As a casual observer of the NBA, I’d be lying if I said I knew that what Sixers GM Sam Hinkie did last night was good for his franchise or not.
Hinkie traded his lone All-Star player, Jrue Holliday, for one of the top players in the this year’s draft, Nerlens Noel, drafted a point guard with the 11th pick, and also acquired a first-round pick in next year’s draft, seen as one of the deepest in a long time.
Hinkie is known as being an aficionado of advanced analytics in basketball. He’s basically the NBA’s version of a sabermatrician in the front office. And what he did last night was something no one saw coming.
He made the decision that the 76ers were going nowhere with Holliday and the current collection of “talent” on that roster. He took an honest look at the players he had and decided they weren’t good enough to truly compete for an NBA title. He decided that it was in the best interests of the team’s long-term future to trade away one of the few marquee players on the roster in order to put him into position to acquire top flight young talent.
I hope Ruben Amaro Jr. was paying attention.
Hinkie did the hard thing last night. He got rid of a star player. In this case, he got rid of a young, star player, perhaps the one player that Sixers fans actually wanted to come see play.
Why did he do it? Didn’t he understand that trading Holliday might hurt attendance? Didn’t he understand that getting rid of Holliday might hurt the team in the short term?
Yes, he did. He understood it all. But he also understood this one vital fact.
Hinkie understood that in order to get better, sometimes you need to clear the decks and start over. And the only way to start over sometimes is to use your best player as a trade chip in order to bring young talent into your organization that you don’t currently have.
The Phillies are facing a similar situation in about a month or so. After last night’s loss to the Dodgers, the Phillies are four games under .500, have the third-worst run differential in the NL, are 7 1/2 games out of first in the NL East, and just can’t seem to get on any kind of winning streak.
The Phillies appear to be a team in a very similar situation to the 76ers. They have a roster that, as currently constructed, doesn’t have the weapons to compete for a World Series. The Phils’ roster is on the steep downslope of its trajectory. There is little chance many of the players who team president David Montgomery identified this week as being “fan identifiable” will actually help them get back to the postseason and make some noise once there.
Of course, if Ruben Amaro is going to do what Hinkie did, he should only do so if he gets top talent in return. Selling for the sake of selling is silly, and no one is calling for that.
And admittedly, there are differences between the two situations. The Sixers’ attendance figures are already pretty bad, ranked 17th in the NBA last year averaging 16, 717 per game. The Phillies, meanwhile, have the 5th highest attendance in baseball this year, averaging 38,921 fans a game. So, the Phils have quite a bit more to lose in terms of butts in the seats.
The Phils also have the financial ability, especially after their cable deal gets renewed in 2015, to improve themselves through free agency much easier than the Sixers do. While the Phils do have to deal with a salary cap, it’s nowhere near as restrictive as the NBA’s salary rules.
Still, like the Sixers, the Phils do have some trade chips, one in particular, that could net them the type of prospects and young talent that could actually make them better in 2014 and beyond. Cliff Lee could get the Phils a Top 50 prospect. Chase Utley, if he keeps hitting the way he has since returning from the disabled list, could possibly get the Phils a Top 100 pick. Jonathan Papelbon could also land the Phils a potential Top 100-150 pick. Players like Kyle Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young could also bring back valuable pieces.
The Phillies shouldn’t necessarily trade ALL those players. That would be reckless. But a few of them should go, IF Amaro can get good young talent in return.
If in another month, the Phillies are in the same situation they’re in now, Amaro should do exactly what Hinkie did for the Sixers last night. He should sacrifice a little short-term pain for some long-term gain.
The 76ers have given the Phillies an example to follow.
We’ll see if Amaro decides to follow it, or if he tries to fit more less-than-stellar pieces around an aging core.