May 18 2016

5-on-5: Who Do You Choose at No. 1?

On Tuesday evening, the lottery gods smiled upon Philadelphia, bestowing the No. 1 overall pick upon the Sixers. After a night of jubilant celebration, the Hoop76 crew got together to weigh in the lottery aftermath.

1. Soooo… Simmons or Ingram?

Bryan Toporek (@btoporek): Although Brandon Ingram is undeniably the better fit with the current roster, I’m going with Simmons here. The value of having that type of offensive creator at the 4 outweighs the concerns about his nonexistent jumper and his questionable attitude. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Brett Brown has long-lasting ties to the Simmons family, as USA Today’s Nicole Auerbach noted Tuesday, which should help the team vet any qualms about perceived issues with his intangibles. The Sixers can do no real wrong here — Ingram would be awesome, too — but I’m leaning Simmons slightly as of now. This is subject to change about 15,081,372 times between now and draft night, though.

Xylon Dimoff (@xylondimoff): Simmons is the more talented player at this point, and even though I’m sure I’ll change my mind countless times between now and June 23rd, I’m going Ingram. In the same way that Jahlil Okafor may be more individually talented than Kristaps Porzingis, Simmons’ flaws (shooting) provide both a team and league-wide fit issue that make me think twice. Sure, he could one day learn to shoot, but in the same mold as Jah’s defense, I’m not sure I feel like waiting around to see if that dream comes true. I know the mantra has been relentlessly “BPA or die” over the last few years, but that’s a reckless way of building a team when the talent gap between prospects is so small. Give me the guy who should fit seamlessly into not only this team, but also his position.

Eric Goldwein (@ericgoldwein): How about option C: Trade dow– No, yeah, I’m going with Simmons, and I couldn’t be less certain. Those that follow closely say he has the higher upside. I’m not sure how we can draw that conclusion — what exactly is “upside” anyway? — but Simmons seems to have the body and court vision to become a superstar.

That said, Ingram has plenty of tools too, and his shots are worth 1.5x more than Simmons’. And while I don’t think they should worry about fit, there are real costs in relying on future transactions to balance the roster. Selecting Ingram would curb some of the risk associated with having a frontcourt-heavy team.

Marc Nemcik (@marcnemcik): Brandon Ingram. I have been enamored with Ben Simmons as a player for a couple of years, but the talent gap does not outweigh both pre-draft concerns and roster fit. I don’t place too much value on the question marks coming out of LSU, but it seems very clear that Simmons is set on forcing his way to Los Angeles. Simmons could make it very difficult on the Sixers in regards to working out for them. Ingram is a tremendous shooter and has the competitive edge that makes up for marginal talent differences.

2. How bummed are you not to get the Lakers’ pick?

Toporek: I’d be much more bummed if the Sixers didn’t get No. 1. I’m not thrilled that the Lakers get to pick up the sloppy seconds of the Simmons-Ingram debate, seeing as they still owe a top-three-protected first-round pick to the Sixers next summer. A core of Ingram or Simmons, D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle could jump up the Western Conference standings with the addition of an impact free agent or two. That said, next year’s draft class is supposedly far deeper than this one, so even a pick in the 6-8 range could be better than No. 4 in 2016. And who knows? Maybe the pressure to win now forces the Lakers’ front office into some boneheaded moves that backfire magnificently, leading to No. 4 next year?

Dimoff: I’ll admit, I was a bit disappointed to not bring home a little extra to accompany our shiny new no. 1 pick, but this scenario seems by all accounts favorable. People who know way more about teenage basketball players than I claim that next year’s draft already looks to be a real banger, and I’m not exactly shaking in my boots that Los Angeles will take a huge leap by way of a rookie Coach Walton, potentially 20 DeMar DeRozan shots per game, and the Lakers youngins fighting off Byron Scott PTSD.

Goldwein: Not at all. The Sixers suddenly have a lot of young players, and not a lot of minutes to go around. There’s not a consensus can’t-miss prospect that would’ve been left at four or five, and it’s not as if the pick disappears. A top-3 protected 2017 1st or an unprotected 2018 1st is a worthy consolation prize.

Nemcik: I was practically convinced that Los Angeles or Boston would jump Philadelphia to snag the top pick. Finally having the first pick is sufficient enough for me. Knowing that the Lakers will predictably provide the Sixers with a great selection in 2017 or 2018 also helps.

3. If the Celtics are shopping No. 3, what would you give up for it?

Toporek: I’d seriously consider moving Okafor for No. 3 straight up. If they’d add either Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley or Jae Crowder with No. 3 for Okafor, I would make that deal in 0.1 seconds. If they wanted Nerlens Noel, I’d insist on either Smart or Crowder + No. 3. And if they wanted Joel Embiid, I’d tell them to dunk their heads into the Charles River like they were crates of tea during the Revolutionary War.

Dimoff: With Bryan (Toporek, never Colangelo) here on all counts. The Jah-for-3 straight-up deal presents a bit of flawed logic in that Colangelo would be giving up a big in Okafor for presumably another in the third pick (Dragan Bender), but Bender’s skillset presents an easier fit with either of BenGram whereas keeping Jah in place requires to further move some parts around.

Goldwein: This all depends on what the Sixers think of the available prospects. If they’re intrigued by any of the guards — Kris Dunn, Jamal Murray? — then I’d consider giving up Noel and change (OKC 1st, etc.). Would Boston be up for that? Doubt it, but I don’t see another team bringing much more to the table. And that’s the beauty of having all the assets.

Nemcik: The Celtics are likely looking at a veteran player in return for their pick. If they are nonetheless interested in one of the Sixers bigs, I’d deal either Noel or Okafor as the centerpiece of a trade. Kris Dunn or Jamal Murray are satisfying results in that scenario. Dragan Bender is excellent, but there isn’t much of a point in pursuing that.

4. Is this a validation of The Process?

Toporek: Yes and no. Obviously, winning the No. 1 pick is a validation of the theory that with enough cracks near the top of the lottery, the odds will eventually be in your favor. So, in that sense, yes, Hinkie’s approach looks far better right now than it would had the Sixers fallen to third or fourth on Tuesday. That said… cashing in on a 26.9 percent chance isn’t undeniable proof that the Process supporters were right all along. The odds were still significantly in favor of the Sixers falling. If anything, the focus shouldn’t be on the upper echelon of possibilities — it’s the fact that no matter what, the Sixers weren’t sinking below No. 4 by virtue of having the worst record. Winning the No. 1 pick is great, but being virtually guaranteed a top-five pick three years running is even better.

Dimoff: No, because if you needed this as validation, then you weren’t paying close enough attention. The Process was about giving yourself the best possible chance to achieve your goal — in this case, the no. 1 pick — and whether tonight brought us the first or fourth pick, the Sixers achieved those chances either way. Long live Sam Hinkie (who is still totally alive, by the way).

Goldwein: NO. Sam Hinkie tried to put the Sixers in position to acquire elite talent by exploiting the NBA’s perverse lottery system and acquiring a ton of ping pong balls. Hitting the jackpot on the third spin says nothing about his strategy. Neither did missing last year’s No. 1 (Karl-Anthony Towns) or Andrew Wiggins the year before.

Nemcik: No. The top pick is one of the accomplishments of The Process, not a validation of an entire philosophy. The goal was always to be in the optimal position for this outcome to occur. Process enthusiasts never needed any validation.

5. Summarize your reaction to lottery night in one GIF.

Toporek:

RonSwansonDancing

Dimoff:

 Beyonce

Goldwein: Bending the rules, but here’s a video:


Nemcik:

YasQueen

May 17 2016

The Definitive 2016 Sixers Draft Lottery Primer: 1, 4 (?), 24, 26.

