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The Sixers branding problem won't matter when they start winning

Free agents don't want to sign with Philadelphia right now. That's fine, because the Sixers don't want them. Everything will change when they start winning.

The Philadelphia 76ers had another very Philadelphia 76ers summer.

For the third straight offseason, GM Sam Hinkie has followed his blueprint, which calls for the 76ers to not participate in the offseason in the traditional sense. The blueprint calls for one or more lottery picks and up to 14 second-round picks in the draft, plus liberal renting of the team's cap space in exchange for more second-round picks. But while more traditional NBA GMs are wooing free agents big and small, Hinkie just looks for opportunities to leverage assets that will not make a difference until a year or two from now when the blueprint calls for action.The Sixers are famously just not interested in winning right now. It's not a part of the blueprint, and is in fact counter to the blueprint.

Plenty of ink has been spilled about this situation. In a general sense, what Hinkie is doing is completely valid and probably smart. (It might even be considered brilliant when all is said and done. We'll see.) But Hinkie's blueprint is also controversial for obvious reasons. Philly isn't the first team to tank. It is the first team to tank for three straight seasons by design. It is the first team to completely abrogate competitiveness for three years. Naturally, those steeped in basketball tradition have problems with it.

I don't want to belabor a bad team, but what Hinkie's doing in Philadelphia remains highly interesting because it's so different. There are so many angles to consider. For instance, how do prospective free agents feel about the Sixers' process? Could Hinkie pull players right now even if that's what he so desired?

In this respect I found Jared Dudley's comments on the Sixers last week so illuminating. You can hear them on Zach Lowe's podcast, starting around the 39-minute mark. Dudley, who will be a free agent in 2016, argues that because the Sixers have shown they aren't interested in winning, that wouldn't be a situation in which he'd chase a payday. He mentions the infamous four-year deals with team options the Sixers offer second-rounders, and he mentions the pursuit of high draft picks.

But here's the thing: Hinkie doesn't want free agents right now. One presumes he will eventually participate in free agency. When he does, when the Sixers are ready to augment the team with NBA-level veterans, this storyline will be dead. If all goes according to his plan, enough of those high draft picks will pan out and Hinkie will swing a nice trade or three to add some pieces.

In 2017 or so, the Sixers will be one of those hot young risers like the 2010 Thunder or the 2015 Bucks or the 2013 Warriors. And they'll have a real chance to pull free agents then.

I mention those three teams for a reason. The Thunder, of course, tanked out for a couple of seasons between Seattle and Oklahoma City to clear the books of a bevy of veterans and make way for what eventually became Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. As soon as the Thunder started winning, they became a valid option for free agents of all levels. Winning change everything.

The Bucks had the worst record in the league in 2013-14. They rebounded to make the playoffs in 2014-15. They signed one of the biggest free agents (Greg Monroe) this summer. Winning change everything.

The Warriors built a young core starring Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, tanked to secure the pick that would become Harrison Barnes and suffered no ill impacts on their way to the 2015 championship. Winning change everything.

(The flip side is just as true. To wit: the Lakers have won just as many championships as the Spurs over the past 16 years, but have had two bad seasons in a row. The Spurs have stayed good. The Spurs landed LaMarcus Aldridge. The Lakers struck out on everyone.)

If Hinkie's blueprint works and some combination of Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid (God willing), the Sixers' 2016 pick, the Lakers' 2016 pick and, I don't know, Robert Covington eventually win games, the future Jared Dudleys of the world won't hesitate to join the Sixers. This is an important concept to understand when considering the costs of Hinkie's blueprint.

Sure, free agents won't readily sign with an avowed loser. But the avowed loser doesn't want free agents. When the team does want free agents, it won't be an avowed loser any more. As such, how players not on the Sixers feel about the Sixers right now is wholly irrelevant!

Given that the Sixers have installed some level of internal culture to make sure players stuck there are reasonably happy -- "opportunity" is the buzz word there -- the whole branding-to-players issue isn't an issue at all. Branding to fans and customers is another story entirely. I presume that as with players, fans will rush back when there is a reason to do so. So in the end, assuming the blueprint works, the only real cost of Hinkie's famous process is time. Hinkie and his bosses are patient enough to let it play out. We'll see how it ends. But it's highly unlikely that permanent damage is being done here.