hinkie
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The death of Sam Hinkie’s Process and who Sixers fans should blame

The Process is dead.

Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie officially resigned on Wednesday by sending ownership a 13-page document to announce his decision that, per Marc Stein of ESPN who first reported the news, included this line, “… Given all the changes to our organization, I no longer have the confidence that I can make good decisions on behalf of investors in the Sixers — you. So I should step down. And I have,” then what just as easily could have been 12 and a half pages of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Dear Josh Harris:

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯I quit ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯Love, Sam ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Isn’t that how most of us feel right now? After less than three years in charge of the Sixers, we have no idea—no earthly clue—if Hinkie is a basketball savant, or just an idiot.

(If so inclined, here is the actual 13-page resignation document Hinkie sent the Sixers, obtained by ESPN. It includes a header titled “Thinking about Thinking”, with a sub-head called “The importance of intellectual humility” and quotes Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet, Howard Mark, Seth Klarman and Stephen Johnson…and that’s just the first four pages.)

The Process—now and always with a capital P—was a colossal disaster, but it’s hard to know if that was because of poor scouting, bad drafting, or dumb luck. Was selecting Joel Embiid third overall when the Sixers somehow missed out on the top two picks in 2014 a shrewd move that hasn’t panned out, or a terrible decision because Process-driven analytics can’t possibly account for career-threatening injuries?

Should Hinkie have opted to keep Elfrid Payton, a player they never wanted but drafted that year, instead of dealing him to Orlando for the rights to Dario Šarić and a few additional picks?

Was taking Jahlil Okafor third overall this past season a mistake, given Brett Brown could barely play him in crunch time when he was healthy and the Sixers were already loaded with short-range bigs? And speaking of bigs, it was genius to get Nerlens Noel when they did in the 2013 draft, and dumping Michael Carter-Williams when they did was pretty brilliant too, but was drafting him in the first place that smart? Sure, MCW won Rookie of the Year before getting exposed as a top-tier NBA guard, but the Sixers took him ahead of Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk and Shabazz Muhammad—three decent role players—and Giannis Anteteokounmpo, a budding superstar in Milwaukee.

Though as bad as the Sixers are, most of Hinkie’s moves have made financial sense. The Sixers have unloaded all their bad contracts and have a ton of cap space—something in the neighborhood of $54 million—with plenty of draft picks over the next few years to find that one major superstar needed to compete with the top flight teams in the NBA.

While many pundits (and fans) have mocked Hinkie’s Process for taking so dang long, it isn’t actually over. Or at least it wasn’t, and maybe it’s still not. Let’s explain.

On page three of his resignation, Hinkie wrote about intellectually humility by offering this to his now former bosses:

We talk a great deal about being curious, not critical. About asking the question until you understand something truly. About not being afraid to ask the obvious question that everyone else seems to know the answer to. And about the willingness to say three simple words, “I don’t know.”

Will the Sixers ever be any good? We don’t know, and there is Hinkie admitting than he didn’t know either. But his long-standing point is that nobody knows, and to suggest otherwise is its own kind of failure.

Thanks to Hinkie, the Sixers still have a line on the top pick in the top-heavy 2016 NBA Draft. They still have the rights to the Lakers pick this year if it miraculously falls out of the top three, or more likely next year, and Hinkie acquired two other first round picks that will manifest in this year’s draft as well. They also have a young nucleus of at least one or two actual NBA players and the chance that Embiid may be able to step on a basketball court at some point, and be something close to the star Hinkie and the Sixers front office hoped for when they drafted him.

Plus, perhaps the biggest “trust the Process” moment in Hinkie’s tenure with the Sixers, Šarić is on his way over next year.

If this team is good in the next few years, it will be because of Hinkie and the Process. And yet, we just suffered through the three worst seasons in NBA history and that’s all Hinkie’s fault. (Note: I would usually research that claim to verify it, but I’m depressed enough right now, so please accept my hyperbole as fact.)

It’s hard to support a man who constructed, deconstructed and consistently reconstructed a roster that led to 47 wins out of 242 games. That’s unacceptable, no matter how focused one is on the future, and no matter how long the “longest view in the room” may be.

In that section of his resignation manifesto, Hinkie took the long view on the long view, writing:

While some organizations (like ours) have this as part of their ethos, for others it is the ethos. Check out the 10,000 Year Clock. It is no mere thought experiment, but an actual clock being designed to be placed inside a mountain in West Texas, wound, and left to tick and chime for ten thousand years. Why? Because to design something that lasts that long makes us all consider what the world will look like between now and then. In return, we might be inspired to do something about it.

In other words, Hinkie’s Process was going to take as long as it took because that’s how long it takes. That it takes so long to properly build a basketball team is, to him, its own reward. Never mind all the failure it takes to get there.