The 2016 draft lottery — Sixers Twitter’s Finals Game 7 —  is finally here. This is THE single most important night of the Sam Hinkie era, even if Hinkie isn’t a part of the franchise anymore. His legacy and the team’s fate will be determined by what is essentially a coin flip.

Because lottery-related stress has already driven me to the brink of insanity, I’ll be conducting a self-interview breaking down everything you need to know.

Explain the lottery to me.

The CliffsNotes version: Each team gets a certain number of four-digit combinations of pingpong balls based on their final place in the regular-season standings. By virtue of finishing with the league’s worst record, the Sixers have the highest number of combinations for the first time in the Hinkie era.

Fourteen balls are placed into a lottery machine, numbered 1-14, and four of them will be selected randomly to decide which team wins the No. 1 pick. Whichever team has that four-digit combination—the order of the numbers doesn’t matter—will receive the first overall selection. That process will be repeated for the second and third overall picks until three different teams have their combinations selected. (If the team that wins the first overall pick has its combination selected for No. 2 or No. 3 as well, that pick is re-drawn until a new team’s combination appears.) From No. 4 onward, the remaining lottery teams are organized according to their win-loss records (with the worst going fourth, second-worst going fifth, etc.).

Confused? Watch the drawing from last year to see how it works.

When will we know which pick the Sixers have?

The drawing itself typically takes place around 7:30 p.m. ET. The lottery show begins at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. By 8:30, you should either be drinking champagne or drinking your own tears, depending on what happens.

What are the odds of the Sixers winning each pick?

Per LotteryBucket.com, here are their odds of landing each pick:

No. 1: 26.9 percent

No. 2: 22.6 percent

No. 3: 18.2 percent

No. 4: 32.3 percent

They have a 49.5 percent chance of getting a top-two pick — likely Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram — and a 67.7 percent chance of landing in the top three. There is no chance of them finishing below fourth.

Here’s the math: Since the Sixers had the league’s worst record, they would ordinarily have a 25.0 percent chance of finishing first, 21.5 percent of second, 17.8 percent of third and 35.7 percent of fourth. Thanks to Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings, though, their odds of finishing with each of the top three picks are slightly higher.

If the Kings land a top-three pick and finish ahead of Philadelphia in the lottery, the Sixers can swap first-round picks with them. (According to Sports Illustrated‘s Jake Fischer, they’ve already submitted that request with the league, pending the outcome of the lottery.)

What about the Lakers’ pick?

If the Los Angeles Lakers fall outside of the top three, their first-round pick conveys to Philadelphia. The Lakers have a 19.9 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick, 18.8 percent of No. 2 and 17.1 percent of No. 3, which adds up to a 55.8 percent overall chance of them retaining their first-round pick.

There’s a 31.9 percent chance of two teams jumping the Lakers, pushing them to fourth, and a 12.3 percent chance of three teams jumping them, causing them to fall to fifth. They cannot finish lower than fifth. So, the odds are slightly less than a coin flip that the Sixers walk out of the lottery tomorrow night with not one but two top-five picks. There’s just shy of a 25 percent chance of the Sixers getting a top-two pick and the Lakers’ pick, per Lottery Bucket.

An NBA spokesman told Fischer that if the Lakers pick falls to No. 4 or No. 5 and conveys to Philly, the Sixers logo will show up on the card with “from Lakers” written at the bottom. Pray for that small text, friends.

What’s the best-case scenario?

The basic answer: Walking away with the No. 1 (either via the Sixers or Kings winning the lottery). There’s some argument as to whether Sixers fans should want the Lakers pick to convey this year or roll over to next year, given the dearth of franchise-caliber talent beyond the top two selections in this draft class. Basically, it boils down to a matter of preference: Would you rather have the No. 4 pick in a weak draft or gamble on getting somewhere in the No. 6-10 range in what appears to be a stronger draft class?

Between the Lakers’ hiring of Luke Walton and the $60-plus million of cap space they’re set to have this summer, the latter option is fraught with risk, which is why I’ve come around to Team Land The Pick Now. If the Lakers sign, say, DeMar DeRozan and Hassan Whiteside in free agency and pair them with D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and the top-three pick they retain, that team could perhaps cobble together 35-40 wins next season, thus pushing the pick they owe to the Sixers into the late lottery.

If the Sixers win the No. 1 pick (either via their own lottery combinations or Sacramento’s), there will be a 13.4 percent chance of them also receiving the Lakers’ pick at No. 4, per Lottery Bucket, and a 0.5 percent chance of them getting No. 5 from L.A. If Philly falls to second, there’s a 10.6 percent chance of L.A. dropping to fourth and a 0.5 percent chance of the Lakers plunging to fifth.

The Kings winning the No. 1 pick could kill two birds with one stone, as they would leapfrog the Lakers, thus requiring only one other team to jump L.A. for that pick to convey. (Also, the comedic value of the Kings winning the lottery only to send that pick to Philadelphia is too great not to happen, right?) From there, the best-case scenario would be a random Western Conference team winning No. 2 (Denver, perhaps?) and the Sixers dropping to No. 3, thus preventing the Kings from having a shot at either Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. Remember, the Sixers can swap first-round picks with Sacramento next year as well, so depriving them of franchise-changing talent is a must.

TL;DR version: Root for the Lakers to fall to No. 4, the Kings to win the lottery and the Sixers to fall to No. 3, thus depriving Sacramento of landing Simmons or Ingram. Comedy abound.

What’s the worst-case scenario?

The Lakers win No. 1 and the Sixers fall to fourth. Not only would the Sixers be forced to settle for a prospect who isn’t likely to radically change the direction of the franchise, but their future pick entitlement would become that much weaker.

Which prospects should we care about?

If the Sixers receive the No. 1 pick, the debate will come down to Simmons vs. Ingram. Simmons remains the prohibitive favorite for the top spot in large part due to his surreal passing ability, but concerns about his nonexistent jump shot and his attitude have instilled some doubt about whether he should be the consensus No. 1. Ingram looks like a better fit with the Sixers’ current core, as he’s a much better shooter than Simmons, but his rail-thin frame may hinder his ability to make an immediate impact upon joining the league this fall.

Basically, there’s no wrong answer here. Both players are excellent, and Sixers fans should be happy with either. If Lady Luck does bestow the first overall pick upon the City of Brotherly Love, we can have endless Simmons-vs.-Ingram debates over the next month, but first thing’s first: Without getting No. 1, that discussion becomes moot.

If the Sixers end up at No. 3, Dragan Bender would likely fit the “best player available” mold, but selecting the 7’1″ Croatian would only further complicate an already crowded frontcourt. Thus, Providence point guard Kris Dunn and Kentucky combo guard Jamal Murray are the two names to keep in mind. Murray is a better shooter than Dunn, having knocked down 40.8 percent of his 277 three-point attempts as a freshman this past season, but Dunn is a more traditional point guard, having racked up 453 assists across his junior and senior campaigns. Given the Sixers’ desperate need for reliable backcourt contributors, whether at the point or at 2-guard, either player makes sense.

Oklahoma senior Buddy Hield also looms large as a possible Sixers target in the 3-5 range (either with their own pick or the Lakers’ first-rounder). The John R. Wooden National Player of the Year averaged an eye-popping 25.0 points on 50.1 percent shooting this past season while knocking down a career-best 45.7 percent of his 322 three-point attempts. He’s already 22 years old, raising questions about how much more he’ll develop—particularly in comparison to the 19-year-old Murray—but Hield would immediately become the Sixers’ most proven backcourt scorer if the team does draft him.

