By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Building an NBA team into a champion is not a linear process. Being lucky, including with ping pong balls in the draft lottery, is more than a small piece of the puzzle. There are hits and misses in the draft, like selecting Jrue Holiday or Rodney Carney. Hits and misses in trades, like acquiring Moses Malone or Andrew Bynum. And hits and misses in free agency, like, well, these have been mostly misses.
Scott O’Neil, the new CEO of the Sixers, knows about the hits and the misses, and is fine with all of it.
“We’re up for the roller coaster. We’re not going to pretend we are something we’re not. We’re just not,” O’Neil told the 94WIP Morning Show on Tuesday. “We’re authentic, we’re real. We’re going to try to live in the values of this city. This city is built on grit and toughness and hard-work and authenticity, and kind of telling you how it is and when it is. And that’s OK. We know who we are.”
O’Neil will officially start the job previously held by Adam Aron on July 16th. He’s worked for MSG Sports and the Philadelphia Eagles, and is a graduate of Villanova University.
Having traded Jrue Holiday on draft night (the deal will likely be announced officially on July 10th), general manager Sam Hinkie made a clear choice to rebuild. With rebuilding, comes losses. And with losses, comes a struggle to generate fan interest. Promoting a team that loses a lot of games isn’t an easy job, as Aron found out.
“The way we’re going to promote this team, is we’re going to try to get you to know these players. We’re going to ask for trial. And we’re going to ask you to come out and see them,” O’Neil said. “My job is to get you to know these players and fall in love with this team. I focus on the front of the jersey, not the back of the jersey, if you will. I think this is going to be a team that’s going to be exciting to watch. Is it going to be all smooth? No. Are we going to be the Heat? We’re not, that’s OK, but this city will fall in love with this team and this team will fall in love with this city. I will tell you, in this community, we will make a difference in this community. I think sports, more than anything, we have not only the opportunity, but the obligation, to make a difference in this city and we will with this team.”
The Sixers have not agreed to sign a player since the opening of NBA free agency discussions on July 1st, so the roster is an incomplete one. They are the only team in the league without a head coach. Still, O’Neil believes that Sam Hinkie has a plan, and he trusts him to execute it.
“This is definitely a process. When a general manager comes in a couple months before the draft, the full focus has to be on the draft. Obviously he was very active. I think he did a terrific job on positioning this team for the future. You can wallow in mediocrity in this league for a really long time, you sit in that six, seven, eight, nine, ten position and you cannot build a sustainability winning franchise that way,” O’Neil said. “And so, he made really decisive moves and maybe it would be better, certainly for the media, if he come out for sure, I can grant you that. I can tell you, sitting on the sidelines, I was thrilled with the moves. I think this team is positioned very strongly, so in terms prioritization in the draft being number, then it’s like you know how this works, you know the system, you’ve been around a long time. Then we get right into the summer camp. He wants to see if these guys can play and who can play. Along the way now, he’s starting to interview coaches. I certainly don’t have to speak for Sam [Hinkie], with a team that’s going to have a lot of young players and is going to be developing this year, I think he spent the time in the right place. I’m certainly sure that we’ll get a coach, and we’ll get the guy he wants, and it’s going to be a guy that is heavily focused on player development.”
The process of rebuilding the Sixers has begun, with a goal in mind. How, and when they reach that goal is going to be the roller coaster that O’Neil expects. Whether he, and the rest of the franchise can hold on as tight during the lows as they do the highs is the question.