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.

Feb 14 2016

Your Yeezy Trade Deadline Season Preview

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It may be Yeezy Season everywhere else in the world right now, but in Philadelphia this week it’s Hinkie Season — otherwise known as the NBA Trade Deadline. Last year’s deadline was so insane that it nearly broke the Trade Machine himself. Let’s get to the major talking points leading up to Thursday:

Let’s cool our jets with the trade machine

Tweeting out your hypothetical deal that ships Jahlil Okafor to some far-off land seems to be all the rage among the kids these days (myself included!). But perhaps we’ve taken the trade machine a bit too far this year — this isn’t Bill Simmons’ Fantasy World where superstars are changing locations every other day.

Even more so is that the appeal of the Sixers’ assets lie in the future rather than immediately. Okafor and Nerlens Noel have potential to be great players, but they’re not the final piece that gets the Clippers over the hump this year. So even in the event that the Clips are looking to expedite Blake Griffin from Los Angeles come Thursday, a third team would need to get involved to facilitate a Blake-to-Philly move — and by that point, the said hypothetical third team may as well package together its own offer for Blake. Expect Jah, Noel, et al. to stay put for now.

And yes, you’re right, I don’t get invited to too many parties.

But the frontcourt needs to be addressed. Soon. 

Calling this situation a logjam would be generous. Forget the awkward (yet improving!) fit between Noel and Okafor: Ben Simmons, likely best utilized at the four, may find his way here next season; we are still expecting Dario Saric by October 2016 at the time of this writing; and you should probably start getting excited about Joel Embiid again.

This is all before considering the B Team, featuring Jerami Grant, Robert Covington, and Richaun Holmes. Rich Holmsie Quan is already struggling to hit the hardwood for an eight-win squad, Nylon Calculus shows the Sixers play 17.1 points better per 100 possessions better when Lord Cov plays the four over the three, and Jerami Grant’s newfound playmaking ability may make him three years and a workable jumper away from being one of the biggest second-round heists in recent history.

This is where drafting BPA (best player available) may come to rear its ugly head: only 96 minutes exist between the center and forward positions, and the Sixers can’t feasibly carry this entire core into next season. But this also means that any deal to clear the frontcourt may be made in haste, which could put the Sixers in a position of weakness. The value looks nice on paper, but the market is an entirely different beast. (Having competing bidders, however, would alleviate some of those concerns).

Let’s remember that Sam Hinkie doesn’t always win these things

In case you missed it (I’m sure you didn’t), the Bucks are apparently already over the MCW show. The 2014 ROTY award may well be the peak of our old friend’s career, and Hinkie flipping him for what could possibly be a top-four pick this summer is nothing short of a modern masterpiece.

But outside of fleecing Milwaukee nearly as savagely as the Bucks’ own owners, Hinkie’s deadline resumé has been murky. I’ve already voiced my discontent with the K.J. deal — Isaiah Canaan would obviously be preferred over McDaniel’s 62 minutes logged in Houston this year, but K.J.’s potential over the lifetime of his three-year deal may yet be more intriguing than that of an undersized chucker.

But a possibly more questionable February flop of Hinkie remains acquiring the rights to Danny Granger’s retirement and a Warriors’ second-rounder for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen two season ago. Granger would never suit up for Philly and ultimately be bought out, per expectations. That second-rounder amounted to the 60th pick last June: Luka Mtrović, otherwise known as the token asset given up this summer for Nik Stauskas and company.

Turner and Allen were far from perfect in Philadelphia: ET was widely considered a laughing-stock as a draft bust, while Lavoy was a remnant of Doug Collins’ drab, inefficient Sixers hoops. Both have become integral pieces of Eastern Conference playoff teams — not a particularly flashy title, but one that’s certainly worth far more than trade fodder and a buyout.

The Sixers have been linked to some weird names

They’re no Blake Griffin, but the Sixers have recently been linked to talks concerning Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder, as well as maybe even Dwight Howard.

Outside of the Sixers still being in search for its point guard of the future, Teague and Schroeder make little sense. Teague is a nice player, but is likely worth more to Atlanta than he is to the Sixers. His cheap deal expires at next season’s end, and may not be worth the inflated deal that he’ll ultimately net in a $109 million salary cap economy. And having sniffed 60-win success last season, Teague may lean more toward signing up with a contender in 2017 rather than carrying the Sixers youngins through his early 30s.

