Though a full accounting won’t be possible for a number of years, so far the breakout stars of the 2015 draft are Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis. Picking third, the Philadelphia 76ers missed out on a chance at Towns. But they passed on Porzingis, opting for Duke standout Jahlil Okafor, foregoing cool shit like this. It’s still early, but you’d think if they could do it again they’d go with the Latvian. So why didn’t they?
Whatever happened, [Porzingis’s agent Andy] Miller didn’t make it easy for Philadelphia to draft Porzingis at No. 3. The Sixers wouldn’t be afforded Porzingis’ physical, nor get a private workout, nor even a face-to-face meeting. After most of the pro day executives cleared out of the gym in Vegas in mid-June, 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie lingered to meet with Miller. Hinkie stopped him in the lobby area and asked Miller about a chance to sit down and visit with Porzingis.
“You said that I would get a meeting with him here,” Hinkie told Miller.
“I said, ‘I’d try,’ and it’s not going to work out, Sam,” Miller responded.
An awkward silence lingered, the GM and agent, standing and staring. The Porzingis camp wanted no part of the Sixers’ situation at No 3. Miller couldn’t stop Philadelphia from drafting Porzingis, but he could limit the information they had to make a decision. And did. No physical. No meeting. No workout. The Sixers passed on Porzingis on draft night, clearing the way for the Knicks to select him.
We’ve heard before that agents don’t like Sam Hinkie. Hinkie himself has admitted that he communicates poorly with agents, and that it has hurt the 76ers. But this is the first time we’ve seen a specific example of how the Sixers’ intentional refusal to improve is harming their chances at landing those very players who could help them get better.
Porzingis isn’t the first and won’t be the last prospect to refuse to work out for certain teams. In the same draft, Emmanuel Mudiay refused to workout for the Kings, and I’ll let you decide whether being company with the Kings is something to be proud of. But more so than any other team right now, the 76ers can’t afford to be locked out of pre-draft information.
The Process is predicated upon finding superstars in the draft. The 76ers haven’t signed any free agents of note in years, and have only traded for future assets, not current ones. The only way the 76ers will improve is by scouting and selecting good players in the draft, and developing them.
But by refusing to put a competent team on the floor, by losing so frequently, by communicating poorly with agents, the 76ers have made their rebuild even more difficult. They have to—have to—draft a future superstar, yet Dirk Nowitzki 2.0 refused to even meet with the team. Sad little Sam Hinkie was reduced to hanging around the gym, begging for an interview.
It gets even worse. Some superstars, say LeBron James, come into the league mostly fully formed, and would’ve become superstars no matter what. But for the other 99 percent of players, their development matters. What they ultimately become is partially a product of the environment in which they develop. You could easily imagine somebody like Draymond Green being just a sixth man if he’d been drafted by a team unable or unwilling to take advantage of his unique gifts.
For the 76ers, positively developing players is vital. Their team’s average age is a full year lower than any other NBA team, and the roster is full of recent draft picks and D-League signings, not established players. They both need to select the right players and help them develop to their full potential; they have to be good at development. And to that end, they can make some strong arguments. By all accounts Brett Brown is a good coach and works well with the young players, the team is appropriately cautious with injuries, and a prospect is guaranteed to get vital playing time with the 76ers.
But if Porzingis is any indication, agents aren’t buying that argument. Instead, Andy Miller—one of the most powerful agents in the game, who also represents 76ers Nerlens Noel and Hollis Thompson and thus has an up close and personal view of the organization—is avoiding the team. He, and plenty of other agents, would prefer their young clients go to situations where they don’t have to immediately be the focal point of a team, and have veterans around to learn from.
The upshot to the Okafor pick is that the 76ers have a complicated logjam in the front court. Their two most talented players both play best at center, and can’t effectively play together on offense because they want to occupy the same space: Okafor because he is a low-post beast, and Noel because he has little offensive game. When (if) Joel Embiid finally returns from injury, the problem will become that much more acute.
Kristaps Porzingis, on the other hand, wants to occupy a completely different area of the court. He may be 7-foot-3 but he’s a power forward at heart, and is comfortable bombing from the outside, thus creating more space for whichever center is banging down low. Having near-elite defender Noel patrol the paint on defense while Porzingis makes everybody’s job on offense easier would’ve represented a big step forward for the 76ers. Instead, their three best players are all centers who clash rather than mesh, and at the very least one of them will have to be shipped out.
Once again, The Process has failed.
Photo via Getty