Some combination of Simmons or Ingram at No. 1 and Dunn, Murray or Hield at No. 4 or 5 (via the Lakers) is the dream. From there, it’s mostly a matter of individual preference.

What else do we need to know?

Regardless of what happens at the lottery, there’s no guarantee the Sixers will actually make that selection (or those selections) during the June 23 draft. At the recent NBA scouting combine, new team president Bryan Colangelo told reporters the Sixers will “look at everything” with regard to their draft picks once the lottery determines where those selections fall. “We’re just not good enough right now as a team to hold anything back,” he added.

Before working yourself into a cold sweat imagining Colangelo trading the No. 3 pick for Andrea Bargnani, keep in mind the complete lack of substance in that quote. Were Hinkie around (and speaking to the media), he likely would have said something exactly along those lines. Until the order of draft picks is set, there’s no sense speculating what Colangelo will or won’t do with whichever pick (or picks) the Sixers end up with among the top five. It’s all too hypothetical for now.

The Sixers are also guaranteed to have two other first-round picks: No. 24 (via the Miami Heat) and No. 26 (via the Oklahoma City Thunder). The order of those picks is already set in stone since Miami and Oklahoma City made the playoffs, so the lottery will have no effect on either.

Which team’s bandwagon should we join when the Sixers fall to No. 4?

Minnesota. Have you seen Karl-Anthony Towns? He’s like Joel Embiid, except with two functional feet.

Speaking of which…

This has been your annual mid-spring reminder that nothing else matters aside from a healthy Joel Embiid.

That said… don’t fail us now, lottery gods.

Apr 18 2016

Sam Hinkie Wasn’t Blameless In His Professional Demise

It’s no secret many Sixers fans are furious about the recent events that ultimately culminated in general manager Sam Hinkie stepping down from his post. (Many of us are very much included in that group.) On the surface, it appears as though the team’s owners simply lost patience with Hinkie’s multi-year rebuilding model and began acting impetuously, first by hiring Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations (aka shadow emperor) in December, and then by attempting to hire a “basketball person” to complement Hinkie in the front office.

Before placing too much blame on the team’s owners for their recent rash of impulsive moves, we must acknowledge how two philosophical flaws in Hinkie’s way of doing things contributed to his professional demise.

First, by virtue of eschewing free agency to instead chase minimum-salaried players who could perhaps grow into long-term rotation members—see: Covington, Robert—Hinkie rubbed a number of agents the wrong way, as ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe touched upon in December:

Some agent agita was an inevitable byproduct of The Process. The Sixers don’t pay money for real NBA players, which means agents who represent real NBA players have to work a little harder to find commissions. Being the last stop before the Chinese league means agents are constantly beseeching you to take a shot on their guy — and getting pissed when you go elsewhere.

Lowe’s report was hardly the first time we heard rumblings about Hinkie’s strained relationships with agents. In October, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer cited one agent who “said he doesn’t want his max-level players in Philadelphia. He’s open to his mid-level players with the Sixers only if they overpay.”

According to Pompey, after the Sixers drafted Michael Carter-Williams in 2013, Hinkie had “35 voice messages from agents, stating that they had the perfect veteran backup/mentor for the rookie point guard.” All of those players “had one thing in common,” according to Pompey’s source: “They were all over 30 years old, unemployed, and were seeking over $1 million.” Rather than signing any of those players, Hinkie acquired Tony Wroten in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, which “disappointed agents looking for jobs for their clients.”

It’s difficult to get too up in arms about Hinkie’s refusal to play the game and give roster-spot handouts for agents’ less-appealing free-agent clients. After all, that roster churn did create opportunities for unheralded players such as Covington and T.J. McConnell to emerge as possible keepers off the bench. That wasn’t his only failure with regard to agent relationships, however.

In mid-December, Lowe wrote the following about Hinkie’s approach with agents:

Agents find Hinkie noncommunicative and stubborn. He has lost players, including K.J. McDaniels and Glenn Robinson III, over his insistence they sign four-year, nonguaranteed contracts, and he acknowledges he has probably waived players without first notifying their agents — a major irritant among player representatives.

That only echoed what he reported at the beginning of the season:

There are worries about Sam Hinkie’s reputation around the league. Agents whine that he doesn’t return calls and waives players without telling them first. People around Jorge Gutierrez complain that Philly promised Brooklyn it wouldn’t waive Gutierrez after demanding the Nets include him in the Andrei Kirilenko deal, only to waive him almost immediately; the Sixers deny making any such promises.

Hinkie’s decision to claim Thomas Robinson off waivers last February—after Robinson had reportedly agreed to sign a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets, provided he did clear waivers—likely didn’t do him any favors with T-Rob’s agent, either. In all fairness, we can’t definitively declare he made these decisions alone. It’s possible the Sixers’ owners established certain financial-related requirements, forcing Hinkie to get creative — claiming guys like Robinson and Sonny Weems — to follow them.

It was entirely within Hinkie’s rights to push the boundaries with regard to his handling of free agency and trades. The four-year, lightly guaranteed “Hinkie Special,” unexpectedly waiving traded players and claiming waived players are all allowed under the current collective bargaining agreement. However, continuing to run afoul of agents could have had calamitous effects once the Sixers did decide to take the plunge into free agency.

“We’ve tried to communicate clearly with agents, but that has been hard at times,” Hinkie himself admitted to Lowe in December. “We’ve had a lot of transactions. That’s hard. That has caused some angst. Things unfold quickly, and maybe too quickly in that sense.”

In January, Pompey reported Hinkie’s “reputation with agents is even starting to hurt him,” adding, “Sources say that [Jahlil] Okafor’s camp wasn’t in favor of him playing for the Sixers during the draft process.” Multiple sources told Pompey that “Hinkie wasn’t permitted to interview Kristaps Porzingis during his predraft workout in Las Vegas in June,” which Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed a month later with this telling anecdote:

Whatever happened, Miller didn’t make it easy for Philadelphia to draft Porzingis at No. 3. The Sixers wouldn’t be afforded Porzingis’ physical, nor get a private workout, nor even a face-to-face meeting. After most of the pro day executives cleared out of the gym in Vegas in mid-June, 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie lingered to meet with Miller. Hinkie stopped him in the lobby area and asked Miller about a chance to sit down and visit with Porzingis.

“You said that I would get a meeting with him here,” Hinkie told Miller.

“I said, ‘I’d try,’ and it’s not going to work out, Sam,” Miller responded.

An awkward silence lingered, the GM and agent, standing and staring. The Porzingis camp wanted no part of the Sixers’ situation at No 3. Miller couldn’t stop Philadelphia from drafting Porzingis, but he could limit the information they had to make a decision. And did. No physical. No meeting. No workout. The Sixers passed on Porzingis on draft night, clearing the way for the Knicks to select him.

The pro-Hinkie camp tended to gloss over reports about Hinkie’s strained relationships with agents, figuring that once the Sixers began willingly ponying up in free agency, all would be well. The team was going to have to overpay players regardless of Hinkie’s behind-the-scenes dealings with their agents because of how decidedly uncompetitive its on-court product was. No mid-level free agent would willingly take a discount to join a sub-20-win team, no matter how much larger his role would be. Lowe likewise expressed skepticism about agents’ tough talk, writing, “If offers for a B-level guy — some role player the Sixers think will fit its young core — are equal, then, sure, maybe some leftover hard feelings hurt. But if the Sixers offer a premium, are the agents really going to boycott? I’m dubious, and the Sixers’ strategy in many ways is designed to reduce their dependence on free agency.”

