Unexpected winning is fine, but long-term planning matters most

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The fact that the 76ers and Suns are off to surprising starts shouldn't change their strategy of building for the long term, even if it costs them an unexpected playoff run.

It's not easy to be accidentally good at something. Some folks are lucky enough to be naturally good at some things. The closest I can relate personally is the bizarre ability to pick up things with my right foot -- an unlikely gift that can nevertheless always be relied upon to turn around the atmosphere at any disappointing house party. Yet that is not the same. To accidentally be good at anything is quite the rare occurrence.

However, so far on this young NBA season, three teams have already accidentally been a bit too good. The two teams expected to be at the base of the Atlantic Division, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, currently co-lead it, Boston doing so on the back of a four-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns lead assumed Western Conference title contenders in the L.A. Clippers and Golden State Warriors in the Pacific division with a 5-2 record, with one of those two losses a close road defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder in which they led much of the game.

These wins are not accidental for the respective coaching staffs. Even when teams are tanking, coaches aren't. Coaches coach to win, regardless of circumstances, partly because it is innate within a coach's mantra to do so, and partly because a coach's job security is dependent on the win total of his team, even when the rest of the executive team is trying to keep that same win total down.

It is nonetheless accidental for the franchise as a whole. The front offices of these teams are trying to bottom out, to gut their teams and begin afresh by unsubtly forgoing talent for flexibility and draft successes. And they aren't bottoming out right now.

Philadelphia's utter determination to cut salary and start again has been well documented, and they make no apologies for it. In acquiring Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams in this year's draft, they theoretically landed two big pieces for this future, yet they still required a great deal more help and positioned themselves to go backwards in order to get where they'd ultimately like to be -- contention. The 76ers entered this season with only two players born before 1988 (Jason Richardson and Kwame Brown), neither of which they want.

So determined are the 76ers to go young that they didn't even do the common NBA thing of filling out their deep bench with "heady" veterans to be "on-court coaches" and whatnot. They eschewed this and instead took on unproven youngsters Darius Morris, Brandon Davies, Daniel Orton and Hollis Thompson in the hopes one or more of them develop into a rotation player for the future. As a youth movement, it's hard to be much more emphatic.

The only way it could be would be to deal their few remaining veterans. All the turnover over the summer left the 76ers with Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young in the weird position of being the third- and fourth-oldest players, the "veterans" and the longest-tenured players who, at the age of 25, could feasibly still be the newbies under different circumstances. By default, then, this makes them trade candidates, especially Young, one of the few Sixers whose contract runs beyond this season.

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Neither need be traded. No Sixers player does. But there are arguments for both to be. In the midst of his breakout season, and with an expiring contract that makes him a very palatable rental prospect for a competitive team, Hawes has value on the trade market. So does Young, a high quality two-way player tied down to a competitive price, yet to enter the prime of his career and also very good. Both might be sought after, especially Young, the sort of player who fits almost any team. Whether Philadelphia chooses to capitalize on this, however, is not something that should be affected by the surprising start. Even if it continues.

The fact that the injured and ineffective Jason Richardson is not tradeable, due to his committed salary for next season, perhaps makes the desire or perceived need to trade Young slightly stronger. Young is signed for two more seasons at more than $9 million per -- if Richardson's contract is a problem, dealing Young's might be the solution, as he is an asset rather than the burden of J-Rich. Dealing Young might not be the best move forward for the franchise, as he is a quality player who will not be easy to replace, and the acquisition of quality players is always to be prioritized.

Nevertheless, if an offer comes in that is more beneficial going forward, it must not be vetoed on account of what it would mean for this season. This is true even if we find an upstart Sixers team to still be .500 or so two months down the line. In a league in which many executives are on short-term contracts, it is all too easy to fall in love with the security that short-term success, even highly relative ones, bring. It must not happen here.

Similarly, Phoenix's strong start should not mean a change in philosophy away from the youth movement. Should their very early success continue and they find themselves firmly in the playoff hunt, the to-do list should nonetheless read the same as it did before the season tipped off. If he was to be shopped before, Channing Frye should still be shopped, and P.J. Tucker should be prepared to be packaged with him if need be. It is not a slant on the performance or talent of either of the pair. Indeed, if anything, it's an endorsement. If it looks as though they can help Phoenix with a playoff push, then they can help any contending team with theirs too, thus helping their value on the market.

There is nothing wrong with making the low playoff seeds if you do it the right way. If you do it in the manner that Philadelphia and Phoenix would potentially accomplish it, planning to completely overhaul the roster for the cheapest possible cost whilst putting together competitive quality in the interim, then, good. It means you already have half of the future foundation is in place. Tanking is ugly and poisons a franchise, and if it goes on for too long, it makes a team undesirable to players and fans alike and scythes down the revenue streams required to ever reverse the backwards direction. Teams determined to be bad, then, mustn't automatically deal anyone holding them back from this aim, because for all the lure that a top-3 pick brings, a team that loses heavily and often is the complete opposite of a lure in all other ways.

That said, the long-term aim must always be the priority despite any short-term success. If it is more conducive to the long-term future for players like Young, or perhaps Goran Dragic, to be traded, it should be for significant long-term assets, or (much less likely) as a part of a bigger deal for a significant future talent. And if it's more profitable to move Frye's salary rather than keep his merely decent contributions on the court, a potential playoff run must not change that.

The big picture must still come first. The accidental deviations must not change the plan.

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