As the new NBA season draws near, it’s time to see just how similar, or different, the Sixers and Thunder really are.
Having a true superstar may make a difference in the NBA more than any other sport. With just five players on the court responsible for all the offensive and defensive production, the impact of one player can make such a difference. While free agency and trades offer teams another route to add these types of talents, the greatest chance of adding these high-level players is through the draft.
Losing games to increase your team’s chances of gaining a high pick is not a new technique. The system has been created to award the worst-performing teams with the best chance to add the top talent in an attempt to even the competitive balance. The principle of this makes sense but also kept the door open for teams to take advantage of this avenue.
Sixers Elect to Trust The Process
Perhaps the most famous and extreme example of this occurred with the Philadelphia 76ers. During the 2012 offseason, the Sixers elected to hand the reigns of the organization to Sam Hinkie and escape the basketball purgatory the team was in. While a losing record is not the desired result, it offered a hope for the future that the Sixers did not previously have. Being trapped where they were a borderline playoff team offered little hope for improvement. The Sixers were not the desired hotspot to land for the top guys and they did not have a poor enough record to have access to the top prospects. To put it simply, the organization was stuck.
Between the 2012-13 season and the 2016-17 season, the Sixers had a total record of 75-253. Each move was made with the future in mind as the franchise set its sights on contending down the line. Hinkie did a masterful job of collecting assets and, despite all the losses, the franchise had some of the greatest excitement surrounding it since the Iverson era.
The results of The Process are still to be determined. Joel Embiid has flourished into a superstar beyond what many could have imagined and has embodied the Process as no other player could. Ben Simmons, who came to the Sixers through a first overall pick, was traded for James Harden who appears set to return to his old form and provide the Sixers with the co-star they need. While there were countless examples of things not going as planned (Markelle Fultz, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Burnergate, etc), the fact of the matter is the Sixers organization is in a far better place than they would have been without going through these frustrating years.
The writing was on the wall for Sam Hinkie from the moment Jerry Colangelo arrived and was forced into a role with the organization. Hinkie elected to step down rather than see his vision carried out differently than he had hoped. His time spent with the Sixers was incredibly influential to both Philadelphia and the NBA as a whole, and what the ultimate results will be are still to be determined.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder have also used a similar strategy as they search to rebuild the organization for future success. They find themselves in the middle of rebuilding and recently welcomed four new rookies in the top 34 picks of the previous draft. Second-overall pick and a potential building block of Oklahoma City Thunder, Chet Holmgren, recently received some bad news on his outlook for the rookie year.
Holmgren will be held out for the season due to the Lisfranc injury sustained this summer. While you never want to see an injury occur with any player, this type of delay is something that can be beneficial to a rebuilding process. On the Sixers’ side of things, Nerlens Noel and Ben Simmons missed the entirety of their rookie years. Joel Embiid missed all but 31 games during his first three seasons in the NBA. For both Holmgren and the Thunder, this could be a blessing in disguise. Holmgren has a full season to recover and prepare his body for the NBA grind. The Thunder will be without the high impact that Holmgren would bring and thus improve their chances at a top pick.
When comparing the Sixers’ and Thunder’s rebuilds, one key difference is the amount of time. Over the past two seasons, they have a record of 46-108 but just three years ago the team made a playoff appearance led by Chris Paul. While there have still certainly been decisions made against the intentions to win, such as shutting down a healthy Al Horford in the 2020-21 season, the shorter amount of organizational losing certainly matters in the context of the situation.
Especially considering it has been a shorter amount of time, it is extremely impressive the assets that Oklahoma City Thunder has collected. Over the next five seasons, the Thunder have 15 first-round picks and 25 picks total. With an intriguing amount of young talent already and a ridiculous amount of assets moving forward, the outlook is bright in Oklahoma City.
How the decisions play out over the course of these next few years will certainly make or break how the Thunder’s rebuild is perceived. There are the ingredients of a true dynasty if the proper players are added but this is far easier said than done. Sam Hinkie was never able to truly play out his vision in Philadelphia. It will be interesting to see if Thunder GM Sam Presti will get his full opportunity in Oklahoma City.