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.

Feb 24 2016

JaKarr Sampson and the Sixers’ Impending Roster Crunch

Thanks to the Detroit Pistons’ decision to void the three-team trade that sent a second-round pick to Philadelphia at the trade deadline, the 76ers effectively waived JaKarr Sampson for no reason.

There’s no sugarcoating it: That sucks.

But with an impending roster crunch, Sampson’s time in Philadelphia was almost certain to come to an end this summer one way or another. His diminishing role in the last month should’ve been a warning to us all that the end of the Point JaKarr era was near.

Barring any trades, the Sixers already have eight spots almost certainly accounted for next season: Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Nik Stauskas, Richaun Holmes, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant and Carl Landry. Assuming Dario Saric comes over from Europe — both he and his father have indicated that’s the plan, despite the financial ramifications of him being locked into a rookie-scale contract — that’s a ninth roster spot taken up before factoring in draft considerations and those signed to nonguaranteed deals.

The Sixers also figure to have three, if not four, first-round picks this June (their own and those from the Heat, Thunder and perhaps the Lakers). Even if the Lakers pick doesn’t convey and they use the Miami or Oklahoma City first-rounder on a draft-and-stash, that adds two more players to their roster total, bumping it up to 11. Kendall Marshall, Hollis Thompson, Isaiah Canaan and T.J. McConnell, meanwhile, are all signed to team-friendly nonguaranteed deals through the 2016-17 season. The odds of all four being on the team heading into opening night in October are slim to none, but that’s precisely the point: With those four factored in, the Sixers would already be capped out in terms of the roster limit.

Hinkie can free up a roster spot this summer by waiving Landry and agreeing to swallow his $6.5 million guaranteed salary. On the off chance he takes the same approach to free agency he has the past three summers — i.e., staying firmly on the sidelines and signing no one of particular import — that would leave the Sixers with one roster spot, which they’d presumably use to attempt re-signing Ish Smith.

To steal a phrase from Hinkie, the Sixers’ quest to “build an orchard” is set to enter its next phase this offseason. The hiring of Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations/dictator/demigod signaled the start of Phase 2. After staying dormant during free agency for the past three summers, the Sixers are poised to begin rounding out their roster to complement their plethora of young bigs.

To start, they’ll need an infusion of reinforcements in the backcourt. As much as we’ve grown to love Smith for helping salvage an otherwise lost season — and particularly for saving Nerlens from going crazy and driving off the Ben Franklin Bridge during the All-Star break — there’s a reason he’s played on nine teams since joining the league in 2010. He’s the definition of a journeyman point guard — a fine one at that, but at 27 years old already, he’s not going to evolve into a title-caliber starting floor general. If the Sixers are serious about building around a Twin Towers frontcourt — whether that’s Okafor-Noel, Embiid-Noel or Embiid-Okafor — they’ll desperately need reliable floor-spacers at the other three positions in their starting lineup. Ish doesn’t fit that bill.

Considering Okafor’s defensive concerns, particularly in pick-and-roll coverage, they’ll also need at least one lockdown wing defender. Covington could grow into that role — according to Vantage Sports, he’s been one of the league’s top perimeter disruptors this season — and with LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony looming as potential playoff opponents in the coming years, having a wing stopper will be crucial to the Sixers’ hopes of advancing deep into the bracket. Teams can never have enough three-and-D players, though, so Hinkie may decide that’s another area of need.

They’ll have plenty of avenues to improve their roster this summer, whether it’s through trades or free agency. According to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer — as with all transaction rumors, take this with a grain of salt — the Sixers offered “some combination” of Stauskas, Smith and a 2016 first-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for Dennis Schroder prior to the trade deadline. They also reportedly “considered adding a player with an expiring contract” — who Pompey identified as Sampson — but the Hawks “ultimately decided to keep Schroder.” That said, Pompey’s source “said he expects the Sixers and Hawks to revisit trade talks for [Schroder] during the NBA draft on June 23.”

