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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.

  • PhilaPhans

    Brilliant piece, boys. Excellent.

  • lefoe

    I am ambivalent about the Hinkie era. On the one hand, the Sixers are in a better spot than they were when he got here. After Andrew Bynum they had very little in the way of prospects. I really do appreciate the way he was able to turn today’s nickles into tomorrow’s quarters. Who ever is running the nets should think about bringing Hinkie in.
    On the other hand, I am annoyed that he couldn’t see the value in putting together a professional roster when you are trying to develop young players. There was a way to bring in solid pros without hurting the long term cap situation or seriously impacting their lottery prospects.
    The other thing is that for all the pain and losing that the team went through, they still don’t have a cornerstone player on the roster. Would any of these guys fetch a top 5 pick if they were put up for trade today? So yes, the Sixers have a major opportunity to improve this summer, but they had an opportunity to improve over the last several years and right now it does not look great.
    The more we see of last years draft class, the more I wonder if he shouldn’t have found a way to trade down. The way the game is being played now, it’s very difficult to play with two post players on the court. Especially if one of them is a defensive liability. After two and half years to have no NBA wings on the team in a perimeter league is really disappointing.

  • The Gold Standard

    Since the devastating news broke, and the manifesto was made available to the masses, I have been battling emotions of anger, doubt and disbelief. Since the news broke, I had been constantly refreshing this website for your response to this injustice, as I had imagined you’d articulate the travesty that the Hinkie departure is, far better than I could in drunken passionate rants against anti-process patrons at bars this past weekend until either the bar tenders told me to cool it down, or the bar in itself had closed. This was beautifully written and articulated exactly how the majority of true Sixer fans feel about the demise of the process and the disdain we now harbor for Josh Harris. Thank you for this. It is helping me with the grieving process.