Sam Hinkie’s Process

This was a paper I wrote last semester for my Advanced Composition course at the University that I attend. 

The Philadelphia 76ers, one of the most distinguished basketball franchises in the National Basketball Association, hired a man by the name of Sam Hinkie as their general manager on May 14th 2013. Little did they know they were hiring someone who was about to change the way we view accumulating assets in the modern age of basketball. There has been controversy over his management style but nonetheless, the Sam Hinkie era, because of the results that were yielded, will go down as one of the more successful tenures of general managers in recent NBA history.

In professional basketball, it is a constant power struggle for not only the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but also to secure the next top prospect in the upcoming draft.  The most efficient way to secure the next perennial all-star is by purposefully losing games throughout the 82-game season for a better draft pick. David Berri, author of From college to the pros: predicting the NBA amateur player draft describes the current draft system as “The reverse-order amateur draft is an institution common to each of the major North American professional team sports. The draft is designed to give the weaker teams access to the future stars of the sport” (Berri 1). This does not mean that players were purposefully missing shots during games but there was clear and obvious pressure from fans and general management towards coaches to give washouts and bench guys major minutes in a majority of games. These accumulated losses result in a good draft pick for the upcoming draft due to the way the NBA handles its draft selection process. This form of losing is more famously known as “tanking” and it has been around the league for a long time. The 1983-1984 Houston Rockets tanked for what would turn into Hakeem Olajuwon, the 2002-2003 Cleveland Cavaliers tanked for famed high-school prospect, LeBron James. These two players, one a hall of famer, the other, well on his way, are clear indicators that this process undoubtedly works if you play your cards right as a general manager which is why tanking plays such a prominent role within the NBA especially with a flawed lottery system which Hinkie undoubtedly takes advantage of.

In order to truly tank you have to have at least three things in order within your basketball franchise. The first being, hiring or keeping a coach who is willing and ready to lose for potentially multiple seasons. In 2013, 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie hired Brett Brown. Known for his ability to develop young players, he was an excellent candidate for this requirement due to the fact this was his first job as a head coach in the NBA and that he would primarily be working with young prospects for many years in the future. The second requirement to tank is to trade away valuable and even semi-valuable players within the squad for draft picks in upcoming drafts for the future. The third requirement, which many teams who try to copy-cat this system fail to do so, is to commit to losing for many seasons. The commitment is what made this whole operation eventually pay off 76ers. Without it, they would remain in basketball limbo with teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers with no real direction towards losing or winning for that matter.

Furthermore, it is imperative to highlight and analyze key transactions by Sam Hinkie during his reign. Starting off, Hinkie drafts eventual rookie of the year winner, Michael Carter-Williams with the 11th pick in the 2013 draft. The same night he trades away all-star point guard Jrue Holiday for a future first round pick and highly touted draft prospect, Nerlens Noel. At this point on the 76ers timeline, they were a team with two great prospects and frankly, that was about it. They were going all in on their future rebuild by acquiring future first round picks and young talented players in the draft.

The following season the 76ers ended with an abysmal record of 18 wins and 64 losses which put them as the third worst team in the entire league. A season in which they tied the league record for most consecutive losses, a clear indication of their intentions as a franchise. Nonetheless they set themselves up with the 3rd overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft in a high-quality draft class with potentially elite talent within the first three picks. Hinkie selected “The Process”. It was Joel Embiid. Hampered by injuries in three straight seasons, we are only now beginning to witness the level of production he can deliver against some of the best players the league has to offer. Bill Simmons, in his article, Learning to Trust the Process: The Winners of the NBA’s First Month illustrates Embiid by saying “I attended one of Embiid’s pre-draft workouts in May 2014, after which I reported that Embiid was “such an athletic freak that he’s one of those ‘still going up as he’s finishing the dunk’ guys” and predicted that he’d become the first pick because Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker hadn’t separated themselves enough to warrant “passing on a potential franchise center with a good chance of becoming the 7-foot Serge Ibaka” (Simmons, ringer.com). This draft selection will go down as Hinkie’s trademark acquisition and paired along with drafting power forward Dario Saric, a future rookie of the year nominee, this would wind up as his trademark draft as well. The process was now starting to take shape and Philadelphia would soon start to bear witness to what Sam Hinkie’s process was all about.

In 2015 it followed the same pattern as the previous off seasons. Philadelphia ended the season with an even worse record of 10-72, the worst record in the league. Mostly due to the fact that Embiid missed the whole season with an injury and that this was still a young and developing squad with no real goals towards winning. The acquisition of Robert Covington, a very raw prospect who had gone undrafted took place during this season. He has now become one of the best “3 and D” players in the entire league. Meaning he shoots the three pointer effectively and defends opponents well. Hinkie then flipped former rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams, for two first round draft picks. Starting to catch onto the pattern? You might question why he would trade away what seems to be a promising player in Carter-Williams? That is because at this point, his value is at its highest and Hinkie was looking for a prospect even better than him. This is a key theme of Hinkie’s and for that matter, most general managers. Exploiting players values at their highest point and turning them into even better players through future drafts.

