-- Whatever you think of Sam Hinkie's method for rebuilding the Philadelphia 76ers over his three years as the team's general manager and president of basketball operations before stepping down Wednesday, there's one inescapable conclusion: Hinkie leaves the organization in better shape than he found it.
Because of the young players and draft picks the 76ers have amassed, their next general manager -- likely Bryan Colangelo, son of team chairman of basketball operations Jerry Colangelo, sources told ESPN's Marc Stein -- will be better positioned to succeed than Hinkie was when he took over the team in May 2013.
What Hinkie inherited
Philadelphia hired Hinkie on the heels of a disastrous 2012-13 season.
The Sixers, who had won a playoff series a year earlier, in 2012, gave up star Andre Iguodala and recent draft picks Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic as well as a future first-round pick in a trade for center Andrew Bynum during the summer of 2012. Bynum never took the court in the City of Brotherly Love and Philadelphia slipped to the lottery at 34-48.
Because of the Bynum trade, as well as one with the Miami Heat for Arnett Moultrie, when Hinkie arrived the 76ers had full control over just two of their first-round picks over a six-year span dating back to 2011.
Philadelphia still had some young talent on the roster in 2010 No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner, 2012 All-Star Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young, but of the group only Turner remained on his cost-controlled rookie contract. The Sixers were devoid of the cheap young talent that is the lifeblood of rebuilding organizations. So Hinkie set out to acquire it in extreme fashion.
During his interview with ESPN's Zach Lowe on Tuesday's "Lowe Post" podcast, Hinkie disputed Lowe's assessment that Philadelphia had gone "all-in" on the draft. More than anything else, the 76ers' trades and the way the team made use of its cap space resulted in the 76ers piling up draft picks.
When Hinkie took over, Philadelphia was a net minus-two in terms of future draft picks potentially owed (to the Heat and Magic). But the Sixers will end up with both picks, since the lottery protection on the one traded to the Heat expired this season (Philadelphia will instead send a pair of second-round picks to the Boston Celtics, who inherited them in a subsequent trade with Miami) and the team reacquired the pick sent to Orlando in the Elfrid Payton-Dario Saric swap during the 2014 draft.
In addition to having all their own first-round picks, the 76ers acquired six additional first-round picks on Hinkie's watch -- two from the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Holiday, used on Nerlens Noel and Payton; two in this year's draft from the Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder along with potentially a third from the Los Angeles Lakers that is top-three protected; and one coming from the Sacramento Kings in either 2018 or 2019.
Of course, Philadelphia also tried to maximize the value of its own picks by putting non-competitive teams on the court the past three seasons. The 76ers landed the No. 3 overall pick each of the past two seasons, drafting centers Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor.
The sum total of "the process" is that if the Sixers land the Lakers' pick this June, draft four players who join the team immediately and add Saric, Philadelphia could have as many as eight players -- more than half the roster -- on rookie contracts.
Building blocks for the Colangelos
While the Sixers' first-round picks have yet to yield the surefire superstar who can anchor the next great Philadelphia team, their sheer abundance gives the new front office a variety of paths to acquiring such a talent -- or that player might already be on the roster.
There's the possibility that one of the picks already on hand -- such as Embiid, considered a possible No. 1 overall pick in 2014 before the diagnosis of the fractured navicular that has kept him off the court the past two seasons -- develops better than expected. This year's 76ers selection could produce a star. Or Philadelphia could package multiple players and picks to trade for an established player.
Then there's the Sixers' cap space. By virtue of the rookie contracts on the books, along with minimum deals for role players such as Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell and Hollis Thompson, Philadelphia figures to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million under the cap this summer -- enough to fit in a pair of max contracts for players with fewer than 10 years of experience.
Given their W-L record, it's tough to see the 76ers competing for such star players right away, but Jerry Colangelo's close relationship with stars thanks to his position as managing director of USA Basketball's Senior Men's National Team could eventually pay off in free agency.
The Colangelos certainly have difficult decisions ahead. Hinkie prioritized talent over fit, meaning Philadelphia has drafted three players in the lottery (Embiid, Noel and Okafor) who are naturally centers. Noel and Okafor had a difficult time coexisting this season, and adding Embiid would make the fit only more awkward.
To maximize their potential, the Sixers might have to trade one or more of the three players.
Still, having too much talent at one position is a better problem than the problems Philadelphia faced three years ago. Painful as they were, the past three seasons have put the 76ers much closer to building a contender than they were after the Bynum trade. And that, more than the results on Hinkie's watch, should determine his legacy in Philadelphia.