Schroeder on the other hand is young and on a cheap deal through 2018, but is a nightmare fit with the Sixers’ roster — the worst pairing with Okafor is an overconfident, ball-dominant guard who doesn’t space the floor and oops I accidentally might’ve just described Ish Smith.

Dwight makes complete sense here if the Sixers are shooting for an all-center lineup next season, which sounds like Vivek Ranadivé’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

In other words, there’s probably the lowest possible non-zero chance that the Sixers have started real talks about these players. And if they actually have, it may just be a matter of Old Man Colangelo keeping up appearances — at least that is my blind speculation that you should in no way listen to.

Expect a quieter deadline this year

Unlike previous seasons, the Sixers have no immediate contributors nor contract conflicts to sort out this deadline. Ish Smith could conceivably help a playoff contender — New Orleans, anybody? — but shipping him off for a second time might actually kill Nerlens. Carl Landry is literally an NBA veteran who can play basketball, but his seven DNP-CDs over the last 10 games probably don’t scream “value” to the trade market. And we drool over Covington’s contract as the Magnum Opus of the Hinkie Special, but his up-and-down play this season would probably be a low sell on his value at this juncture.

The Sixers will however be, as always, prime contenders as the salary-dump-third-team in any and every deal. Philly sits roughly $2.7 million below the salary floor — no, it still doesn’t actually matter — but are also set to clear nearly $22 million in cap room this summer as the waived contracts of Gerald Wallace, JaVale McGee, Tony Wroten, and Furkan Aldemir are wiped from the books. With the cap booming to an estimated $89 million this summer, the Sixers could potentially be looking at $50 million in cap room next season.

I hope David Lee likes cheesesteaks and bad football.

Jan 28 2016

Sam Hinkie’s Second-Round Success Rate Is Pedestrian, And That’s OK

Sam Hinkie’s insatiable thirst for second-round picks has been a defining characteristic of his tenure as Philadelphia 76ers general manager, and rightfully so.

In three drafts, he’s already been on the clock 12 times in the second round, and he acquired six second-rounders at the 2014 trade deadline alone (see below).

Incoming Outgoing
2/20/2014 Byron Mullens
2018 2nd (LAC)
2014 2nd (protected 31-40 and 46-60)
2/20/2014 Danny Granger
2015 2nd (GSW via IND)
Evan Turner
Lavoy Allen
2/20/2014 Eric Maynor
2015 2nd (WAS)
2016 2nd (DEN)
2014 2nd (protected 31-45 and 51-60)
2/20/2014 Earl Clark
Henry Sims
2014 2nd (CLE)
2014 2nd (MEM via CLE)
Spencer Hawes

That was just the start. Within the 2014 calendar year, Hinkie acquired an additional six second-round picks and two second-round pick swaps spread out over the next half-decade, all the while surrendering little in terms of long-term assets. It was a master class in using cap space to absorb unwanted contracts, gaining valuable assets in return.

Here’s a look at how each of those deals played out:

Incoming Outgoing
6/26/2014 Jordan McRae (No. 58)
Cory Jefferson (No. 60)
Nemanja Dangubic (No. 54)
6/26/2014 Dario Saric (No. 12)
2015 2nd (ORL)
2017 1st (PHI via ORL)
Elfrid Payton (No. 10)
9/27/2014 Keith Bogans
2018 2nd (CLE)
2015 2nd (protected 31-50, 56-60)
10/24/2014 Marquis Teague
2019 2nd (more favorable of MIL/SAC)
Casper Ware
10/27/2014 Travis Outlaw
2018 2nd swap w/ NYK
2019 2nd (NYK)
Arnett Moultrie
12/11/2014 Andrei Kirilenko
Jorge Gutierrez
2018 2nd swap w/ BKN
2020 2nd (BKN)
Brandon Davies
12/23/2014 Ronny Turiaf
Rights to Sergei Lishouk
2014 2nd (HOU)
Alexey Shved

The TL;DR version: Hinkie acquired TWELVE second-rounders and two second-round pick swaps in a 10-month span, and then one more (No. 37, 2015) in the K.J. McDaniels-Isaiah Canaan exchange.

Acquiring a preposterous number of second-round picks is helpful, albeit not difficult to do when disregarding wins. But turning those picks into productive pieces is another matter entirely.

