2013 In Review: Top 5 Transactions in Philadelphia Sports

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3. Sixers Trade Jrue Holiday to Pelicans for Nerlens Noel, 2014 1st round pick

For what seemed like forever the 76ers, much like several teams in the NBA, appeared perfectly content with neutrality in a league defined by its lack of parity. Since reaching the finals in 2001, the best the team had finished was being knocked out in the second round on two occasions. One could argue they did not even deserve to be in the second one, as a Derrick Rose injury in 2011-12 allowed them to squeak by a hobbled Bulls team before bowing out, albeit in 7 games, to the Celtics.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the 76ers during this stretch was their stubbornness. From failing to provide Allen Iverson with an adequate supplementary player, to overpaying marginal players such as Kyle Korver and Samuel Dalembert, to finally failing to acknowledge that in the modern NBA, one has to bottom out if they ever wish to contend. Whether it was Billy King, Ed Stefanski, Rod Thorn, or Tony DiLeo general managers came and went thinking they could turn the roster around without suffering through a total rebuild.

When the team’s embarrassing 2012-2013 campaign finally came to a close, the ownership group led by Josh Harris decided to nudge the polarizing Adam Aron out the door and legitimize a franchise that was hemorrhaging their time spent in Philadelphia. Their first step towards this vision was the hiring of Houston Rockets executive vice president and analytics guru Sam Hinkie as team president and general manager. Hinkie had helped oversee a franchise makeover in Houston that had turned a Rockets team, once in a similar position as the 76ers, into a contender on the rise with seemingly limitless flexibility.

The analytics approach, much like the ‘moneyball’ tactics used by small market teams in baseball, has had a polarizing effect on those that cover the league. While the past two seasons have seen the team with the best player still ultimately cut down the nets, teams like the Rockets and Pacers have transformed themselves into elite teams and legitimate threats to end the Heat’s reign at the top of the league.

Hinkie’s primary obstacle with turning the 76ers around was that they were put together like a team that had no shot at winning or losing enough to allow themselves to win. They had one player who could potentially play a role on a championship team, but the rest of the roster was so mediocre that, by the time he was able to shift them out of the rotation, he would be forced to allocate money toward Philadelphia’s face of the franchise, Jrue Holiday.

The young point guard was coming off his first all-star appearance and, in a season marred by disappointment and frustration, was a lone bright spot. Many felt that Holiday was the present and the future of the 76ers without considering the fact that they would never see a team around him that could put them over the top. Hinkie had little flexibility or room to manipulate with Holiday in the fold and had little to offer by way of trades that could bring in supplementary talent.

With the team holding the 11th pick in the approaching NBA draft, all signs pointed toward the team bringing in a marginal talent that would probably end up as a solid role player, such as Thaddeus Young. While Hinkie’s tenure was initially defined by his silence and close to the vest approach, on the night of June 27th, the new general manager made a louder statement than all of his predecessors combined.

In one fell swoop, the 76ers went from just another meddling team hoping to get lucky at some point to a franchise with a direction. Despite his injury, Noel projects to be a legitimate rim protector with athleticism and intensity. The former Kentucky Wildcat has used his time off the court to rebuild his game from the ground up and, with the help of coach Brett Brown, hopes to redefine himself as a player that was once the odds-on-favorite for the 1st overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Noel was not even the headliner of the trade. While he could turn out to be a fixture in the middle for the 76ers in the near future, it is so difficult to project how a player will recover from the devastation of knee injuries. The true jewel of this trade is how the 76ers are set up for what has become the most anticipated NBA Draft since 2003. Not only did the Sixers acquire a top-5 protected pick from a New Orleans team that, while talented, looks to be destined for the lottery in the loaded Western Conference of the NBA. But, by trading their best player, have positioned themselves to be in the running for the top selection in the loaded draft.

Many see this approach as the fundamental flaw in the NBA. The NFL is the gold standard for league-wide balance while the NBA is often defined by a handful of teams that take turns at the top of the totem pole. Regardless of how one feels about this, teams have to succumb to the format of the league. By setting his team up for initial struggles, Sam Hinkie has positioned the 76ers to elevate through the ranks at a much quicker pace than where they were just a year prior. The term ‘Tankadelpia’ was the motto entering the season and, with the potential prizes at the end of the tunnel, it is easy to see why.

One could easily argue that the projected top eight players in the 2014 draft are far superior than the top pick in 2013, Anthony Bennett. Even if the 76ers are not awarded the 1st selection, one could look at having a pick in the 2-6 range as an advantage considering they will not have to struggle with deciding between all the prized prospects. Lump in the fact that the team will most likely have another pick toward the end of the lottery and possibly more picks acquired through trades of some of their veteran players, and one could predict that the 76ers will be the most powerful team in the best draft in a decade. If losing 55 games instead of 40, and then four more in a first-round bow out is all we have to struggle through for that to happen, sign me up. Sam Hinkie and his power move at the draft is my pick for 3rd best transaction of 2013.