After the long wait, once the ominous clouds fade like pre-op anesthesia, when medical concerns layered on top of medical concerns turn into one of the early chapters of the great success story?
Sure, then the 76ers will have put a lid on the rim and spent weeks at a time laughing at opponents flailing to score inside on Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel, then the 76ers will march up the Eastern Conference standings with Michael Carter-Williams, 2014-15 rookie Noel, the 2015 lottery pick and 2015-16 rookies Embiid and Dario Saric, and what could possibly go wrong with that plan? Then the 76ers will be vindicated.
The timing is what makes the logic so flawed, drafting Embiid third with the understanding he could miss all 2014-15 recovery from foot surgery and, via Orlando, Saric at No. 12 knowing he will play in Turkey, both after Philadelphia acquired Noel and waited through a 2013-14 of rehab without getting on the court after knee surgery. Three top prospects, two drafts in a row, a lot of circling the airport.
It’s the wait, again. If the 76ers are willing to spend another season delaying the future, though, and delaying it more than a year ago singularly with the Noel pick, if they are willing to ask their fans to pay up for another race to the bottom, their vision is clear.
Power forward — Noel, arguably the best talent in the 2013 draft before he dropped to No. 6 at least partly from concerns over the torn knee ligament five months earlier.
Small forward — Saric, an intriguing prospect as a 6-foot-10 potential point forward who can rebound and has a very good feel for the game, but a big-picture investment knowing he said he will probably be in Europe two more seasons.
Center — Embiid, the best prospect in the 2014 draft if healthy but too much of a risk for No. 1 Cleveland or No. 2 Milwaukee after a fractured back and months later needing pins inserted in his foot.
Shooting guard — TBA.
Point guard — Carter-Williams, the clear choice as Rookie of the Year last season, still searching for his shot, the big concern coming into the NBA, but filled with promise on several other fronts.
That’s the 2016-17 the Sixers have sketched out, with Noel expected to be in summer league in Orlando starting the end of the week, Embiid missing at least half 2014-15 and very possibly all of it to reduce the risk of setback and then the following campaign for the arrival of Saric. Putting it that way, there is every reason for encouragement.
Putting it another way, the whole plan is built on medical bulletins from two big men coming off serious injuries. If Embiid and Noel are healthy, great. If not, Philly management goes deaf with people screaming at them about Sam Bowie and Greg Oden and a lot of other front offices shake their head and wonder why the 76ers had to be that aggressive.
Oh, and again: 2016-17.
“We felt in many ways very fortunate to have the set of circumstances happen that allowed a player like Joel to be in our position,” general manager Sam Hinkie said the day after the draft, as quoted by Philly.com. “We were very aggressive and we will continue to be very aggressive to find the best players for our team.
“A lot of hard work around looking into Joel and looking into his particular injury. You end up trying to triangulate from lots of different areas, we had many late night conference calls. We’d gather the opinions of surgeons around the country and gather the options of the people who treated Joel in person. In the end, we felt good. He is a remarkable talent in our minds, and only in this scenario does he fall to three.”
References the Saric pick as well, Hinkie said: “All these are calculated risks…. (A) lot of what we do is sleuthing for information, sleuthing for who has been working who out…. (W)as our intel solid? Yes. Was it airtight? No chance.”
Hinkie put his public image on the line based on the word of doctors, because Embiid and Noel were easy calls in basketball terms but a great risk in health, then turned into a risk times two. The Sixers will, of course, be patient with Embiid’s recovery, can have Noel play some center in the meantime, and then fit the two together nicely. Embiid has that much potential on offense despite just a few years in the game, a high ceiling born from remarkable instincts for someone with limited experience and the great footwork from his younger days in soccer and volleyball.
There is also the benefit from the closest thing to a productive second round as possible given the usual return from late picks. K.J. McDaniels (pick 32), Jerami Grant (39) and Vasa Micic (52) got mentions as first-round possibilities and could all stick, and not just because it’s the 76ers. Jordan McRae has a chance. And Philly acquired Pierre Jackson from the Pelicans for the 42nd choice. Jackson was chosen by the 76ers a year ago, before being sent to New Orleans as part of the Noel trade.