Written by Garrett Catalana – @GarrettCatalana
I don’t want to dwell in the past. There have already been multiple podcasts recorded, articles written, and many hot takes made on local sports radio about the resignation of Sam Hinkie. I don’t want to talk about the circumstances on why he left and his 13-page manifesto. Rather, I want to talk about the Process. Not necessarily Hinkie’s Process, but the fundamental idea of the Process and how we move on.
Sam Hinkie failed, plain and simple. He didn’t finish three whole seasons as an NBA general manager. In management terms, keeping your job is above all, most important, right next to winning. As a comparison, Billy King, who has been heavily criticized for some of his decisions as GM for both the 76ers and Nets, held the title for 15 years. For various reasons, with some factors in his control and some out, Sam Hinkie failed as the top decision maker for the 76ers franchise. He failed because he no longer has a job or that he resigned because ownership, for whatever reasons, lost confidence in his ability to run the franchise. Hinkie may have failed, but the foundation he laid will continue to live on.
The foundation that Hinkie began to build on Draft Night 2013 should have started on December 19, 2006 when the 76ers traded its superstar Allen Iverson to the Denver Nuggets. Instead of regrouping and assessing the long-term future of the team at the end of the season, the 76ers went win-now by trading for veterans Andre Miller and Joe Smith and low first round picks. The team didn’t bottom out to be in the running for the top of the draft for players like Kevin Durant or Greg Oden, rather they finished in the middle of the pack, and drafted Thaddeus Young. That trade officially pushed the run to mediocrity, the basketball version of purgatory, for almost a whole decade. We know how the narrative runs: Mo Cheeks, Tony DiLeo, Eddie Jordan, and Doug Collins couldn’t win, and DiLeo, King, Rod Thorn, and Ed Stefanski couldn’t make long-lasting executive decisions.
After the Andrew Bynum trade didn’t work out and Doug Collins exited stage right, Sam Hinkie wasn’t left with much in terms of the long-term future. His pitch to the owners during the interview process in 2013 was that the team needed to replenish its asset base and build a foundation for the franchise to seriously contend for the long-term. The roster was so barren of long-term potential, both with current players and lack of future draft picks, that Hinkie believed that this would be a really long process to try and build the franchise back up once again.
I don’t want to go over every single trade or draft pick, but regardless of the record of the 76ers over the past three seasons, Hinkie has put this team in a position to succeed both on the court and off the court. Between all the extra draft picks, young players on favorable contracts, and cap space, the asset base that was so dilapidated just three years prior, has the potential to become a contender in the not too distant future. I never though Hinkie’s plan had a step-by-step process or say by Year 4, they were a 5th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, or anything like that. It’s very obvious that the pieces on this team don’t mesh well together. That’s why they have 10 wins. But there is potential.
From just a pure talent standpoint, regardless of where and how they were acquired, Hinkie assembled a roster of players with potential to last in the NBA, not necessarily to be a part of the next great Sixers team: Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Jerami Grant, Robert Covington, Nik Stauskas, and Richaun Holmes. I count eight players who can contribute in some way to the next winning Sixers team, whether for their on-court contributions to the Sixers, or the value they bring back in a potential trade. Compare these eight to what Hinkie inherited:
Jrue Holiday, Charles Jenkins (FA), Nick Young (FA), Damien Wilkins (FA), Jason Richardson (hurt), Royal Ivey (FA), Evan Turner, Dorell Wright (FA), Thaddeus Young, Arnett Moultrie, Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen, Kwame Brown, and Andrew Bynum (FA).
The only two players that got Hinkie any meaningful return in trades were Holiday (Noel, Saric, 1st Rd pick back from Bynum trade, two future 2nd Rd picks) and Young (MIA 1st Rd pick).
I don’t want to reflect on the past in terms of decisions made by Hinkie but we know what he leaves behind after just 38 months on the job. We know what foundation was laid out, but we will never know what he would have done with that foundation in the upcoming years. Hinkie failed, but his foundation will be watched over by another GM.
Multiple reports indicate that Bryan Colangelo will be hired to take Hinkie’s place as the next 76ers’ general manager. I don’t want to reflect to what Colangelo has done in the past with the Suns or the Raptors, but rather I eagerly anticipate to what he will do with the large asset base he inherits from Sam.