Thanks to Jerry Colangelo, we’ll never know how Hinkie’s relationship with agents would have affected the team’s ability to complement its growing collection of lottery picks this summer. The former general manager also didn’t do the Sixers any favors, however, by adamantly refusing to defend his series of maneuvers publicly, thus allowing a toxic perception of the organization to grow locally and nationally.

Hinkie’s “Process” — the shameless exploitation of the NBA’s twisted incentive structure regarding draft picks and teams’ abilities to retain their incumbent players — proved enormously divisive. Media members threw hissy fits just about every time Hinkie made a major move, accusing him of running a Ponzi scheme and kicking the can for job security (ha!), but the plan remained clear: accumulate assets that could help in the long term while disregarding wins and losses in the short term.

Throughout the first two-plus seasons of his tenure with the team, Hinkie intentionally remained behind the scenes, as he explained in the 13-page letter he wrote to the Sixers’ ownership group announcing his resignation (via ESPN.com):

There has been much criticism of our approach. There will be more. A competitive league like the NBA necessitates a zig while our competitors comfortably zag. We often chose not to defend ourselves against much of the criticism, largely in an effort to stay true to the ideal of having the longest view in the room. To attempt to convince others that our actions are just will serve to paint us in a different light among some of our competitors as progressives worth emulating, versus adversaries worthy of their disdain. Call me old-fashioned, but sometimes the optimal place for your light is hiding directly under a bushel.

In other words: Hinkie believed defending his incremental moves publicly would shine some light on the ultimate end game, giving competitors an advantage in their attempts to outfox him. Rather than explain why he was willing to part with an All-Star point guard in Jrue Holiday (who had undisclosed medical issues) or a reigning Rookie of the Year (who, as it turns out, was largely a byproduct of a pace-inflated system designed to make him look better than he actually is), Hinkie allowed media members to shape the local and national perception of him. Once the Sixers’ rebuild endured a few unexpected stumbles, from Embiid’s second foot surgery to Jahlil Okafor’s off-court troubles, that lack of communication contributed to his undoing.

Three ESPN.com writers—Kevin Arnovitz, Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne—cited Hinkie’s lack of communication as one of his biggest flaws when discussing his resignation. “The plan was always predicated on patience and an imperviousness to ridicule, and the Sixers let go of the rope,” Arnovitz wrote. “With better salesmanship, Hinkie might have been able to buy the plan a bit more time.” Stein added that “Hinkie hurt himself immeasurably through his reluctance to communicate,” while Shelburne noted, “He’s incredible intellectually, with bold ideas, but you have to translate those ideas to the people affected by them.”

As Hinkie’s rise to prominence and fall from grace was occurring at the Wells Fargo Center, a similar sports revolutionary, Chip Kelly, went through a nearly parallel timeline at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles’ hiring of the former University of Oregon head coach provided a jolt of excitement for the franchise, which had scuffled to 8-8 and 4-12 campaigns over the previous two seasons. That optimism proved prescient early on, as the 2013 Eagles exploded onto the scene with a scorching offensive performance on the opening-week edition of Monday Night Football and went from worst to first in the NFC East, culminating in a last-minute playoff defeat against the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card Round.

That immediate success emboldened Kelly to his detriment, as he began flexing his muscle within the organization. According to a former front office executive who spoke with Matt Lombardo of NJ Advance Media, Kelly reportedly gave scouts “no say at all” in the 2014 draft process, creating no shortage of hard feelings among the scouting staff. Kelly’s staunch belief in his system overriding talent also led the Eagles to release Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who immediately latched on with the division-rival Washington Redskins and has provided them with a valuable big-play threat when healthy. Though off-field concerns reportedly led to Jackson’s release, players of that caliber simply don’t become available on the open market. Kelly’s burn-all-bridges approach with Jackson was hailed at the time as a coach unwilling to put up with nonsense, but in retrospect, it was a precursor to the type of arrogance he would exude over the next two years.

After Kelly’s second season with the Eagles, he wrested control of personnel decisions from then-GM Howie Roseman. From there, he made a number of controversial decisions—from abruptly shipping Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo in exchange for rising third-year linebacker Kiko Alonso, who played for him at Oregon, to acquiring quarterback Sam Bradford from the St. Louis Rams in exchange for incumbent starter Nick Foles and a future second-round pick—all of which he painted as moves that would help the team take strides toward being a Super Bowl contender. Instead, the team stumbled to a 1-3 start and a 7-9 overall record, earning Kelly the ax after an embarrassing Week 16 loss to the Redskins ensured the Eagles would miss the playoffs for the second straight season.

Though the teams Kelly and Hinkie inherited were in notably different states—the Eagles already had stars such as McCoy and Jackson in place, whereas the Sixers had depleted their talent pipeline with the disastrous Andrew Bynum trade—both men were undone by similar blind spots. Kelly’s faith in his offensive system and his ability to control personnel decisions, presumably based on his time in charge of Oregon’s program, proved to be a debacle at the NFL level. As he learned the hard way, establishing relationships with players at the professional level is an entirely different animal than reigning over players in their late teens and early 20s.

Hinkie’s “Process” could well wind up succeeding—readers of this blog certainly hope it does, despite how the past two weeks have unfolded—but his inability to connect with behind-the-scenes power brokers likewise created a disastrous national perception of the Sixers that had unintended consequences. With the team planning a significant foray into free agency this summer, Hinkie’s miserable reputation with agents directly contributed to Colangelo’s hiring, which ultimately led to the events that unfolded in recent days.

Both Hinkie and Kelly could well learn from their mistakes during their time in charge of their respective Philadelphia franchises. Each could go on to experience great professional success elsewhere if they shore up those blind spots. Given the parallel rise and fall of both men, however, each will go down as a cautionary tale in Philadelphia sports history. They’re both living proof that even revolutionaries can be foiled if they refuse to acquiesce to certain conventions, as the “smartest man in the room” routine only works when the whole organization buys in — and doesn’t fold halfway through.

Apr 14 2016

Recapping Every Single Horrible Sixers Game

So you may have noticed that we haven’t been recapping games at Hoop76 this season. Sorry about that. But to make up for it and catch you up to speed, here’s a one-sentence summary of every single game — all 10 wins and 72 losses.

October 28th at Boston: L 95-112 – Jahlil Okafor receives the Rookie of the Year award.

October 30th vs. Utah: L 71-99 – The Sixers place Jahlil Okafor on the trade block.

November 2nd vs. Cleveland: L 100-107 – TJ McConnell, in an effort to outshine LeBron’s 25,000th career point, grabs seven rebounds.

November 4th at Milwaukee: L 87-91 – I wouldn’t say Jabari Parker is “in shape.”

November 6th at Cleveland: L 102-108 – LeBron James is not impressed.

November 7th vs. Orlando: L 97-105 – Nobody likes Jason Smith.

November 9th vs. Chicago: L 88-111 – Too much Phil Pressey.

November 11th vs. Toronto: L 103-119 – Anthony Bennett can’t decide where to get a cheesesteak.

November 13th at Oklahoma City: L 85-102 – Jahlil Okafor gets his first crack at his hero, Enes Kanter.

November 14th at San Antonio: L 83-92 – Rasual Butler learns a lot of new names.

November 16th at Dallas: L 86-92 – Dirk Nowitzki is too old for this shit.

November 18th vs. Indiana: L 85-112 – This kicked off the first “Process” Twitter debate of the season.

November 20th at Charlotte: L 88-113 – Brett Brown sends a condescending text message to Sam Hinkie, then announces that Nerlens Noel will come off the bench.

November 21st at Miami: L 91-96 – Brett Brown can’t catch a break.