According to the Boston Herald‘s Steve Bulpett, Okafor almost made his way to the Boston Celtics at the trade deadline, too. (Danny Ainge at least reportedly had interest in the rookie center). It’s unclear what the Celtics offered for Okafor—all Bulpett revealed was “the deal was dead on Wednesday and that the other club pulled the plug” — but once the pingpong balls fall into place at May’s lottery, there’s reason to believe the two sides could rekindle discussions, particularly if the Brooklyn first-rounder that the Celtics own doesn’t fall within the top two selections.

While this year’s free-agent class quickly goes from stunning to depressing once you move outside the top 20 or so players — HoopsHype has Philadelphia favorite Evan Turner listed as its 25th-best free agent — the Sixers could emulate what Portland did this past offseason, investing larger-than-expected deals in young, unheralded players on the same developmental curve as their franchise pieces. While guys such as Kevin Durant, Mike Conley and Nicolas Batum aren’t likely to give Hinkie the time of day, the Sixers could sign, say, Allen Crabbe, E’Twaun Moore, Kent Bazemore and/or former Sixer Moe Harkless to cobble together a vastly improved perimeter rotation.

Assuming Pompey’s sources are correct, it appears as though Hinkie and Colangelo approached the trade deadline with one eye toward the offseason. The former’s comments following the deadline certainly implied such, as he told reporters (via Derek Bodner of Philly Mag), “If I’m not thinking about the future, who is?” That three-for-one offer would have helped the Sixers consolidate their talent and beef up their point guard rotation while freeing up two roster spots, effectively killing two birds with one stone.

So, yes, waiving Sampson and not receiving the expected second-round pick is unfortunate. That said, given Donatas Motiejunas’ back issues this season — the fourth-year big man had suited up just 14 times for the Rockets prior to the trade deadline — the Sixers had to have known him failing Detroit’s physical was within the realm of possibility. Could they have waived Elton Brand rather than Sampson, assuming the demand for a moderately productive 22-year-old would be greater than that for a 36-year-old who hasn’t suited up once this season? Certainly. But Sampson also cleared waivers at 6 p.m. ET Sunday, meaning the Sixers at least could have attempted to bring him back if so desired. (He instead signed a two-year deal with the Denver Nuggets on Monday, with the second year nonguaranteed.)

Many of us grew attached to Sampson over the past year-and-a-half because he was a human embodiment of the Process. He was an undrafted nobody who forged a decent NBA career out of nowhere. Whether he continues his journey in Denver, Philadelphia or elsewhere, Sixers fans should root for him to remain productive.

Let’s not pretend his loss is a devastating setback for the overarching goal of constructing a title-caliber team, though. Given the roster-space crunch that the Sixers will face this summer— and his diminishing role on an historically bad NBA team — Sampson’s departure was less a matter of if than a matter of when.

Feb 18 2016

For a Change, the Sixers Stay Relatively Quiet on Deadline Day

Since Sam Hinkie took over as the Philadelphia 76ers’ general manager in May 2013, the day of the trade deadline has been a national holiday for Sixers fans.

In 2014, he shipped out Lavoy Allen, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes for a half-dozen second-round picks and some roster flotsam. (No offense, Henry Sims.) Last year, Hinkie flexed his trade-deadline muscles, acquiring an Oklahoma City Thunder first-round pick in a salary dump involving JaVale McGee before shipping out K.J. McDaniels and Michael Carter-Williams at the buzzer for Isaiah Canaan, a second-round pick that would become Richaun Holmes, and the lightly protected Los Angeles Lakers first-round pick that continues to haunt us all.

This year, with Jerry Colangelo in the front-office mix, the Sixers remained largely on the sidelines on deadline day.

In true Sixers fashion, 18 minutes after the 3 p.m. ET deadline passed, Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears reported Joel Anthony was heading to Philadelphia:

According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, the Sixers will receive a 2017 Denver Nuggets second-round pick in exchange for taking on Anthony’s contract. They also sent the rights to Chukwudiebere Maduabum back to Houston, per Derek Bodner of Philly Mag. The move leaves them with 16 players on the roster, although per Bodner, there’s “no word yet on the corresponding roster move.” They’re going to waive Anthony, who’s earning $2.5 million this year and has a non-guaranteed $2.5 million salary next season, but as Bodner noted, teams can’t waive incoming players before they occupy a roster spot. So, they’ll have to waive at least one additional player to free up a roster spot for Anthony.

