76ers

What if the Sixers never hired Sam Hinkie?

What if the Sixers never hired Sam Hinkie?

Sam Hinkie was under no illusions about what he was doing. He was going against the grain. It was going to make many people uncomfortable and ruffle plenty of feathers.

He didn’t care about all that. In fact, that was the point. 

“The same 82 games are up for grabs every year for every team,” Hinkie wrote in his resignation later. “To get more wins, you’re going to have to take them from someone else. Wins are a zero-growth industry (how many of you regularly choose to invest in those?), and the only way up is to steal share from your competitors. You will have to do something different. You will have to be contrarian.”

There’s a cult-like community that views him as a deity and another sector of fans that believes he ran a Ponzi scheme.

We all heard the term “tanking” before, but he brought it to the mainstream. It was the dirty little secret in sports that we all knew about, but he warmly embraced. He became arguably the most polarizing figure in all of sports.

But what if the Sixers never hired Sam Hinkie?

Does the GM in his place have the guts to pull the trigger on trading away a freshly-minted All-Star in Jrue Holiday? Would they have the audacity to draft an injury-riddled big man named Joel Embiid? Would they stick to their guns — despite industry-wide scrutiny — for long enough to get the No. 1 overall pick in 2016?

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It was May 16, 2016. Hinkie had resigned the month prior and Bryan Colangelo had taken over just four months after his father, Jerry, was hired as chairman of basketball operations. The Sixers were hosting a draft workout at PCOM which featured future first-round picks in Villanova’s Josh Hart and St. Joe’s DeAndre’ Bembry.

For as much as the assembled media were there to see the former Big 5 foes face off, something bigger was coming. After the players from that day were done working, Joel Embiid took the court.

To put this into context, Embiid was coming off his second missed season while dealing with a broken navicular bone in his right foot. He was almost mythical at that point. There were people that actually pondered if the charismatic Cameroonian would ever play an NBA game.

On that day, we got a glimpse of the player Hinkie had drafted.

Embiid had developed the body of Dwight Howard with the skill of Hakeem Olajuwon. Watching him, you couldn’t help but think to yourself how special he had a chance to be. It made you think that maybe all of this was worth it.

Just a month later, with the No. 1 overall pick that Hinkie's strategy helped attain, the team selected Ben Simmons. The Sixers hadn’t had a truly special player since Allen Iverson. They now had two.

Some detractors of The Process said they didn’t have a problem with the tanking, just tanking for as long as the team did. In the grand scheme of things, they tanked for three years under Hinkie — and an additional year under Colangelo.

And that may be the most ironic part of all of this. Because they won 28 games after winning 10 the previous season, people forget that Colangelo adopted the same strategy. He wasn’t really trying to win in 2015-16. His big free-agent signings were Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez. 

The reason they won 28 games is because Embiid finally played basketball. The reason they didn’t win more is that Simmons broke his foot.

Hinkie gambled with ping pong balls. In the cases of Embiid and Simmons — though not his draft pick but drafted because of his strategy — it paid off. In the cases of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, it did not.

But, again, Hinkie knew it wasn’t a sure thing. Luck was required.

“The illusion of control is an opiate, though,” Hinkie wrote. “Nonetheless, it is annoyingly necessary to get comfortable with many grades of maybe. Sixers fans come up to me to say hello and many of them say the same thing (almost instinctively) as we part, ‘Good luck.’ My standard reply: ‘Thanks. We’ll need it.’”

There are those who argue that Hinkie never lost a trade. It’s a plausible argument. While Hinkie didn’t hit on every draft pick, he acquired more and increased his chances by creating a bit of his own luck.

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Think back to the Sixers pre-Hinkie. In 2012-13, they just finished their third season under Doug Collins, who compiled a record of 110-120. Collins told Sixers fans to pray for Andrew Bynum’s knees while in actuality they were pleading for something better. Something different than the status quo.

The fact that it’s almost 2020 and people in Philadelphia can even mention the words “Sixers” and “NBA Finals” in the same sentence is proof The Process worked. If the Sixers don’t hire Hinkie, there’s a chance the status quo would’ve continued. Instead, the contrarian approach got them here.

Though he didn’t get to see it through, Hinkie played a huge part in delivering the most exciting era of Sixers basketball since Iverson. 

It’s clear now that I won’t see the harvest of the seeds we planted. That’s OK. Life’s like that. 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.

Not to say Hinkie was perfect. There were times when he went missing and Brett Brown was the one taking the heat from the press. Perhaps he could've been more front-facing, but was buried in his work instead.

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When Jimmy Butler — a player acquired with assets Hinkie cultivated — was going through his saga in Minnesota, he quoted Harvey Dent, the character who would become the villain known as Two-Face in Christopher Nolan’s "The Dark Knight."

“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.”

In Hinkie’s case, both circumstances are kind of true. His strategy went on too long for some and he became the villain. To others, he’s a martyr who died for the sins of previous Sixers regimes.

Either way, Sam Hinkie laid the groundwork for where the Sixers are right now.