November 23rd at Minnesota: L 95-100 – “I’m actually glad we didn’t get the first pick.”

November 25th at Boston: L 80-84 – Jahlil Okafor enjoys a quiet night in his hotel room.

November 27th at Houston: L 114-116 – Isaiah Canaan greets his old teammates, but nobody remembers him.

November 29th at Memphis: L 84-92 – This game sets the NBA back 25 years.

December 1st vs. Los Angeles Lakers: W 103-91 – Never a doubt.

December 2nd at New York: L 87-99 – Sixers fans are in denial.

December 5th vs. Denver: L 105-108 – This game started really early for some reason.

December 7th vs. San Antonio: L 68-119 – “Three years? No, you must’ve misunderstood. I said four months.”

December 10th at Brooklyn: L 91-100 – Thaddeus Young feels conflicted.

December 11th vs. Detroit: L 95-107 – We all got way too excited about Kendall Marshall.

December 13th at Toronto: L 96-76 – Nerlens Noel really likes Drake.

December 14th at Chicago: 96-115 – Brett Brown half-jokingly suggests to Jahlil Okafor “If you like Chicago so much, then why don’t you just stay here!”

December 16th at Atlanta: 106-127 – Jahlil Okafor literally walks away from defending a Paul Millsap dunk/I begin to question Sam Hinkie’s job security.

December 18th vs. New York: L 97-107 – Harvey Grant is so moderately proud of his sons.

December 20th at Cleveland: L 86-108 – LeBron James has no idea that JaKarr Sampson is also from Akron.

December 22nd vs. Memphis: L 90-104 – At least the Sixers don’t have to put up with Matt Barnes anymore.

December 23rd at Milwaukee: 100-113 – Wait, where did Phil Pressey go?

December 26th at Phoenix: W 111-104 – The only reason Jerry Colangelo was at this game was because it was blacked out on League Pass in Phoenix.

December 28th at Utah: L 91-95 – TJ McConnell and Nik Stauskas feel oddly comfortable.

December 30th at Sacramento: W 110-105 – Pick. Swaps.

January 1st at Los Angeles Lakers: L 84-93 – Richaun Holmes doesn’t miss Bowling Green one bit.

January 2nd at Los Angeles Clippers: L 99-130 – Jahlil Okafor’s dad yells.

January 4th vs. Minnesota: W 109-99 – “Karl-Anthony Towns is overrated.”

January 7th vs. Atlanta: L 98-126 – The most encouraging 28-point loss in NBA history.

January 9th vs. Toronto: L 95-108 – Although neither plays a minute, Sam Hinkie spends the entire game intensely staring at Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueria.

January 10th vs. Cleveland: L 85-95 – Even the Sixers want David Blatt fired.

January 14th vs. Chicago: L 111-115 (OT) – Jerry Colangelo says, “Hey, maybe we should offer this Butler guy a contract this summer,” as Sam Hinkie contemplates taking up smoking.

January 16th vs. Portland: W 114-89 – Nobody knows whether the Sixers 25-point win or Nicki Minaj and Meek Mill unexpectedly showing up is more surprising.

January 18th at New York: L 113-119 (2OT) – This was the only NBA game on TV for over an hour, meaning every non-Philadelphia media member got their one hour of Sixers for the year.

January 20th at Orlando: W 96-87 – “The Sixers are too good” is a statement I said out loud during this game.

January 24th vs. Boston: L 92-112 – Evan Turner is feeling himself more than usual.

January 26th vs. Phoenix: W 113-103 – The Sixers are undefeated when Nicki Minaj is in attendance.

January 27th at Detroit: L 97-110 – It’s truly unbelievable how bad Nik Stauskas is.

January 30th vs. Golden State: L 105-108 – The “Warriors are getting tired of the regular season” narrative takes off.

February 3rd vs. Atlanta: L 86-124 – TJ McConnell thought Rich Homie Quan was just a nickname for Richaun Holmes this whole time.

February 5th at Washington: L 94-106 – How have we not played the Wizards yet?

February 6th vs. Brooklyn: W 103-98 – Jahlil Okafor plays defense.

February 8th vs. Los Angeles Clippers: L 92-98 (OT) – Ish Smith takes this Chris Paul matchup too seriously.

February 10th vs. Sacramento: L 110-114 – Robert Covington is really excited for The Life of Pablo.

February 19th at New Orleans: L 114-121 – Nobody has any idea what to make of the Ish Smith trade.

February 21st at Dallas: L 103-129 – Jahlil Okafor scores the most pointless 31 points of all time.

February 23rd vs. Orlando: L 115-124 – How many points does Nikola Vucevic have to score for you to care?

February 24th at Detroit: L 91-111 – Nerlens Noel stops caring.

February 26th vs. Washington: L 94-103 – The two fastest point guards in the NBA unfortunately also play with two of the league’s slowest centers.

February 28th at Orlando: 116-130 – Jahlil Okafor is underwhelmed by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

February 29th at Washington: L 108-116 – Jerry Colangelo can’t remember which Grant Jerami is.

March 2nd vs. Charlotte: L 99-119 – Carl Landry introduces himself to Hollis Thompson.

March 4th vs. Miami: L 102-112 – Elton Brand plays!

March 6th at Miami: L 96-103 – Pat Riley is feeling really good about this season.

March 9th vs. Houston: L 104-118 – We took KJ McDaniels for granted.

March 11th vs. Brooklyn: W 95-89 – Sonny Weems has no idea what he’s doing here.

March 12th vs. Detroit: L 111-125 – Joel Anthony, the one who got away.

March 15th at Brooklyn: L 114-131 – Nobody can spell Bojan Bogdonavic’s name.

March 17th vs. Washington: L 94-99 – Haven’t we already played Washington enough?

March 18th vs. Oklahoma City: L 97-111 – Kevin Durant is a free agent this summer.

March 20th vs. Boston: L 105-120 – Jerry Colangelo really likes Carl Landry’s game.

March 21st at Indiana: L 75-91 – I was one of approximately 57 people in attendance for this game.

March 23rd at Denver: L 103-104 – How on earth is Will Barton not a Sixer?

March 26th at Portland: L 105-108 – Nobody, not even on the Blazers, has any idea who Luis Montero is.

March 27th at Golden State: 105-117 – Christian Wood replaces Pierre Jackson as the Sixers’ Cappadonna.

March 29th vs. Charlotte: L 85-100 – This is not what Elton Brand signed up for.

April 1st at Charlotte: L 91-100 – Nobody laughs at Isaiah Canaan’s April Fool’s joke.

April 2nd vs. Indiana: L 102-115 – Nobody knows that the 6’6” Nik Stauskas can dunk.

April 5th vs. New Orleans: W 107-93 – The calm before the storm…

April 8th vs. New York: L 102-109 – I didn’t watch this game. If Josh Harris won’t bother to take my intelligence as a fan seriously, then I won’t take his basketball team seriously.

April 10th vs. Milwaukee: L 108-109 (OT) – I didn’t watch this game. If Josh Harris won’t bother to take my intelligence as a fan seriously, then I won’t take his basketball team seriously.

April 12th at Toronto: L 98-122 – I didn’t watch this game. If Josh Harris won’t bother to take my intelligence as a fan seriously, then I won’t take his basketball team seriously.

April 13th at Chicago: I didn’t watch this game. If Josh Harris won’t bother to take my intelligence as a fan seriously, then I won’t take his basketball team seriously. (Unless they start winning.)