But Hinkie never shied away from that plan, nor the philosophy that NBA teams have to take risks and swing for the proverbial fences to find that generational player if they want to compete for a title. If Embiid is that guy, the Process was a success. If he never plays a minute of competitive basketball in his career, it was a disastrous franchise-crushing failure.

The same goes for Okafor and, to a lesser extent, Noel and, to a far greater extent, Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram or Buddy Hield or Kris Dunn or whoever Jerry Colangelo and his son, Bryan, who is “imminently” expected to join the Sixers as GM, decide to draft in the first round this year.

The Process may be dead, but Hinkie won’t be around to find out whether we should bury it, or praise it.

That’s what makes news like this so confounding. In almost every way, Hinkie’s tenure with the Sixers was a failure, but the logic behind it was sound. Hinkie was willing to hijack three full seasons of professional basketball—and revenue—in an effort to find that one cornerstone superstar, and his bosses were letting him do it.

Hinkie knew—he told reporters as much during a lengthy press conference at the end of last season—that finding a bona fide superstar was the only want to succeed in the NBA, and unless they can put together a roster to convince Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or LeBron James to sign with the Sixers, they needed to find that guy in the draft.

Of the 69 NBA Finals, 50 have been won by a No. 1 seed, 10 by a No. 2 seed and seven by a No. 3 seed. Only twice—once by a No. 4 and once by a No. 6—has a team outside of the top three seeds won an NBA title, while more than 72 percent of all NBA seasons have ended with the top team in one of the two conferences winning the NBA title.

Hinkie knew this, and he knew that in order to become the best team in the Eastern Conference—in order to compete with LeBron—he needed as many chances as possible to find the next LeBron. Sometimes the ping pong balls failed him. Other times, perhaps, the decisions have. But Hinkie knew that was the only way this was ever going to work.

And for the most part, smart fans were on board with the Process, as tough as it may be to watch the team play. National basketball pundits who mocked Hinkie weren’t deriding the Process as much as the audacity of Hinkie so openly trying to game the NBA system by tanking. Angry fans and short-sighted local critics were inconsequential to the Process. They’d all be back as soon as the Sixers got good again.

It was the owner who was tired of being a laughingstock.

It was Harris, who at the behest of the other NBA owners and commissioner Adam Silver, brought in Jerry Colangelo to look over Hinkie’s shoulder. It was Harris who gave up on the plan, but reportedly still wanted to keep Hinkie around, albeit in a neutered role to work with the younger Colangelo in some corporate groupthink management paradigm he surely employs in non-sports settings to great success.

harris-nba
NBA.com

It’s Harris who has OKed the decisions that have seen the Sixers lose more games each year he has owned the team.

It’s Harris who pays the bills for a team that has gone 81-274 since he bought it for pennies on the dollar during a work stoppage five years ago.

It’s Harris who obviously only invested in the Sixers to turn a quick buck—a widely-held opinion he has vehemently denied—and it’s Harris who has let his ego get in the way of sound business decisions ever since.

It’s Harris who quit on the Process.

From the day he purchased the team, and that ridiculous press conference standing on a stage with disastrous front-man Adam Aaron they were two conquering heroes returning home, almost every decision by Harris has been the wrong one. In that respect, he is the owner the Sixers franchise deserves. The problem is, he’s not the owner the fans deserve. At least not the ones who have stuck around through the long view his handpicked GM sold everyone.

Which leaves Harris and the Colangelos in a tough spot. Either they can stick with the Process, Hinkieless as it may be, or they can blow everything up, sell off the talent they have and quickly rebuild a roster that can make the playoffs every year and maybe get to the second round every other season and hope that’s good enough for Philly fans. It won’t be.

Hinkie’s 13-page resignation reads like he wrote it to a group of people who don’t know anything about basketball, and that’s because Hinkie knew that his bosses didn’t. Yes, Colangelo is an immensely respected basketball mind, so it’s not as if the Sixers are left without anyone who knows the game. But from an ownership perspective, Hinkie knew that Harris and his other investors were basketball idiots, not savants.

So now what? Well, first we have to figure out what we want, and what we expect? We want two top-five picks who can change the future of the franchise. We want a healthy Embiid and Šarić to be a star and Durant or Westbrook to look at all the young talent and free money and basketball tradition and think Philly would be a great place to play.

We expect the Sixers to hire another Colangelo—this time it’s the guy who helped put together a solid Toronto team but who also drafted Andrea Bargnani first overall—and put together a team like the one we had before Hinkie was hired. A team that can win a playoff round or two every few years, but is ultimately unsuited to win an NBA title.

Would that be better than this? Nobody has any idea. Not any one of us writing these 2000-word Process thinkpieces, not the fans, not Hinkie, not Colangelo—either of them—and certainly not the owner. The problem is, after three years believing in one thing, we might be about to find out.

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