This has been quite a ride for any 76ers/TTP fan over the past three seasons that has nearly all been negative. The one small ray of hope we could hang our hats on was that Hinkie would be able to turn his foundation into an actual team, starting this offseason with the draft, cap space, and assets to trade. That ray of hope is gone, because Hinkie won’t be here to see it through. We will never know what Hinkie would have done this offseason with all of the assets he has collected over the last three seasons, and that is unfortunate.
His departure hangs heavy on me on multiple levels: (1) as an NBA fan, (2) an anti-establishment/anti-old school Philadelphia fan, and most importantly, (3) as a Sixers fan.
As an NBA fan, I know it’s hard in today’s CBA to get superstars on your team and seriously contend for a championship. I recognize that unless you are a Miami, LA, or New York, it’s hard to get superstar free agents. You can trade for a superstar, but you need the appropriate assets to make a trade possible, and most of those assets come from the draft, where if lucky, you can draft your superstar and have him under team-control for the first 8-9 years of his NBA career. It’s hard to contend in the NBA and the way the Sixers were trying to do it for a better part of two decades, got them no closer to contending for a championship, so I wanted them to be different, which goes to my second point.
Philadelphia has largely failed as a professional sports town. In the past 50 years, the city has been home to six champions: the Sixers twice (’67 & ’83), the Phillies twice (’80 & ’08), and the Flyers twice (’74 & ’75). Everything always has to be “Philly-tough,” and we’re the “Broad Street Bullies,” and we “threw snowballs at Santa Claus.” I get it. But I also want to win championships. Philly has really not been very good at doing that because all the teams basically operated the same way: the “ole’ Philly way”. Sam Hinkie was different, whether rightly or wrongly. He didn’t want to do it the same conventional way; the same way that Tony DiLeo, Ed Stefanski, or Rod Thorn wanted and failed at. Just because he was different, the local media hated him. From radio personalities like Howard Eskin, Jody McDonald or Glen Macnow, to old-school and out of touch newspapers writers like John Smallwood, Marcus Hayes, or Dick Jerardi, to even the writers who covered the team on a daily-basis like Bob Cooney and Keith Pompey: they all wanted Sam Hinkie to fail just because he was unconventional. It hurts me because those people get the last laugh, because “Sham Hinkie” isn’t here anymore. If this works, Hinkie won’t get the credit he deserves for putting this team in a position to succeed. It’s up to the same old-school basketball people, Jerry and Bryan Colangelo to carry on his foundation, which goes to my third point.
I was a die-hard 76ers fan long before any of this Process stuff ever happened and I will continue to be until the day I die. They are my team and they always will be. But I was shielded by Allen Iverson’s brilliance early in my life to see that my team would never actually contend for an NBA championship because they kept making all the same win-now moves that led to 43 wins and didn’t help the franchise contend. Following the train-wreck of 2012-2013, my fandom was at an all-time low. Once Sam Hinkie traded Jrue Holiday on Draft Night 2013 to the Pelicans for Nerlens Noel and a future first rounder, I was sold on “The Process.” Hinkie was different; he was the guy who challenged the norm. For me, it wasn’t necessarily Hinkie the person that sold me, but rather his thought process. It was his recognition that the old Sixers were going nowhere and something needed to be done that shot my Sixers fandom into a new stratosphere. He really understood what types of moves were necessary to seriously contend for an NBA title. But now he won’t have the opportunity to see it through.
I am at a crossroads as a Philadelphia 76ers fan: do I wish that the team succeeds or fails moving forward?
I definitely don’t want to see my team fail more than it has already over these last three seasons, but I don’t want this team not use what Sam has left it and go back to the same old win-now moves that will have the Sixers as an eight seed for the next decade. My honest hope is that Bryan Colangelo can build off what Sam Hinkie left for him and continue to grow the team in a meaningful way towards a championship, because at the end of the day, winning a title is what I want most.
Thank you Sam Hinkie for all that you have done to try to put this team in the right direction and laying the foundation for the next great 76ers team, whether those players are on the roster or not. Even though the team never eclipsed more than 20 wins in a whole season, these have been three of the most memorable years as a 76ers fan. You as Sixers General Manager and President of Basketball Operations may be gone, but what you started to build will live on.
As always, #TrustTheProcess.