Last Thursday, the 2018 NBA draft took place in the Barclays Center, as the NBA world was introduced to its next wave of young stars. Profiled by some franchise-altering talent, the Philadelphia 76ers sat pretty at number ten overall after finishing the season with a 52-30 record and a trip to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
The lottery selection, courtesy of the 2015 three-team Michael Carter-Williams trade, finally conveyed after three years of protection and lucky ping-pong ball bounces for the Lakers. At last, the 76ers had firm control of the pick and were finally able to use it on a player of their choosing. After finishing as the No.3 overall seed in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers were expected to draft a player that could help the team win now.
Leading up to the draft, mock drafts and experts alike predicted for months that Mikal Bridges was going to be the pick for the Sixers. And for good reason. The Villanova product was a local kid, growing up in Malvern, PA and attending Great Valley High School. He then went on to play for the Wildcats and won two national championships, showcasing the ability to play tough defense and shoot the ball from three. The Sixers, who desperately needed another 3 and D wing after getting exposed by the Boston Celtics in the playoffs, seemed to be the perfect fit for Bridges. Not to mention his mother is the Vice President of HR for the Sixers.
The stars were aligning between the two parties, as the feel-good story of the draft seemed too good to be true. Then, as everyone expected, the 76ers selected Bridges with their pick and all was right with the world. After getting drafted, Bridges conducted an interview with ESPN’s Maria Taylor and couldn’t stop smiling. His parents, who stood behind him in the interview, were exuberant as his mother was so happy to have her son play for the team she worked for. Even though Michael Porter Jr. was still on the board and the Sixers were reportedly interested in the Missouri product, everyone was content with the pick, as it seemed to be the safest bet.
Then, about 45 minutes later, the 76ers traded Mikal Bridges to the Phoenix Suns for the Number 16 overall pick, Zhaire Smith, and an unprotected 2021 first-round pick belonging to the Miami Heat. Bridges, who was apparently talking to the media still in his Sixers hat, found out the news shortly after.
Wow. Talk about cold-blooded.
Social media blew up after the trade, with hundreds of angry Sixers fans furiously tweeting and posting away their displeasure. Everyone thought this was a bad move for the win-now Sixers as the feel good, storybook ending was no more.
Now, after this trade dropped, I too was a little bit confused and upset. But now that a couple days have passed, I came to the conclusion that the only bad move the Sixers made on that night was a PR move.
Does it suck that we traded the hometown kid? Yes. Does it hurt that he filled a Sixers need and would have been able to contribute right away? Sure. Does the whole Colangelo situation and now the firing of Molly Sullivan (NBC Philadelphia) add to the frustration this fan base already has with the team? Definitely.
But at the end of the day, one has to view this from the business perspective of the NBA and that’s exactly what interim General Manager and Head Coach, Brett Brown did.
He saw an opportunity to improve this team not only for the present but also for the future. Brown would go on to say after the draft that they viewed both Bridges and Smith as their “1A and 1B.” With both players still being on the board by the time of Philadelphia’s selection, Brown had a decision to make and he executed it perfectly. He drafted his 1A in Bridges then was able to flip him for his 1B and obtain that coveted unprotected 2021 first round pick.
Now people may view this, as “I can’t believe we traded for another draft pick. The process is over, we need to win now!” And I get that. Especially when after all these years we waited for that Lakers’ pick to convey, and the year it finally does, we trade it again for another pick three years down the line. Trust me, I understand the frustration.
But, if anything these last five years have taught us, it’s that we must keep trusting the process. We’ve waited on Noel, we’ve waited on Embiid, we’ve waited on Simmons, and now we’ve waited on Fultz. Being patient is in our blood, especially if you’re a Hinkieite. Collecting assets is what we do best, and if you look at the one we acquired for Bridges, you’d understand its value.
By the year 2021, the NBA is reportedly going to allow High Schoolers to enter the NBA draft, eliminating the one-and-done rule. That’s huge if you view it from the fact that we’ll have essentially two draft classes to pick from, and that Miami will most likely not be a good team at the time.
But also, if you listened to Brett Brown addressing the media after the draft, he made it pretty clear on what the Sixers’ plans are for the offseason.
“We are star hunting,” Brown said. “Or we are star developing. That’s how you win a championship.”
It’s pretty clear the Sixers are in win-now mode. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look toward the future. With acquiring another valuable asset, it gets us that much closer in trading for an established star player. Whether it’s Kawhi Leonard or someone else, the verdict still stands that having future draft picks can only help this team. And when you really break it down, if what we received from the Suns helps us land Leonard, doesn’t this mean we are in win-now mode? After all, winning the offseason is the first step to a championship run.
Oh, and by the way, Zhaire Smith is a solid basketball player. He’s raw, but oozing with potential. Yes, he only averaged 11.3 points per game, and only shot the ball from deep 40 times as compared to Bridges 236. But, he also made those shots 45% of the time, and showed that he could be a defensive anchor on a March Madness team. Keep in mind, Bridges is already 21 years old, while Smith is only 19 and just lead a Texas Tech team to a 27-10 record and their first Elite Eight appearance.
Give the young man some time and take a step back to analyze his game. You’ll see why so many draft experts labeled him as one of the players with the most potential in this draft.
“The fact that he has a foundation that is incredibly unique in his relation to his athleticism [made him 1B],” Brown said. “The foundation that he has in his character, the foundation that he has in his defense, the incredible growth that we are seeing in his shot, his ability to create his own shot. There is no mystery of how we want to play here in Philadelphia, nor is there no mystery on the direction our sport is growing … We believe entirely in time he has the ability to be incredibly unique, maybe even great.”
When looking at the Mikal Bridges/Zhaire Smith trade, it’s easy to see how people can be frustrated with this team. From a PR standpoint, the situation probably could have been handled in a better way. But ultimately, there are no good ways to handle this trade, especially when there are so many coincidental factors.
Yet, the Sixers managed to walk away from this deal with the player they always wanted and a future unprotected first round pick. Emotions aside, this was the right thing to do in order to help this team win now and the future.