Hinkie’s second-round results have been mixed. Just two of his 12 picks —Jerami Grant (No. 39 in 2014) and Richaun Holmes (No. 37 in 2015)—remain on the roster. Five of the 12 were international prospects who haven’t yet come to the NBA, although Hinkie proceeded to trade four of those five, leaving just the rights to Vasilije Micic (No. 52 in 2014) under the Sixers’ control.

In one sense, having just two players remaining after 12 second-round picks within the past three drafts isn’t a ringing endorsement of this strategy. Then again, considering the bust rate of second-rounders—according to analysis Roland Beech did for 82games.com, only one pick outside the top 30 has greater than a 15 percent chance of even being a “solid” player—Hinkie’s batting average of 16.7 percent is right around as expected.

Among all of the second-round picks drafted across the league since 2013, Grant and Holmes rank 10th and 12th, respectively, in terms of career win shares. Both are on track to surpass the amount of win shares expected from players in their draft slots over their first four seasons, according to a 2009 analysis which Justin Kubatko posted on Basketball-Reference. Players selected 39th overall average 3.4 win shares through their first four seasons, while those selected 37th average 3.8. Through a season-and-a-half, Grant has accrued 2.2 win shares, while Holmes is already up to 1.4 halfway through his rookie campaign.

Though the win shares totals of all Sixers second-rounders are inflated based on the comparably large amount of playing time they receive, both Grant and Holmes look like legitimate long-term NBA contributors. Neither may be much more than a role player off the bench for a contender, but having those guys locked up on dirt-cheap four-year deals (the so-called “Hinkie Special”) gives the Sixers additional financial flexibility when they begin to discuss extensions for their prized lottery picks and/or dip their toes into the free-agent market.

Those second-rounders aren’t just conduits to gamble on potential draft-day steals, however. They represent valuable currency on the trade market, too. The Sixers moved the 2016 second-rounder they acquired from Denver two seasons ago as part of the package to reacquire Ish Smith on Christmas Eve. They likewise included two of their second-round picks from this past June, Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic, in the deal with Sacramento that netted them Nik Stauskas, two possible first-round pick swaps in 2016 and 2017 and the Kings’ top-10-protected first-round pick in 2018. Accruing such a bountiful treasure trove of second-rounders gives Hinkie and Co. optionality on the trade market, which has already paid off in dividends in the form of Smith.

Draft Pick  Selected Status
2013, No. 35 Glen Rice Traded to WAS
2013, No. 42 Pierre Jackson Traded to NOP; waived
2014, No. 32 K.J. McDaniels Traded to HOU
2014, No. 39 Jerami Grant On Sixers
2014, No. 47 Russ Smith Traded to NOP
2014, No. 52 Vasilije Micic Abroad – PHI rights
2014, No. 54 Nemanja Dangubic Abroad – traded to SAS
2015, No. 35 Willy Hernangomez Abroad – traded to NYK
2015, No. 37 Richaun Holmes On Sixers
2015, No. 47 Arturas Gudaitis Abroad – Traded to SAC
2015, No. 58 J.P. Tokoto Waived
2015, No. 60 Luka Mitrovic Abroad – Traded to SAC

Ultimately, optionality is what the “Process” is all about. Acquiring a number of first- and second-round picks decreases the pressure to hit a home run with each one. If Jahlil Okafor proves to be a solid double rather than a grand slam (like Kristaps Porzingis appears to be), so be it. If Joel Embiid never plays a minute for the Sixers, it will represent an undeniable setback for the rebuild, but it won’t be the franchise-crippling abomination that the Andrew Bynum trade wound up becoming. Between the first-round picks owed to them from the Lakers, Heat, Thunder and Kings and the preposterous number of second-round picks headed their way through the early 2020s, the Sixers have no shortage of assets to dangle in front of potential trade partners over the coming seasons.

Much like the overall organizational strategy, it’s simply too early to cast definitive judgment on Hinkie’s track record with second-round picks. Those who criticize him for finding just two keepers among 12 chances are willfully ignoring how many of those other selections he flipped in later deals. Those praising him for unearthing diamonds in the rough such as McDaniels, Grant and Holmes can’t turn a blind eye to some of the productive players he overlooked (Jeff Withey, Nikola Jokic, Dwight Powell and Jordan Clarkson, in particular).

Considering how little Hinkie has given up to acquire such a wealth of second-rounders, it’s difficult to find fault with his approach. The verdict simply remains out on his success rate in the second round, especially since he has yet to make use of a majority of the picks he’s acquired in the past two-and-a-half years.

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