Building an NBA roster is like building a financial portfolio: assets beget assets. And the frustrating truth is that going from zero to one -- as in, zero stars to one star -- is the most difficult maneuver of all for a rebuilding franchise. Once you secure that first star player, the second becomes that much easier. And once you have two stars, the third usually shows up on your doorstep willing to play for less money than he could get elsewhere.
Technically, the Sixers can snag their first star in one of three ways: draft, trade or sign. But let's not kid ourselves: They're relying on the draft. No NBA star is going to sign in Philly to become the lone gun. Garnett wasn't interested in joining Pierce and the Celtics until they acquired Allen. And if you look at those Celtics, circa 2007, they had plenty of assets with which to wheel and deal.
The Sixers have no such carrot to dangle unless they want to completely gut a roster that's already pretty barren. They could use their four lottery picks -- Nerlens Noel (No. 6 in 2013), Michael Carter-Williams (No. 11 in 2013), their own pick this year and a top-five protected pick likely to be conveyed by the New Orleans Pelicans this year -- to try to land a franchise player, but there wouldn't be much else to keep such a team out of the middle of the standings. When the Sixers traded for center Andrew Bynum in 2012, they mortgaged their future for someone they hoped would become the cornerstone of the franchise. Of course, we know how that turned out. Because of injuries, Bynum never played a game, and he walked away as a free agent at season's end.
Picture the metal frame of a car, just the shell -- no seats or engine. That's essentially what the Sixers are right now. Hinkie needs an engine, a star, and the only way he can get one is through the draft.
Consider how the Oklahoma City Thunder built their roster. They hit a home run by drafting Kevin Durant at No. 2 in 2007, and then another the following year when they grabbed Russell Westbrook at No. 4 overall. The year after that, they hit it out of the park again when they took James Harden at No. 3. The Thunder were not going to sign a superstar on the open market, so they needed exceptional drafting.
The rebuilding process for the Sixers will likely look like a hybrid of what happened in Boston and in Oklahoma City. At first it will be all about the draft, all about scooping up that first star player (Kansas' Andrew Wiggins?) and getting lucky on a few second-round picks, stockpiling young players with plenty of upside. And then, when the time is right, and the assets are there, Hinkie can get creative in the marketplace.
Philly fans may not want to hear, "Hurry up and wait." But there is no better place for their team to be right now than rock bottom.
The Sixers were mediocre for far too long.