Apr 08 2016

5-on-5: Farewell, Sam Hinkie

1. Why are you so mad?

Bryan Toporek: The altering of the timeline is what gets my blood boiling the most. As Hinkie said on Zach Lowe’s podcast Tuesday, he asked the Sixers’ owners what route they wanted to go while interviewing for the job before delivering his tank-into-oblivion pitch. He presumably made each of his moves — particularly the Joel Embiid and Dario Saric picks in 2014 — with that long-term frame of view in mind. Suddenly shifting course after two-and-a-third miserable seasons, the second of which actually ended on an optimistic note (Nerlens beasted after the All-Star break, the team’s defense was shockingly competent) is total bush league. And that flip-flopping B.S. gives me very little confidence in the Colangelo-era Sixers moving forward.

Xylon Dimoff: Hinkie’s departure is surprisingly the least of my worries — I pretty much assumed at the time of Jerry’s hiring that the move wouldn’t sit well with Hinkie.

Part of my anger is obviously directed toward Jerry himself. What better way to undo the mantra initially instilled by The Process — an exhaustive search for the team’s head coach — than not even taking interviews for the job and hiring your own son within the hour. The message sent by Colangelo with this move is simple: he never intended on collaborating with Hinkie, he clearly had his own agenda in mind the entire time.

But where the bulk of my frustration lies is with owner Josh Harris. After being radio silent for the better part of two years (that’s a good thing!), we’ve seen an abrupt left turn from Harris and partners in recent months. Was he justified in being unhappy with a team that grabbed just 47 wins over three seasons? Of course! But allowing himself to get played by the Colangelos in the same mold that Donald Trump fools prospective voters with cute buzzwords — “basketball people” is the NBA’s version of “Make America Great Again” — is damn near terrifying. He gave up on a five-year plan three years in, how long will it take to tire of this plan? I can’t trust the owner of this team anymore, and therefore cannot trust this team.

Eric Goldwein:  Because I fell for the con. I never thought Josh Harris was some selfless guy, in it to make fans happy. But I did think that he was a competitor; someone interested not only in improving the value of his investment, but also in being part of a championship team.

Hiring Sam Hinkie — and pursuing the tank-oriented rebuild — was a sign that he had the patience to live through several losing seasons, and the stomach to handle the criticism that comes along with it. Or so I thought. Because 2.5 years in, he pulled the plug, replacing the man of science with the man of faith and his unemployed son.

Considering the new (NJ-funded) practice facility is set to open next season, it wouldn’t be surprise me if “Phase 2” — the Colangelo era — includes a sale of the team, which has almost tripled in value since he purchased it for about $270M five years. I should’ve suspected that was the endgame all along.

Rob Patterson: “Tough, passionate, fair, incredibly bright, and long horizon type investors.” That’s how Sam Hinkie described the ownership group in his introductory press conference a mere 34 months ago. After the lackluster end to the Doug Collins era there was a large segment of the fan base that was ready to stir it up and start fresh. Harris and Co. seemed to agree and it was no more obvious than by hiring one of the most intriguing young executives in the league.

They asked us to trust them. They asked us to build together with them. Not everybody within the fan base did, but a rather passionate subset of us did. A group so passionate that many outside the Sixers blogosphere referred to it as a cult. A passion that many owners around the league would’ve killed for, particularly for a team that was losing 60 games a year. It’s pretty unheard of.

They told us to stick around through the tough and uncomfortable times and yet when it was time for them to really stick to their guns they wilted. But what makes me even more mad than the fact that they abandoned a five year plan half way through was they way they went about it.

Just fire the guy if you’re unhappy with him. Don’t dance around the issue and try to claim you did everything you could to keep him around when you were actively trying to undermine and demote him at every turn. If it turns out that Colangelo was that leaked the resignation letter before Hinkie had a chance to talk to his staff I can’t think of a bigger snake in the grass in the league (maybe D’Angelo Russell). So at the end of year three I don’t see the tough, passionate, fair, incredibly bright, or long horizon type investors we were under the impression we had. Quite the opposite actually.

Drew Stone: I’m mad because the closest thing I’ve experienced to a religious awakening the last three years was stripped from me in the blink of an eye by a narcissistic “basketball” family installed by an ownership seemingly prepared to sell the team and bolt the country as soon as possible.

I’m mad at the two-faced Josh Harris, who three years ago said to Sam Hinkie “we should drive down to Disney World and have the party of our lives,” only to stop halfway through in South Carolina and say “you know, this seems nice, let’s just chill here.”

I’m mad -no, insatiably furious –  at the possibility of Brett Brown getting slaughtered, sacrificial lamb-style.

I’m mad at the borderline egomaniacal stance of Jerry Colangelo – that he didn’t see this decision coming from Hinkie whatsoever, yet was prepared to install his son as the new GM mere hours after Hinkie stepped down.

I’m mad at the articles headlined “Why The Process Failed” when the “Process” is a.) an abstract concept at best b.) still well-equipped to succeed c.) will be burnt for the sake of profit and resumed mediocrity at the first opportunity.

I’m mad because though few see it now, in the long term, this will absolutely set back big-name free agents from wanting to come to this team for years.

I’m mad because any sane ownership would have read Hinkie’s deliriously entertaining, scarily philosophical 13-page resignation letter and immediately cancelled Bryan Colangelo’s flight.

I’m mad that Hinkie’s resignation letter was only 13 pages, because it easily could have been a full-fledged novella.

But most of all, I’m mad because… Hinkie never made any promises. All he ever offered was a new, extreme perspective to the way a basketball franchise can be run. It enthralled those of us who got it, and it made covering a dismal franchise absolutely fascinating to write about in ways we never even considered before his arrival. No, it was the ownership who made grand proclamations of “Together We Build” and “This Starts Now” before ripping the carpet out from under our feet. I’m mad because there’s no elegant way to say what they did, which is completely cock-slap the fans who stood behind their false vision. I’m so mad that I’m not mad anymore. I’m incredibly disillusioned. And that is so much worse.

2. The downfall of the Sam Hinkie era in Philadelphia was ____?

Toporek: The Lakers taking D’Angelo Russell instead of Jahlil Okafor, like they reportedly had been playing on doing through much of the draft process, sent Hinkie into a draft-night spiral this past June. Rather than being able to fill the Sixers’ massive hole at point guard, Hinkie went with the presumptive best player available — or the player with the highest floor, at least — in Okafor. Failing to address that point guard void over the remainder of the offseason, via a trade or free agency, led to the 1-20 start, which created the pressure to hire Jerry Colangelo. Looking further back, though, I have to wonder whether not getting immediate returns from Embiid and Saric in 2014 led ownership to overrule Hinkie this past June. Okafor is just so antithetical to the type of player he seemed to prefer, I’m now more convinced than ever that he wanted to swing for the fences once more with Kristaps Porzingis but ownership denied him permission.

Dimoff: The Jahlil Okafor draft pick was likely the straw that broke the camel’s back — despite what you think of him as a player, his presence on the team this season set forth a disastrous series of events that makes a bad pick look worse now. But what seems to be the fatal flaw of The Process is the totality of how it was handled: Hinkie was essentially given $100 by ownership to go out for groceries and bring back the change, but he instead came back with exactly $100 worth of groceries. Now, he might’ve spent that $100 as efficiently as possible — look, he brought back enough rice and canned food (2nd rounders) to last us years! But sometimes you just want the damn change (fans in seats) back, Sam, even if it comes at the expense of efficiency.

I hope that makes sense, because nothing makes sense to me anymore.

Goldwein: A media miscalculation. There’s a few roster-related things he could’ve done better, even if it’s way too early to draw any conclusions about his draft picks. But sitting out free agency is what drew the ire of media and fans alike. Perhaps a Cory Joseph/Channing Frye signing would’ve gotten media off his back.

