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Thursday, April 07, 2016

Sam Hinkie Resigns at 76ers' GM

ESPN the Magazine rated the 76ers as the #1 team in all of sports when it came to innovation and the use of analytics.  The architect of that innovation was Sam Hinkie, whom they hired several years ago fresh off assisting Daryl Morey in Houston to help the team, over time, develop a perennial contender.  Hinkie, it's well known, created something called "The Process," which involved trading established players, stockpiling many draft picks and essentially fielding a D-League Team Plus for a few years.  The team was the worst in the NBA, so said its record.  Yet the fan were optimistic that with a healthy Joel Embiid and a few better guards next season, they might have a chance to grab the #8 spot in the playoffs.  Charles Barkley opined the same. 

Reports on Embiid are that he's on his way to a full recovery after missing two seasons.  Getting Embiid, the best center prospect since Hakeem Olajuwon, having Jalil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, bringing Dario Saric over from Turkey and having the top pick plus a few others could set up the 76ers to make a good run for the next many years.  Hinkie, the Stanford MBA, was known for keeping his ideas close to him and for running all sorts of metrics-driven simulations so as to demonstrate his points about the future of the team and the value of draft picks.  It all sounded so good.

Yes, this year's team, like last year's, was plum awful.  Yes, they need more players.  But had Embiid not gotten hurt the team would have fared better earlier and been more attractive to free agents.  True, the Embiid pick on Hinkie's watch, was risky.  There's no arguing that.  But few at the time questioned it, even if the risks were known, namely, that big men suffer this type of foot injury and sometimes it ruins their careers.  Bill Walton and Yao Ming are two prime examples.

But, the 76ers were onto something.  Hinkie is onto something.  There's no doubting that.  True, the league was getting embarrassed about how poorly the 76ers were faring, and I'm sure that the highly competitive owners also were losing patience.  If they were, you wonder what the conversations with Hinkie were about how many years they were giving him.  Otherwise, to bring in Jerry Colangelo as an adult in the room and apparently bringing on his much-decorated son Bryan, does not make any sense.  And, if Bryan Colangelo helps turn the team into a winner, the bet here is that he does so on a solid foundation that Sam Hinkie built.

Alas, Sam Hinkie, you are an innovator, someone before his time.  The bet here is that in 20 years all teams will be doing the types of things that ultimately got you either fired, de-emphasized or eased out of your post at the Philadelphia 76ers.

"Trust the Process" might not have worked out the way Josh Harris and Sam Hinkie wanted, but there was something to it.  And, if it were to be called a failure, well, we all learn a lot from failures.  In basketball's case, it would be unwise to toss onto the trash heap everything that Hinkie did.  It would be wise to study it, analyze it and then salvage from it the types of analytics that drew attention to Sam Hinkie as an innovator, as someone relying upon sophisticated mathematics to help determine the type of players he needed to craft a championship team.

Sam Hinkie had the courage to think outside the box.  It might have got him fired, but I would encourage him to keep at it.  He was onto something, and the question now is whether the 76ers' front office can pick up on it, build upon it, and craft a championship contender.


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