Prior to the Anthony acquisition, the Sixers were roughly $2.6 million below the $63 million salary floor, so this move puts them roughly $13,000 shy of it. If they’re intent on meeting the floor, that’s nothing a few 10-day signings can’t rectify. Waiving the yet-to-be-determined player — Kendall Marshall or JaKarr Sampson, perhaps? — will create a roster spot, helping facilitate 10-day signings.

[Update, 2/23: The Anthony acquisition wound up being part of a three-team deal with the Detroit Pistons… one which fell apart Monday after Donatas Motiejunas failed Detroit’s physical due to back problems. So, the Sixers wound up waiving Sampson and not receiving anything in return.]

Compared to their trade-deadline splashes in years past, acquiring Anthony and a 2017 second-rounder hardly qualifies as major fireworks. As Xylon wrote earlier this week, though, the Sixers’ inertia on deadline day shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. It’s also not as though Hinkie and Co. weren’t laying the foundation of future moves during the days leading up to the deadline.

According to Tom Moore of Calkins Media, Hinkie was “gauging interest in [Jahlil] Okafor” around the league, but no concrete trade rumor (much less an actual deal) ever materialized. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the Sixers “contacted the Atlanta Hawks about their desire to trade point guard Jeff Teague or backup Dennis Schroder,” but the Hawks elected to stand pat with both. They also “had discussions” with the Los Angeles Clippers about Blake Griffin, according to Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio, but those likewise went nowhere.

The Sixers had nearly $10 million in cap space heading into Thursday, but few teams were intent on making major salary dumps with the salary cap set to explode this summer. Anderson Varejao, who the Cleveland Cavaliers sent to the Portland Trail Blazers in a three-team trade along with a protected 2018 first-rounder, wouldn’t have fit into the Sixers’ cap space without them sending out something—even as unsubstantial as Sampson—in return. After seeing Hinkie use cap space as a weapon at the deadline last February, in particular, the relative lack of activity qualifies as a mild disappointment, but the Sixers already won’t be able to use their full haul of first- and second-round picks over next few seasons. At this point, figuring out whether the combo of Okafor and Nerlens Noel is feasible over the long haul is the team’s No. 1 priority.

You’ve heard it 10,000 times before, but Joel Embiid remains the linchpin to any significant roster move. Until the Sixers are certain he’ll be able to contribute next season in any capacity, they’ll be rightfully reluctant to trade either of their two sure things in Okafor and Noel. (Embiid is reportedly in Qatar at the moment, per Moore, “kick-starting” the next phase of his rehab at “the world’s leading specialized orthopedic and sports medicine hospital.”)

The uncertainty regarding Dario Saric’s status also isn’t helping matters. Though he’s reportedly headed stateside for the 2016-17 season, until the Sixers have him put pen to paper, he could always chance course and stay abroad for one more season. Doing so would allow him to escape the confinement of the rookie scale, which makes significant financial sense on his end.

In a best-case scenario, Saric will join the Sixers this summer and Embiid will overcome his navicular issues to become the franchise-changing big man we all hope he can be. If or when that happens, Hinkie, Colangelo and Co. can reassess their options at the time and begin working on ways of resolving their frontcourt glut. With so many teams swimming in cap space this summer—most of whom will inevitably be left on the altar once the top-tier free agents head elsewhere—the trade market could be especially lively come July.

For a change, the Sixers were in no rush to make major deals at the trade deadline. They simply did their due diligence by sniffing around the asking prices of Atlanta’s point guards, Griffin and Okafor, among others, and landed a second-round pick in a minor salary dump. Come this summer, the legwork they did over the past few weeks could give them a head start on any trade discussions. Until the days leading up to the draft, however, it should be all quiet on the trade front in Philly.

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