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Remembering Kobe Bryant's legendary reunion with his high school point guard

Remembering Kobe Bryant's legendary reunion with his high school point guard

Ideas for sports content are a bit like jump shots. Sometimes you’re Kevin Ollie and it’s brick city for days. Then once in a rare while an idea takes on a life of its own, the stars align, the hoop starts to look like an ocean, and you drop 81 and it’s a masterpiece.

That latter was the case for the segment The700Level Show did back in 2015 when Kobe Bryant played his final NBA game in Philadelphia against the Sixers.

We were lucky enough to have The Evster writing and working for the site. Evan was quite the baller in his day and was a point guard for Lower Merion back in the 90’s and teammates with Kobe during the future NBA legend’s junior year there.

It was a great idea to pair Kobe with his old high school point guard but if you’ve ever worked in the sports media world, you know you can absolutely never count on athletes to help deliver on any creative ideas you may be working on.

But you can always shoot your shot.

As you can see in the final product, Kobe and Ev’s relationship was real. The chemistry was still there decades later. All the planning and prep work in the world can’t produce that.

The final video is hilarious. It was one of those rare instances where the final product was even better than you could have hoped for.

Perhaps my favorite part of it all is similar to one my friend Ev will remember as well, “the fact that so many people said we were able to show a side of Kobe they’d never seen.”
 

Our thoughts go out to Ev and all of those affected by the tragic events in Calabasas.

Joel Embiid honors Kobe Bryant, channels his own 'Mamba Mentality' in return

Joel Embiid honors Kobe Bryant, channels his own 'Mamba Mentality' in return

It was a strange night at the Wells Fargo Center. Then again, everything has felt strange since we found out that Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others tragically died in a helicopter crash Sunday.

But on Tuesday, it was time for Joel Embiid and the Sixers to play basketball again. The team honored Bryant, the NBA great and Philadelphia native, in a touching pregame tribute.

Embiid did it by returning to the floor after missing nine games and scoring 24 points in a 115-104 win over the Warriors (see observations), drawing upon the way Bryant played his decorated 20-year career.

“It was tough,” Embiid said. “Like I keep saying, Kobe meant something different than anybody else. It was tough, but I know just looking at his career and what he was about, that 'Mamba Mentality.' It was about outworking your opponent, outworking everybody else and I know he would want everybody to go out and compete hard and play the game and try to win. That's what he was about. It was tough but that's how you honor him.”

Beyond his play on the floor, Embiid reached out to another Hall of Famer for help to honor Kobe.

Bobby Jones’ No. 24 was retired by the Sixers in 1986. Known as “The Secretary of Defense,” Jones was a five-time All-Star and an 11-time All-Defensive Team pick. Sixers equipment manager Scotty Rego, who’s been with the team for over 32 years, had a hand in helping arrange everything. A phone call was arranged for Embiid and Jones earlier in the day.

Jones’ only caveat was that Embiid have a strong defensive effort — like Jones and Bryant, a 12-time All-Defensive Team pick himself.

“Bobby, he's a legend,” Embiid said. “He's got his number retired. He's a Hall of Famer. It's always tough to be in that situation, but he was incredible. He was forthcoming. I'm really grateful that he let me have this opportunity to wear that number. It's a tough decision, but he was all for it and I'm really thankful.”

Will he continue to wear it?

“No, I'm not keeping it. It was just for one game. You can't disrespect the greatness of Bobby Jones. He was a great player at his time. His number is retired. Like I said, I'm extremely grateful that he let me have that opportunity to wear that. I'm back to my number.”

Embiid getting the opportunity to play and wear the number wasn’t a forgone conclusion. Embiid was listed as questionable pregame and had to be cleared by a hand surgeon. He'd missed the past two and a half weeks after tearing a ligament in the ring finger of his left hand. 

When he spoke to reporters last week for the first time since his surgery, he mentioned the team’s spot in the standings has fueled him to want to get back in the lineup faster. With their win tonight, the Sixers are a half game ahead of the Pacers for the fifth seed and just 2 ½ games behind the Raptors for No. 2.

They also have a difficult stretch of games upcoming. After traveling to Atlanta to take on the lowly Hawks, they finish the road trip with games against the Celtics, Heat and Bucks — all teams ahead of them in the conference.

Embiid is gearing up for that slate but didn’t look all that rusty Tuesday aside from his five turnovers. Most importantly, he said his finger wasn’t in any pain.

“No, it's not,” Embiid said. “I'm fine. I'm wearning a lot of straps on it. I will probably blame that on the amount of turnovers I had today. So that was the reason, but I'm wearing a lot of straps on it so takes a lot of adjustment, but it's fine.”

With the Sixers beginning to pull away in the fourth, Embiid got the ball in the post on Eric Paschall. It was an obvious mismatch and Embiid went to work. With a double team looming, Embiid turned toward the baseline.

He hit a fadeaway. Wearing No. 24. Earning his 24th point of the game.

“Well, that was cool. I didn't know it was actually 24 points as I shot that fadeaway — that was what [Kobe] was about. I actually yelled ‘Kobe.’ A lot of us, since I started playing basketball, that's how we've always done it. You shoot something in the trash and you just go ‘Kobe,’ so that was cool. And then for it to be the 24th point and me wearing 24 means a lot.”

It was a fitting end to a difficult night.

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