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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Don’t blame Colangelo

Posted by Eric Fisher On February 25

Fisher column logo2The anger at the Nerlens Noel deal is being directed at the wrong target.

Bryan Colangelo does not deserve most of the blame for a trade that is likely to net two second-round draft choices in return for a player selected sixth overall in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Most of the blame lies with Sam Hinkie.

Defending Lyin’ Bryan puts me in an uncomfortable position, and I know that blaming Hinkie is blasphemous to the “Trust the Process” crowd. But Hinkie is the one who created this mess.

Hinkie is the one who drafted three centers. He created the logjam that made it obvious to other teams that the Sixers needed to trade at least one of their centers, thereby reducing their value.

The Sixers were in this predicament because Hinkie only knew how to acquire assets, not build a team. That’s why the Hinkie era ended without a starting-quality NBA point guard or shooting guard on the roster. In fact, when Hinkie resigned as general manager last spring, the only Sixer on the court who could claim to be a legitimate NBA starter on a good team was Jahlil Okafor. And even that’s in question today.

To be fair to Hinkie, he had Joel Embiid and Dario Saric waiting in the wings. But it’s pretty well-established that Hinkie wanted to trade up to select forward Andrew Wiggins instead of drafting Embiid. Furthermore, Hinkie drafted Embiid despite a relatively significant injury history for a player who only spent one year on college. If Embiid never is healthy enough to come close to playing a full season, nobody should consider it to be shocking.

Hinkie also fleeced the Kings for a 2019 first-round pick and the right to switch draft positions in this year’s NBA Draft. He turned the first-round pick he received with Noel for Jrue Holiday to select the player the Magic wanted, point guard Elfrid Payton, at No. 10 in the 2014 NBA Draft, and then held up the Magic for two draft picks and No. 12 selection Dario Saric, the player Hinkie wanted, in order to get Payton.

But Hinkie left Colangelo with a bunch of assets, not a team. Colangelo’s challenge as president of basketball operations is to turn these assets into players who will actually be part of the future.

As we found out at the trade deadline, two of the supposedly finer assets have lost a lot of value. Noel, the sixth overall pick in 2013, brought back an expiring contract (center Andrew Bogut), a backup in swingman Justin Anderson and a pair of second-round draft picks. The Sixers tried to save face by having a first-round draft pick included in the package, but that pick in this year’s draft is top-18 protected. Considering the Mavericks’ record is 22-35, the chance of them drafting beyond 18th in the first round is similar to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s chance of being honored at the next Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet.

Could the Sixers even get that package for Jahlil Okafor? You remember Okafor, don’t you? The No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft? The future star?

Okafor’s stock has plummeted during his first two NBA seasons. His offseason troubles during his rookie season didn’t help his value. Even more damaging, however, has been his performance on the court. Okafor is a good low post scorer who is an atrocious defender and doesn’t seem to fight for rebounds. The Sixers reportedly couldn’t get a first-round pick in return for a player drafted third overall just two years ago.

Noel and Okafor, once considered two of the crown jewels of the Hinkie era, are flawed players. Okafor doesn’t play defense and Noel can’t score from beyond four feet.

If we combined the two players – Jerlens Nokafor? – the Sixers would have a tremendous frontcourt presence. Individually, they are flawed players who can’t bring the Sixers anything valuable in return.

Colangelo decided it was going to be too expensive to re-sign Noel, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer, so he got rid of him for the best deal he could find. I have no problem with that move.

My criticism of Colangelo at the trade deadline is that he didn’t trade Okafor for the best deal he could get. There was an ESPN report that the Pelicans offered the Sixers a similar package (swingman Tyreke Evans, former Saint Joseph’s guard Langston Galloway, a top-20 protected first-round pick and a second-round pick, but without rookie guard Buddy Hield) to the one they sent to the Kings for DeMarcus Cousins. While most media and fans said that wasn’t enough in return for Okafor, I wrote, with a touch of hyperbole, that Colangelo should be fired for turning down that deal.

The inability to get much value in return for Noel and Okafor is not Colangelo’s fault. The blame lies with Hinkie, who left Colangelo with a flawed roster and a bunch of assets.

Hinkie was always playing for the future. The price was three of the five worst seasons in Sixers history.

Colangelo is trying to get better in the future, but it’s the near future rather than five years – or more – down the road.

If Ben Simmons develops into a star, Embiid regains his health and a few of those future draft picks become valuable starters, Colangelo can thank Hinkie. Right now, however, Colangelo is paying the price for Hinkie’s mistakes.

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