from being two years away." Well then if someone wants to take him, go right ahead. They must REALLY like him. It's the ultimate upside pick. Maybe Raptors GM Masai Ujiri knows something we all don't. It wouldn't be the first time. However the value they go seemed to be terrible so no matter how good the pick is, it doesn't make sense that they wouldn't trade back at least a few spots. 

The Mavs traded both of their picks to the Knicks in the Tyson Chandler deal. The first pick turned into Cleanthony Early who could've been the backup small forward last year as an upgrade over Jae Crowder. I knew I didn't like those picks being in that trade.

On To Free Agency

Free Agency is going to be absolute madness. Look forward to it. Tomorrow I'll post on how the Mavs can take advantage of teams who are big game hunting. Until then, tweet your thoughts on this column to me @craighoffman and if you liked it, share it with a friend. Thanks for reading and check back tomorrow.