Bryan Colangelo

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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A year removed from Collargate, at least Sixers are in better shape than dysfunctional Lakers

A year removed from Collargate, at least Sixers are in better shape than dysfunctional Lakers

May 29, 2018, is a day that will live in infamy among Sixers fans.

One year ago, an article was published by the Ringer’s Ben Detrick which connected then-president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo to multiple Twitter accounts. Those who weren’t familiar with the term “burner account” learned in a hurry. It all led to Colangelo resigning from his post after an internal investigation.

If Collargate was the scandal we all wanted, then “Lakers 2.0” is the sequel we all needed. What Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka reportedly did to the Lakers makes what the Colangelo conglomerate did to the Sixers look like mere child’s play.

Who would’ve thought when the Sixers missed out on LeBron James that they’d appear to be in better shape than the team that landed him less than a year later?

Much like Detrick, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes wrote an explosive article outlining serious dysfunction in the Lakers’ attempt to return their organization to its previous glory. 

Johnson and Pelinka were able to sign James and crafted it as a masterstroke. Like they were the ones that sold James on choosing them over a team like the Sixers and it wasn’t solely because of geography. According to the story, the Lakers got more than they bargained for with James and all that comes with the superstar.

It was eerily similar to some of the stories that came out of Collargate. It was ironic that commissioner Adam Silver intervened with The Process, forcing the Sixers to bring in Jerry Colangelo, which led to the resignation of Sam Hinkie. The Colangelos were meant to come in and provide stability and instead created an even bigger mess. Beyond the scandal, Colangelo whiffed on several roster moves, most notably Markelle Fultz, that the Sixers felt the pain of this season.

Johnson was expected to provide a similar stability, with Pelinka helping with the minutia of dealing with agents and the numbers. After the duo landed James, they made a series of peculiar moves, signing guys like Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasely — talented players that never quite lived up to their potential and came with plenty of baggage. Then the Anthony Davis saga happened where any remotely talented young player on the roster was publicly dangled. It all culminated in the Lakers missing the playoffs, firing their coach — which then resulted in a disastrous coaching search — and now an offseason of uncertainty.

Thankfully for the Sixers, they have the most stability — at least from a front office standpoint — they’ve had in forever. They’re coming off back-to-back 50-win seasons. Brett Brown returns for his seventh season as head coach. Elton Brand gets his first real offseason as GM. The team has two young All-Stars that should be plenty motivated this offseason.

Sure, we have no idea what’s going to happen with Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris or even JJ Redick. The Sixers only have five players under contract: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Zhaire Smith, Jonah Bolden and Jonathon Simmons (who likely won’t be back since only $1 million of his deal is guaranteed). 

But even with all the roster certainty, at least they’re not the Lakers right now.

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Elton Brand's respected career as a player is what Sixers need right now in a general manager

Elton Brand's respected career as a player is what Sixers need right now in a general manager

Maybe we should have known this was coming from the Sixers.

Sure, they looked into a bevy of candidates for their vacant general manager job after Bryan Colangelo’s Twitter scandal rocked the organization.

There were the reported big-name misses such as Houston general manager Daryl Morey and former Cleveland Cavaliers exec David Griffin. There were also the other capable external candidates that included Utah Jazz assistant general manager Justin Zanik and Houston Rockets vice president Gersson Rosas.

Of course, in-house guys Ned Cohen, Marc Eversley and Alex Rucker were each given a legitimate shot at the job.

However, looking back on things, perhaps Elton Brand should have been recognized as the man for the job all along.

Not because of his front-office pedigree. Let’s be honest here, Brand was just in a uniform as recently as the 2015-16 NBA season when he played 17 games during his second stint with the Sixers. 

He followed that up by retiring (for the second time) and joining the franchise as a player development consultant. That lasted just nine months before the 39-year-old was named general manager of the Delaware Blue Coats and another year before he was tabbed as vice president of basketball operations.

While that’s an impressive rise up the ranks, it doesn’t scream out as the extensive résumé of someone prepared to take over the controls of a 52-win team on the cusp of being a serious championship contender.

But Brand has one major characteristic that is critical to the Sixers at this moment: respect. After the Colangelo mess unraveled in unprecedented fashion, the Sixers’ current players — and future ones — need someone in a position of power that understands them and that they can trust.

While the present group insisted the words of Colangelo — or his wife — from the multiple burner Twitter accounts didn’t bother them, that was not completely true. No one wants to be talked about, especially when the words come from a person who is supposed to be on your side.

“It was hurtful because of the stuff that was said in those tweets,” Joel Embiid admitted during an interview with ESPN before last month’s NBA Africa Game. “But at the end of the day, I know who I am as a person, as a player. And I know a lot of people, they're always telling me I'm great but I have a lot of stuff to work on. And actually, I appreciated everything that was said about me because if it was true — even if it wasn't — that stays in my mind. And it makes me want to get better. The stuff where they were saying I wasn't happy, that makes me want to work harder on my body. Or if they're saying that I couldn't do anything, it makes me want to work harder and get better. So, actually, I love it. I appreciated it. It was great. It was great for my game.”

What's even better for Embiid's game? Having a general manager in place that knows the game himself and holds such high regard around the league that other teams/players will at least listen to his sales pitch. That's what comes with being a veteran of 17 NBA seasons and one of the classiest individuals you will ever meet.

Now we're not saying Brand's promotion will turn the Sixers into the league's top destination for free agents or that he's going to suddenly start fleecing teams in trades. Not at all. He's going to have his work cut out for him as a novice in a cutthroat business.

The thing is, he's always been willing to put in the work. Brand's career on the court should tell you that, and now he's bringing that same determination to his new role. With plenty of help, of course.

“More generally, my focus is NBA prep and travel and working,” Brand said of his mindset in June. “We’re doing it collectively and supporting Coach (Brett) Brown and Marc Eversley and Alex and Ned with all the things we’re doing there. That’s actually my main focus. The G League has been on the back burner because of that.”

Now it’s his sole focus. That’s an entirely different kind of Philly max.

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