Sun. Oct 25th, 2020

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Sam Hinkie And The Game He Doesn’t Understand

4 min read
Sam Hinkie

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images Sport

We read the incredibly long and self-indulgent Sam Hinkie resignation letter so you won’t have to. You can thank us later. 

Sam Hinkie has left the building. And he’s concerned that we might see only the damage in his wake. So much so that he’s treated the Sixers’ organization’s investors to a 13-page treatise on the methodology of his madness, or maybe it’s supposed to be the other way around.

To be fair, Hinkie’s view is that the game he doesn’t understand is the one played amongst the more pedestrian thinkers in the executive suites of NBA-land. Says sage Sam, at page 3 (if you’re following along at home), quoting a Warren Buffett in his late 30’s, “I am not attuned to this environment, and I don’t want to spoil a decent record by trying to play a game I don’t understand just so I can go out a hero.” Now that is a cool quote, but how do you eventually go out a hero if you’re playing a game you don’t get? I guess it’s now odious to be the Sixers GM now that there are other cooks in the kitchen. Is it Jerry Colangelo’s game that Hinkie doesn’t get? Or is it the game practiced by the NBA’s brass? Or are they one and the same? We’re to understand that Hinkie is willing to go away, secure in the knowledge that the Philadelphia 76ers will thrive because of the seeds he’s planted. There are devoted followers of The Process who believe that and will see this departed GM as a hero who sacrificed his Philadelphia career to make the team a no-longer mediocre franchise. Good for them.

Hinkie’s letter proceeds through a labyrinthine path of philosophical self-indulgence for seven pages before discussing basketball. It was painful, but I’ve read it so you won’t have to. It reads like a cut-and-paste from business seminar material. Some tasty morsels, but ultimately empty calories. The scary part is that some version of this stuff must have been the sales pitch that impressed Josh Harris enough to bring Hinkie onboard in the first place. My first thought after reading this epistle was that I should try to break it down and understand the mindset better, to try to grasp what it is that drives Sam Hinkle and his analytic ilk. My second thought was that I would get a headache and we wouldn’t really be better for that Process.

For all the lofty language and florid business-speak (a language that should go the way of Latin, which by the way should be taught anew), The Process just is not all that complicated. It is contrarian – as Hinkie likes to describe himself – but not difficult to grasp. You clear cap space by unloading your players, acquire draft picks out the wazoo, acquire crappy contracts along the way (as distinct from living, breathing players), draft great guys, and – BOOM! – the world will be your oyster because one day you’ll wake up to find a really good basketball team, needing only some filler in the form of some solid free agents to rocket the team to success. Oh, and there’s player development, which is the process of finding diamonds in the rough (e.g., Robert Covington) for the future. Maybe not the Sixers’ future, but someone’s. This all requires patience, and you don’t really know how it will go.

More Sixers: Hinkie Quits As Philadelphia 76ers GM

Except now we do know how it goes. It took three seasons for the Philadelphia 76ers to be picked so clean that they could barely manage 10 wins. And, by the way, that win total has only reached 10 because the arrival of Jerry Colangelo also quickly brought Ish Smith to provide point guard play for a team that had been determined to make point guards disappear. We also know now – as has been widely reported – that Sam Hinkie, despite his willingness to take awful contracts off the hands of fellow team-runners, was somehow burning bridges with NBA colleagues who don’t like dealing with him and good NBA players who can’t see Philadelphia in their future. And we know that Hinkie didn’t see the value of mixing veteran players with the young talent. I suspect that’s because too many wins might result, damaging the lottery position. Strive for that 25% of ping-pong balls!

Hinkie was right about mediocrity. One should not aspire to it. But he was wrong to think that his path was the only one to greatness. And wrong to be inflexible in his approach. It had to be this maddening determination to stay bad that caused the league to intervene. Maybe the seeds Sam Hinkie planted will bear fruit. Certainly some will. But this once-great franchise should not scrape along the league’s bottom any longer. It’s time to give Brett Brown a basketball team. I think he can do great things with it.

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