With all signs pointing to a monster junior season, let’s revisit the Philadelphia 76ers’ absolute heist of Dario Saric from the Orlando Magic.
When Rachel Nichols and Stephen Jackson asked Joel Embiid about his backcourt mate Dario Saric on a recent episode of ESPN’s The Jump, live from the Philadelphia 76ers media day ‘The Process’ did not mince words.
While this may simply be a teammate looking out for one of his own, if you’ve been keeping up with the Sixers this summer, and religiously listened to that team’s media day coverage looking for any interesting tidbits to relay, it seems like the entirety of the 76ers Training Complex is buzzing with blissful anticipation as to just how big a step forward the do-it-all Croatian forward will take going into his third professional season in the NBA.
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While Saric’s development will certainly be a major storyline to watch over the next month, as the NBA season inches closer and closer with each passing day, it’s crazy to think that Dario wasn’t even an original 76ers draft pick. Though it’s been almost half a decade since he was initially drafted back in 2014, Saric initially walked across the stage to shake Adam Silver’s hand with an Orlando Magic cap on.
Sure, he was only a member of the Magic for a few minutes, but thanks to some shrewd maneuvering by Sam Hinkie, not only did the Sixers get their guy, but they also stole an additional first round pick from Orlando, standing them with a can’t shoot point guard that would effectively cripple the team’s offense for years to come.
Though it may not go down in history as one of the all-time greats, like Danny Ainge‘s franchise-crippling Boston-Nets deal that’s helped to transform the Celtics into a potential dynasty, or even Hinkie’s now signature move, flipping cap space for Carl Landry, Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, pick swaps and the Kings‘ 2019 unprotected first round pick, it did set the 76ers up for a very effective starting five with the potential to get a whole lot better moving forward.
So, how could the Magic let this happen?
Well, easy, they really wanted Elfrid Payton, and let the world know it.
After reportedly being aware of the Magic’s affinity for Payton, Hinkie called up the Magic with 30 seconds left to go on the draft clock, and convinced then-GM Rob Hennigan to trade the 12th overall pick (Hinkie’s man Saric), the 76ers original 2017 first round pick (traded away in the Andrew Bynum deal) and a 2015 second round pick (Richaun Holmes) for their man.
Now granted, there was no way of knowing how this would all work out in the waning seconds of the Magic’s draft clock, but in hindsight, could you imagine trading Payton for Saric straight up, let alone also securing the rights to Holmes and Jayson Tatum? That’s insane!
Could you imagine a Magic squad with a starting five highlighted by Jonathan Isaac, Tatum, and Saric? Boy, that lineup could have done some damage, regardless of who ended up at point guard.
To make matters worse, after effectively wasting the better part of four years trying to make an offense work while masking Payton’s lack of a shot, the team ultimately flipped their busted point guard to the Phoenix Suns on the trade deadline for a future second-round pick.
While Jackson could develop into a solid player, he may not even be the best professional athlete named Justin Jackson when the day is done, let alone a proven starter with firing all-star potential.
And Payton? Well, after putting together a forgettable second half of the season in the desert, Payton was not retained by the desperate Suns, and ultimately signed a one-year deal to join the Pelicans, in the hopes of replacing Rajon Rondo with a cheaper, younger option.
Man, Sam Hinkie is a freakin’ genius, right?
Well, as we all know, back in 2014 Hinkie was all about asset acquisition and building a team with the best pieces long-term.
Saric fit that bill to a tee.
Even though Saric was present at the draft, it was common knowledge that the Croatian point forward had just signed a new deal to play with the Anadolu Efes, and would have to spend at least two more years in Europe. This extra time would effectively push back the clock on his rookie salary by as many as three years, and potentially keep him locked in on a cost-controlled rookie deal through the 2019-2020 NBA season.
A perfect scenario for Hinkie.
While no one would have faulted Hinkie from simply selecting Saric 10th overall, he made the calculated risk that the Nuggets would look elsewhere with the 11th pick, leaving their man on the board at 12, where the Magic would pay a premium to lock up Payton. Though this move could have easily backfired, leaving the Sixers with a pair of point guards with no outside shot, it didn’t, and Hinkie’s gamble has paid off better than anyone could have ever hoped.
Without this move, the 76ers obviously wouldn’t have Saric, but they also likely wouldn’t have Markelle Fultz ether, as the team flipped their reacquired first round pick to the Celtics to secure his draft rights. So, just to be clear, the Philadelphia 76ers locked up not one, but two of the players Elton Brand described as potential developmental superstars thanks in large part to Rob Hennigan’s infatuation with Elfrid Payton. What a world.