But then again, that’s the exact edge that Hinkie was trying to create. Avoiding the low-upside prospects and staying at 10-20 wins — versus say, 25 — could’ve been the difference between Andrew Wiggins and Aaron Gordon; Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor; Ben Simmons and Buddy Hield. Without that gamble, the Sixers are just like the other, less infamous tanking teams, like the Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic. Without that gamble, The Process does not exist.

Patterson: While, like a large contingency of the fan base, I never felt good about the Okafor pick, I think it ultimately came down to Joel Embiid being the one that cost Sam his job.

It wasn’t a bad choice at all and it’s a choice I’d likely make again, but Embiid missing the second season is what may be the ultimate demise of The Process. If he doesn’t break his foot again I believe there is a very good chance that the Sixers don’t draft Okafor (or at least move him on draft night). There is a good chance they don’t start the season on yet another historic skid. There is a good chance there are no drunken haymakers thrown in Boston which could mean the Colangelo’s are never part of the equation.

There were certainly some things Hinkie could’ve done differently and he’s been very open about that fact, but Embiid was the keystone in this whole plan and without him on the floor an already difficult rebuild was pushed back far enough for ownership to get antsy and have an excuse to change the plan.

Stone: Luck, or lack thereof. Though I’m glad it exists in this world, you don’t need a 13-page letter to explain Hinkie’s strategy. It’s fucking simple: put yourself in a position to statistically improve your odds of landing a superstar. In time, be it two, five, or even ten years, it becomes more and more statistically possible to achieve that as long as you keep putting yourself in the same position. Hinkie never lied; he did exactly that, consistently and unwavering. And yet to this point, it hasn’t manifested itself in a number-one pick or a superstar. That’s just dumb luck, which, as he himself stated in his letter and on Lowe’s podcast, is part of any process in life. If there’s any criticism that could arguably be fairly held against Hinkie, it was his constant emphasis on drafting value over position of need, which led to a massive roster imbalance and, eventually, the impatience from ownership that sealed his fate. He probably figured he had a couple years to work on that though.

3. Say the Sixers win a top-two pick in the lottery, where do you see this team a year from now?

Toporek: They’d be at least a 30-win team next year, but it’s not solely because of Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. If Embiid returns and Saric comes over, they’re adding three lottery picks in one offseason. If the Lakers’ top-three-protected pick conveys, that’s a fourth. They also have two first-rounders in the 20s (via Miami and Oklahoma City), and that’s before even getting to free agency, where they have upwards of $60 million to spend. They’re going to endure a drastic overhaul this summer because Hinkie set the stage for it over the past three years. Neither Colangelo deserves one iota of credit for that.

Dimoff: “DeRozan and the Sixers make first-round exit as Cleveland sweeps series.”

Goldwein: 30 wins. They are going to invest in free agency, and pay a premium for known quantities. (I thought that was the plan well before the Colangelo hire). That’s a good thing, if done responsibly, and that should get them out of the No. 30 spot, as should the development of the current roster. Where it gets tricky is the implementation of the 2016 draft class along with Joel Embiid and maybe Dario Saric. Rookies don’t help teams win games — and in many cases, they can be detrimental to short-term success.  

Patterson: Significantly better. Looking at the roster and the assets we knew that with the influx of talent coming in this summer from pieces already acquired (Embiid, Saric, cap space, and more top picks) it was going to be hard to be historically bad again and I don’t think that’s changed. I have little doubt that a veteran front office like the Colangelo’s could put together a semi-decent team in short order with this amount of talent and the stockpile of picks.

There will be some huge roster turnover this summer as a new regime takes the reins and my only hope is that they don’t immediately sacrifice the future and the assets that Hinkie and his staff worked so hard in favor of short term wins. Please.

Stone: Record-wise, better (tough hill to climb) but not much better than this year. There should be more talent on the court, to the point where I wouldn’t put big money on Christian Wood making the 2016-’17 roster just yet. But it’s not like this roster is going to turn into a group of battle-tested veterans between now and October. Best case scenario: Ingram, Saric and Embiid all display star potential and have an in-team competition for rookie of the year. That’d make Bryan Colangelo one hell of a genius, right?

4. The best excerpt from the 13-page manifesto is ____?

Toporek: Can I pick two? The first is this amazing subtweet, which seems to imply the owners are currently prioritizing business interests over, you know, attempting to build a championship-caliber basketball team: “With Scott O’Neil running our business operations, you are in good hands. I can assure you that when your team is eventually able to compete deep into May, Scott will ably and efficiently separate the good people of the Delaware Valley from their wallets on your behalf. Worry not. “

The other is the fourth-to-last graf, because nothing would make me sadder than if Hinkie expressed regret for his overall philosophy over the past three seasons. And he sure as hell didn’t: “Many of my NBA friends cautioned me against the kind of seed sowing that felt appropriate given the circumstances for exactly this reason. But this particular situation made it all the more necessary, though. Part of the reason to reject fear and plow on was exactly because fear had been the dominant motivator of the actions of too many for too long.”

Dimoff: Aside from the fact that this whole thing is a 7,000-word middle finger to Josh Harris? The entire letter reiterates the absurdity of this entire situation: like if every news outlet in Josh Harris’ neighborhood told him that a volcano by his house will erupt next week, but when he ultimately doesn’t bother to move and all of his possessions are burned to ash he gets mad and blames the news stations for not warning him. I’d love to see how many ways Sam Hinkie can rephrase “Look, I told you what was gonna happen, it happened, and now you’re mad.”

Other than that, I’m partial to #SharpenTheAxe — making for one last great hashtag in an era that delivered many.

Goldwein: “Many of us remember exactly where we were when tragedy strikes and we think of what could have been. For me—and this is sad for my own mental well being—that list includes the January day in 2014 when Miami traded Joel Anthony and two second round picks to our formidable competitors the Celtics. I can still picture the child’s play table I paced around at Lankenau Medical Center on my cell phone while negotiating with Miami’s front office. This was in between feedings for our newborn twins, when my wife and I were still sleeping in the hospital. Danny Ainge finalized that deal (and several other better ones) and received one first-place vote for Executive of the Year that season: mine.”

(Mostly because of its absurdity)

Patterson: Since very early on in Hinkie’s tenure there were outside forces talking about how he wasn’t a “basketball guy”. Whether it was Charles Barkley publicly saying it or the “sources” from this past week that management and ownership wanted a “basketball guy” by his side there was always this notion that Hinkie stared at Excel spreadsheets and calculators all day which wasn’t the case at all. While it wasn’t talked about much Hinkie was flying all over the world to go and see these potential lottery picks anywhere from Big Ten arenas to small sweaty gyms in Spain.

Because of that my favorite part was one of the snarkier remarks where he said: “Maybe someday the information teams have at their disposal won’t require scouring the globe watching talented players and teams. That day has not arrived, and my Marriott Rewards points prove it from all the Courtyards I sleep in from November to March. There is so much about projecting players that we still capture best by seeing it in person and sharing (and debating) those observations with our colleagues.”

Burn.

Stone: On page seven he pauses to reflect on the downfall of the flightless New Zealand moa bird, and it was at this point I realized I wasn’t reading an NBA letter of resignation, but rather a deconstruction of every atom of the universe, the endless march of time, and how sometimes basketball happens to be played during it.

