NBA Asset Rankings: Where Some Teams Rebuild More Effectively Than Others
Four offseasons ago, Sam Hinkie walked into Philadelphia for his first day as the 76ers’ general manager, a job that coincided with the organization’s fallout from an Andrew Bynum trade that crippled the future of the franchise. Even with players like Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and a crew of other veterans, Hinkie was brought in to make changes within the club.
Today, who knows what Hinkie is up to. He has since resigned from his position in Philly, but his legacy lives on in the form of the “Trust the Process” motto. The coined phrase has taken over social media. You can find it plastered all over every Sixers-related post, and franchise cornerstone Joel Embiid even used the slogan as his self-proclaimed nickname.
The efforts of Hinkie and his diligence acquiring assets is a tale that will not soon be forgotten, but the journey to where the Sixers are today was not an easy one. The franchise spent a few seasons fielding borderline embarrassing rosters, with guys such as James Anderson starting 60-plus games, and others like Elliot Williams playing upwards of 17 minutes per night. “The Process” was a unique NBA experience that hurt the Sixers—and the league—for nearly half a decade, but it has put the franchise in a great position going forward. It hasn’t had a winning record in an 82-game season since the newest No. 1 pick, Markelle Fultz, was 7 years old.
But thanks to Hinkie and his patience, the franchise is flush with assets going forward.
If you read Part 2 of my asset-rankings series, you learned how certain front offices struggle managing their assets and turning them into team success. On the other hand, the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz (who finished Nos. 1, 3 and 4, respectively, in the team asset rankings) have had no trouble using their resources effectively. They have turned their assets into franchise success and deep playoff runs.
Winning is great for any club, but winning a bunch of games isn’t the only way an organization can achieve success. The other two outfits in the top five are the Denver Nuggets (No. 5) and the 76ers (No. 2). Neither of these teams have made the playoffs recently, but focusing on their front offices can put a different perspective on proper asset management.
Both Hinkie and Tim Connelly of the Denver Nuggets have morphed themselves into front-office specialists who deserve significant praise. They’ve each acquired an army of quality players on reasonable contracts, including the almighty Nikola Jokic.
Like the Sixers, the Nuggets have spent the better part of the last half-decade losing games. But make no mistake, neither of these franchises are losers. Like discussed in Part 2, the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks fall into that category, due to both their lackluster records and front-office incompetence. The Nuggets and Sixers are losers on the court, but not off it.
It all started happening for Denver in 2014, with the Nuggets acquiring Garry Harris and Jusuf Nurkic for Doug McDermott—trading one potential contributor for two pieces. That was a great move on its own, and yet it was the second-best acquisition made by a franchise that drafted Jokic the same night. The following season, the Nuggets were able to turn Ty Lawson into the pick that became Juancho Hernangomez. Not 12 months later, they obtained Will Barton, Thomas Robinson and the pick used on Malik Beasly for Alonzo Gee and Arron Afflalo.
That’s quite the haul of players over a two-year period to place youth around Jokic, and it’s why the Nuggets ranked No. 5 in the team asset rankings.
And yet, the Sixers did far better.
Ranking ahead of the defending champions on that same leaderboard is no easy feat, but the Sixers pulled it off. They obtained so many assets in forward-thinking trades over the last few seasons, and they are reaping the rewards now.
- Richuan Holmes, the No. 99 asset in the league, was drafted with a pick obtained from trading away K.J. McDaniels.
- Dario Saric was obtained, along with two second-round picks, in exchange for Elfrid Payton.
- Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot was acquired for Thaddeus Young’s expiring contract.
- Nik Stauskas was acquired from the Sacramento Kings in what might be the best trade of them all. Philadelphia also gained a first-round pick and swap rights on opening-round selections in 2016 and 2017 for…Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic.
The draft picks obtained along with Stauskas may well be the two that were traded to the Boston Celtics for the rights to select Fultz, so the deal in full could very well become:
- Philidelphia 76ers get: Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Nik Stauskas, Markelle Fultz
- Sacramento Kings get: Arturas Gudaitis, Luka Mitrovic
That is how you become a winning front office. The 76ers leveraged their cap space into obtaining young players and high draft picks, and it has paid off big time. Now heading into 2017-18, they have one of the best young cores in the league, and they still boast a treasure trove of other draft assets going forward.
The Sixers and Nuggets may not have won many games recently, but both franchises have a great chance of becoming powerhouses in the near future. Their patience over the years, combined with excellent talent evaluation, has them looking at brighter futures than the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers, two teams who won on the court but frequently lost off it.
Now, the next cycle of teams will try to replicate the actions of Denver and Philly; the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks are beginning that process already. They recently acquired young players and draft picks using various methods, and they have brighter futures as a result.
Denver and Philadelphia may not have had winning records the last couple years, but they may just have been winners in those seasons after all. Other teams who can exercise patience have the potential to see similar results.
Going forward, expect to see plenty of victories from these two asset-rich teams.
Follow Tony on Twitter @SuperDuperTone.