Have I hit all of the hot buttons? Wait, I'll add some that aren't super obvious. Not signing G Ish Smith back was clearly a mistake, given that he's played well at times for the Pelicans, and made Noel look good down the stretch. Not finding an old guy to be a bench Jedi, the way they had Jason Richardson and maybe, I dunno, Henry Sims, might have also been a miss. No one in town has yet to understand what mystic hold Furkan Aldemir had on Hinkie. I'm still not in love with the KJ McDaniels deal for yet another second rounder, not as if KJ has done anything since leaving town. It might be nice to find someone, anyone, who can play point guard even a little, while not begin a waterbug defensive sieve.
And they've still had leads in the fourth quarter of the last five games they played, and all of those games were on the road. 5-point loss to Miami, 5 point loss to the Wolves, 4 point loss to the Celtics, 2 point loss to the Rockets, 8 point loss to the Grizzlies. The Lakers have all of two wins to their credit and are jerking around minutes for first round picks. Brooklyn has four wins and no one on the roster that will be there for the next good Nets squad. New Orleans has four wins with an MVP candidate and consensus #1 fantasy pick. Meanwhile, Philly has their pick in the draft next year, the option to swap if need be with the clueless Kings, a shot at another great pick if the Lakers fall into some wins and get out of the top five, additional assets from Miami and OKC, and the lottery tickets of Saric and (sigh) Embiid.
Oh, and the reason why they've been close in the last five games? Robert Covington got healthy, and he's just the second or third best player on the roster; he's going to be part of this team when they are good again. Isiah Canaan is a sieve, but one with range, and when he's hitting, that's a tolerable bench scorer. TJ McConnell can't guard anyone, but he's actually a point guard, and maybe some of that rubs off on Tony Wroten, who should be back soon and is just a brain translant away from being actually good. Okafor is shooting 68% from the line, which looked like it was going to be a real problem before he actually took the court, and he's got the post game of a 10-year veteran. Noel is, when healthy, one of the ten best defensive players in the league, and can guard smalls on the perimeter with his freaking hand speed. They drive me nuts with turnovers, but everyone hustles, everyone cares, and I've watched many worse teams than this.
Had they won any of the last five winnable games, no one would be giving them any more grief than usual. If they had an ordinary bad record, no one could be making harebrained connections to the team's record and Okafor's teenaged jackassery.
Is everything skittles and beer? Hell no. It's the most miserable era in Philadelphia sports history -- serious, the highest winning percentage of any of the four local teams is the Phils, who were just the worst team in MLB in 2015 -- and it's threatening to just swamp the town in a New York media-inspired festival of malaise that prevents any free agent from ever coming here. Hinkie's inability to pull the trigger on anything that resembles a proven asset is starting to feel dogmatic, and I'm ready to fund a Kickstarter for anything that resembles a 2-way point guard. Seriously, Sam, call Houston and get Ty Lawson. Call whoever employs DJ Augustin this week. My kingdom for a Grevis Vasquez. I'd sell my soul for Shaun Livingston. You can't have smurfs on the perimeter and get killed by the opponent every time they make threes. Every one of those fourth quarter losses came when the opponent just turned up the defensive pressure and decided it was time to win, mostly by finally making some threes.
But the core truth of the Hinkie Era remains: what, exactly, would you have done differently in the past three years that would have actually been part of building a real contender? This franchise's assets were theoretical at best, with toxic contracts for poor players. They were trapped on the 25 to 35 win treadmill, probably the hardest thing in American team sports to escape. Every lottery has gone against them, and every time they've made the best of a bad situation. Hinkie could move assets and get mediocre with relative speed, but all that would do is just get us back on the treadmill.
Next year, maybe they finally get the pick they need. Maybe Saric and Embiid actually show up and play. Maybe Hinkie overpays for a player who wants to lead them out of darkness. I'd break the bank for Bradley Beal. Mike Conley would be dead solid perfect as the shepherd to a bunch of bigs. Someone's going to give Harrison Barnes big coin, and it looks like he can do a lot more. Eric Gordon has been healthy for a while now, and can play. There are options, beyond drafting the best available athlete and not caring about fit. Signing a couple of guys who have been on good teams and finally having a bench that isn't an open audition to escape the D-League would be wonderful.
Anyway... deep breath. Tomorrow, I think they win. Then they'll win another 15 to 20 games over the rest of the season, and 30 to 35 the year after that, and God willing and they finally get some luck, 45 to 50 after that.
Because they aren't that bad now, and you just can't keep making the best available draft pick, and winning your trades, and finding guys who can play well in the second round and flotsam, and stay terrible.
There's a base here. There wasn't before. Hinkie's not perfect, but he's a hell of a lot better than anyone else with a GM job in Philadelphia.