Sam Hinkie was a relative success, as he left the Philadelphia 76ers in good position moving forward.
“The crops have been eaten.”
Picture a barren farm field, ravaged of the best of its current crop, and left with extremely limited prospects for future sustenance. There might be enough lentil and corn crop to get by, but certainly not enough seeds to sow to thrive and grow going forward in the larger environment.
That desolate turf is how Sam Hinkie viewed the Sixers upon taking over as the team’s general manager in 2013. He saw a middling team who had gone all-in on a move to better itself and got burned. All that was left in the wake of the Andrew Bynum debacle was scorched earth, roster remains, and a very bleak outlook for the franchise’s future.
The team’s best player, Andre Iguodala, was gone. Their most recent draft picks, Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic, were gone. Their first-round picks in the upcoming 2014 and 2016 NBA drafts; gone. Cap space was tight due to several questionable contracts. Not only were the organization’s present prospects compromised, but their future outlook was as well.
The crops had been eaten.
Enter ‘The Process”; an ambitious plan to punt the present in favor of future fortification and eventual self-sustenance. Given the ambitious aim of Hinkie’s plan to restructure the Sixers, the gratification was never going to be immediate. Such NBA success rarely is – save for a couple recent Eastern Conference examples) – but moderate short-term success was never the desired goal.
The franchise’s fan base had become accustomed to near-.500 records and first-round flameouts, and yearned for something more; something consistent, something sustainable.
“What I care most about is how to put the franchise in the position [to succeed] over the long term,” Hinkie told Zach Lowe just a day before resigning from the Sixers.
At this stated goal, Hinkie has succeeded. He has put the 76ers in an excellent position to succeed going forward – no bad contracts, a plethora of draft picks, assets, ample cap space and financial flexibility. The task of capitalizing on that positioning though, now falls at the feet of another individual. That new administration will benefit directly from the built-in flexibility of Hinkie’s “process.”
With ample future optionality, one bad move – a miss on a draft pick, or a bad contract – won’t cripple the team.
In terms of the restructuring of the Sixers, think of Hinkie as a demolition man of sorts* –an extremely effective one at that – that the organization brought in to tear down the house. The Sixers new general manager then is a contractor hired to build upon the foundation that Hinkie left. A solid foundation is critical to the long-term stability of the house and Sam left quite a firm foundation.
Ownership’s evident lack of confidence in Hinkie as the sole guy moving forward should not be an indictment of the work that he has done in setting the Sixers up for success.
The Sixers are far better off in nearly every organizational aspect than they were in April of 2013, prior to Hinkie’s tenure with the team. In sharp contrast to the previous regime, Hinkie did not saddle the Sixers with any bad contracts that would linger and negatively affect the team’s ability to make moves in the future. Instead, he secured a plethora of young, promising players on team-friendly contracts, in turn maximizing the organization’s flexibility going forward.
Hinkie highlighted as much in his resignation letter to Sixers’ ownership:
“Our salary cap position going forward is easily the NBA’s best. The most room, the most flexibility, providing the widest available set of options in free agency or trade of any club. This stockpile can be used all at once or strategically over the ensuing years to acquire players that fit your team, improve in your development program, and help you move up the standings.”
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Hinkie had to dedicate time and energy to clearing contracts due to rash decisions made by the previous regime. The new administration. Rather they are in position to capitalize on his moves immediately.
In addition to the handful of recent lottery picks already residing on the roster, more high-caliber [young] help is on the horizon, as the Sixers are in a uniquely advantageous position in the upcoming draft(s) – due to Hinkie’s deft maneuvering. Again, from his letter:
“In the upcoming May draft lottery, we have what will likely be the best ever odds to get the #1 overall pick (nearly 30%), a roughly 50/50 chance at a top-2 pick (the highest ever), and a roughly 50/50 chance at two top-5 picks, which would be the best lottery night haul ever. That same bounce of a ping pong ball (almost a flip of a coin) will determine if we have three first round picks this year (unusual) or four (unprecedented). That’s this year. Or this quarter, if you will.
“Regardless of the haul that comes out of a May night in New York, the team is likely to see additional lottery pick talent hit the court next season regardless. Two additional first round picks this year are available to you as well. Plus additional draft picks are set to flow in regularly for many years to come”
The crops have been replenished.
In less than three years, Hinkie cleared clunky contracts, maximized financial flexibility, acquired a bevy of talented young players and draft picks, and in turn set up the Sixers for sustained success – despite the lack of it during his time with the team.
The Sixers immediate and long-term future is riddled with uncertainty, but one thing is assured: Sam Hinkie left the Sixers with the foundation for future sustained success. He just won’t be the one to build upon it.