Three wins against legitimate NBA competition does not a contender make, and few understand this better than analytically-driven Philadelphia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie. That’s why, in spite of all the local and national hype, he might have stop to his own Cinderella story -- if regression to the mean doesn't get there first.
Philadelphia, picked to finish with 20 wins by ESPN's Summer Forecast panel, is off to a perfect 3-0 start. In their season-opener they beat the Miami Heat, sans Dwyane Wade. Then they earned a road win against the Washington Wizards -- without Nene. And Saturday night, they overcame a 20-point deficit to beat the Chicago Bulls. So what if Derrick Rose is still getting into playing shape? A win on the second night of a back-to-back against Chicago is downright impressive.
But what does this all mean? Are the Sixers the NBA’s "Moneyball" Oakland Athletics, on their way to a 20-game winning streak?
Of course not.
They’re not even close to contending with contenders. But as currently constructed they’re not finishing at the bottom of the standings, either. Not with Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young draining 3-pointers, Evan Turner attacking the rim and rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams putting up historic numbers. As strange as it seems, this roster might be too good -- and more importantly, too well-coached -- to lose 50-plus games.
This all puts Hinkie in a tough situation. Winning breeds confidence in a way no other form of training can duplicate. It's good for morale. It's good for development. And it's good for the franchise's reputation.
Every game the Sixers win, though, is a major blow to their most valuable asset: their 2014 first-round pick. Keep the roster together, and they could land in the middle of the pack. That’s not the ideal place to finish with the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes looming.
Given the strength of the 2014 draft class, waving the white flag and blowing up this already blown-up team might be the best path.
That means trading away Turner, who is finally producing like a No. 2 overall pick, but on the final year of his contract. The same goes for Hawes, whose deal also expires after this season. He’s playing defense, hitting 3-pointers, and playing some of the best basketball of his career. And lastly, there’s Thaddeus Young. He was Philadelphia’s most efficient scorer last season and now that he’s added a 3-point shot to his arsenal, he’s all the more attractive to potential trading partners.
It may seem counterintuitive to part ways with the players they’ve worked to build. But their value has peaked, making it the time to deal. Trading away their win-producers will not only yield an extra 100 or so ping-pong balls, but it will also bring in prospects and draft picks, who could develop into cheaper, younger versions of Turner, Hawes and Young.
The plan is to build a championship team; a few early regular season wins, however exciting, shouldn't change that.