5. What is your favorite memory and/or player of the Sam Hinkie era?

Toporek: As a blatant Georgetown homer, I’ll forever remain grateful that Hinkie gave Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims a chance after both went undrafted. And Nerlens is my favorite Hinkie-era player by far, but picking him seems unfair because he would have been the No. 1 overall selection in 2013 if not for concerns over his torn ACL. So, Robert Covington gets my vote, with Jerami Grant a close second, because both were the Process. Other teams undervalued second-round picks and undrafted free agents since the bust rate on such players is so high. Hinkie, fully aware of that, decided to accrue as many second-rounders and rotate through as many young free agents on 10-day contracts as possible. Now, both of those guys are locked up on hilariously cheap contracts through the cap boom. Honorable mention goes to his savage pillaging of the Sacramento Kings this past July, too.

Dimoff: Long. Live. Casper. Ware.

Goldwein: That time Jerry and Bryan Colangelo got booed at the 2020 championship parade. The Process is dead, but its seeds will live on — well, least until they’re traded.

Patterson: It’s interesting that while I’ve bemoaned how little time Hinkie got it also feels like there are a million different choices here. Some things that come to mind would be the KJ McDaniels coming out dunk, the Spencer Hawes falling-out-of-bounds-one-footed three to tie the Bucks, Tony Wroten, JaKarr, Nerlens’ defensive rookie year, but I’d have to say my favorite moment had to be MCW’s debut.

Like him or not and regardless of what he ended up becoming, starting that season on a 19-0 run against the defending champion Heat was electrifying. I ordered an MCW shirsey that night and never looked back. I was hooked on this new exciting direction of the team. The future seemed so bright for the first time in what felt like ages. Alas.

Stone: The last five minutes of the 2015 trade deadline encompassed everything that made the Hinkie years so engrossing: complete shock and bewilderment, followed by chaos, followed by chugging a beer and texting all of your friends… and, once the dust settled, finding clarity. Now that Michael Carter-Williams has all but faded into oblivion in Milwaukee (ostensibly replaced at his position by a power forward) the jerk reaction of radio and TV personalities at the time – “what is this team even doing, trading the rookie of the year?” – has turned into radio silence, with no hint of a need to acknowledge how much more valuable that trade’s return is at present day. K.J. McDaniels – a rookie highlight reel who Bill Simmons predicted, post-trade, would have “at least one huge playoff game” for the Rockets that postseason (he logged a total of exactly zero minutes in the Rockets’ 17 playoff games) – turned into Isaiah Canaan and Richaun Holmes, two curious talents who at least rival McDaniels in terms of trade value at the moment, for approximately three-tenths of the guaranteed cost.

This was the Hinkie experience in a five-minute nutshell: a hyper forward-thinking, beautiful moment of brainy basketball transcendence, at once disrupted by bombastic pundits more interested in coining internet memes such as “tanking” and “The Process” than evaluating the trade. In hindsight, it’s no wonder he never had a chance; their yells were deafening in the wake of his silence.

Mar 12 2016

Sports Science and the Sixers’ Process

For those who haven’t done so already, check out this piece from ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh, which details how the Sixers are helping Joel Embiid recover from his second foot surgery.

In the article, Haberstroh spoke in length with Dr. David Martin, a sports scientist who joined the Sixers organization this past July after working at the Australian Institute of Sport. While the whole thing is well worth your time, this section in particular jumped out at me, as it seems emblematic of “The Process” as a whole:

The Sixers operate in the language of probability. Within that lives the understanding that all the Catapult gadgets and tracking technology in the world cannot replace the fact that that this is a people business, and the fate of the Sixers is subject to the whims of random luck and pingpong balls. They know Embiid’s recovery could fail, no matter how smart their capital may be.

“Sometimes it’s not knowing the solution, it’s how to deliver the solution,” Martin says. “That’s where the magic is.”

Ultimately, so much of the NBA comes down to luck. Whether it’s pingpong balls during the lottery, dodging busts on draft night and/or praying to the high heavens that your star players remain healthy, the house of cards can all come crumbling down within the blink of an eye. Do the Warriors win last year’s title if the Minnesota Timberwolves don’t pass up Steph Curry twice on draft night? Or if the Chicago Bulls front office listened to Tom Thibodeau and didn’t let Draymond Green slide to the second round in 2012? What happens to the Cavaliers last spring if LeBron James is the one who dislocates his shoulder against Boston instead of Kevin Love?

The Process — if executed correctly — is a way of combating luck. By accumulating as many first- and second-round draft picks as humanly possible, it decreases the negative impact of a particular selection not panning out. If Embiid is never able to move past these foot injuries and have a productive NBA career—despite the positive tone surrounding his recovery this time around, this remains a legitimate possibility—it will be an undeniably huge setback for the Sixers. That said, they’ll still have Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel in place, Dario Saric likely to come over this summer and upwards of four first-round picks in June. Embiid could give this organization the championship ceiling it’s so desperately pursuing, but the seeds of a 40- to 45-win squad are already in place, assuming the Sixers round out their roster in free agency with legitimate NBA rotation players.

The organization’s emphasis on sports science could wind up helping with that goal, especially once its new practice facility opens later this year. According to Haberstroh, the Sixers offer “four recovery stations after every game”—ice bath or cold tub; massage; NormaTec recovery boots; or one-on-one stretching—and each player is required to participate in one of those. Head coach Brett Brown told Haberstroh that giving players a choice between the four has led participation to soar, while Ish Smith said, “I feel like the Sixers are adding years onto my career.” Elton Brand added, “It’s amazing. From sleep to sports science to recovery to nutrition, we have it all. I didn’t know what to think coming in, you know, with the record. But every advantage you could possibly think of, this organization has it.”

The team’s record this season speaks for itself. No in-his-prime superstar is willingly going to sign with the Sixers in free agency, especially with 20-some teams set to have enough cap space for one max contract this summer. Though #KDtoPHI won’t take off any time soon, placing such a heavy emphasis on player wellness should be attractive on the free-agent market, particularly to elder veterans or players with a history of nagging injuries. If the Sixers’ training staff can position themselves as “Phoenix Suns East,” it’s just another tool in the recruiting tool belt.

“I always had this image in my mind in the NBA that if you’re in the NBA, you just go about your business and if you’re hurt, they still needed you to play, because there are other things involved,” prized rookie big man Jahlil Okafor told Haberstroh. “I was surprised to see how much [the Sixers staff] care about how you felt, if you’re tired, if you had nick-nack pains and bruises. The second I got here, I met with the sports psychologist. They care about how we’re feeling.”

A day after Haberstroh’s story went live, the Sixers announced Okafor is effectively done for the year with a partially torn meniscus. Note the wording of the announcement, though: “Jahlil recently started to experience discomfort in his right knee, which we immediately investigated. After a comprehensive series of tests and additional evaluation by our medical team, it was revealed that he has a small tear of the meniscus.”

By paying close attention to each player’s health and remaining especially proactive when a player complains of soreness, the Sixers are mitigating the risks of injuries coming back to bite them. Had they allowed Okafor to play through his knee soreness, his meniscus might have torn more than it already did, lengthening the amount of time he’d be sidelined. While it’s unclear what type of procedure the Duke product will undergo—since it seems only to be a minor tear, one would imagine he’ll have it repaired rather than removed—either way, it’s far less serious than the worst-case scenario.

Given Philadelphia’s experience with sports-science-obsessed programs in recent years—here’s looking at you, Chip Kelly—there may be some hesitation locally about the franchise’s cautious approach with injuries. Don’t allow Kelly’s dictatorship to negatively color your perception about what the Sixers are doing, though. By placing a premium on players’ long-term health rather than short-term gains, they’re sending a strong, positive message both to their own locker room and the rest of the NBA.

Will that lure free agents to Philadelphia in the coming years? It certainly won’t hurt.

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