Staying on the topic of the 2015 offseason, it is necessary to mention that the 76ers ended up with the 3rd overall draft pick after the NBA lottery. They subsequently selected Jahlil Okafor from Duke University and then with their 37th overall pick they select Richaun Holmes, a tremendous role player at this point in time. At this moment, the 76ers are comprised of the talents of Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor, all top five picks in the last three NBA drafts. Not to mention two tremendous role players in Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes. The same summer, Hinkie makes a trade with the Sacramento Kings that sends 76ers’ players, Jason Thompson, Nik Stauskas, an aging Carl Landry, and two second round picks for a future first round pick in 2019, and the rights to swap first round picks with Sacramento in 2016 and 2017. In retrospect, this was a total fleecing of the Kings done by yours truly, Sam Hinkie.

Unfortunately, the 76ers broke one of the three requirements mentioned above. They lost their commitment to the process. With the hiring of Jerry Colangelo, a former general manager of the Phoenix Suns, as Chairman of Basketball Operations, Sam Hinkie’s future with the team began to look grim. This led to his resignation on April 6th 2016. Jerry Colangelo’s son, Bryan, was hired days later to take control. This marked the end of an era filled with hope for the future all done by sacrificing superficial wins the past three seasons for true, meaningful, and inevitably playoff wins in the future.

It would not be doing Sam Hinkie justice if this piece failed to mention that with all the moves made by Hinkie during his tenure, it eventually led to the drafting of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Simmons is being regarded as one of the best future prospects in the last 15 years. In the same article mentioned above, Bill Simmons states that Ben Simmons is “a bigger/better/nastier Grant Hill, with a dash of Magic and a sprinkle of LeBron thrown in. He’s a future MVP and he can’t even shoot yet” (Simmons, ringer.com). These are some of the highest honors you could receive at the ripe age of 19 years old from basketball aficionado, Bill Simmons. But, the scary part is, he is not wrong. While Fultz, the number one overall pick in the 2017 draft, looks to translate his undeniable skills to the next level. Totaling up all of the acquisitions and trades in the past 4 years we are left with a 2017 roster that consists of number one overall pick, Markelle Fultz, elite shooter JJ Reddick, undrafted small forward and one of the best “3 and D” players in the league, Robert Covington, elite point forward, Ben Simmons, and another elite player and “the process” himself, Joel Embiid. Along with tremendous role players like Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes, and T.J. McConnell, this team is built for the future and 76ers basketball has effectively been restored to the prominence it once was known for.

Moving onto oppositional viewpoints, many argue that the losing seasons year after year were not worth the ultimate goal of high draft picks. During Sam Hinkie’s time in Philadelphia he went a combined 47 wins and 195 losses which was the worst win percentage all of teams during that time frame. According to statista.com, a website dedicated to information on revenue, attendance records, and other various pieces of information, shows that attendance for the 76ers dropped dramatically during the 2013 and 2014 regular seasons. This can be accredited to a lack of success on the court. To refute this point, one must look towards what the process was about in the first place. The goal was to lose games and acquire assets through the draft to rebuild this franchise. He was not taking over a team that had gone to three straight NBA finals, he was taking over an already bad 76ers squad and flipped them for what they are today.

Furthermore, on the side of the opposition, it was not Sam Hinkie who drafted Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Bryan Colangelo was the man in charge at the time and it was his call on whether or not to select these two players. But, in support of Sam Hinkie it is important to note that he had only resigned months before, near the end of the season. At this point, all it took was the lottery to fall in Philadelphia’s favor because Ben Simmons was the unanimous choice as the first overall pick in what was viewed as a weak draft. Colangelo only had the ability to ruin this potential selection rather than create it himself. Markelle Fultz on the other hand, falls a little bit more under Colangelo’s work rather than solely off Hinkie’s. Colangelo traded the 3rd overall pick along with a 2019 first round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers for the 1st overall selection which turned into Markelle Fultz. This first round pick from the Lakers was actually acquired through a trade by Sam Hinkie, therefore without his efforts this would not have been possible in the format that it happened in.

Meanwhile, the 76ers sit at 13-13, tied for the 8th playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. According to ESPN.com, Joel Embiid leads the team with 23.5 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per game on a minutes restriction due to his injury history. Ben Simmons on the other hand is nearly averaging a triple double at 18 points a game, 7.7 assists per game, and an impressive 9.1 rebounds per game which is second only to Embiid. These two players are one of the most dynamic young duos the league has to offer and will soon look to translate their talent into NBA championships within the coming years. In an article done by Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst, they mention Philadelphia as a potential landing spot for superstar, Lebron James, next summer. “Other teams that are believed to want to pitch James also have some challenges at the moment. The 76ers — a team that has become a trendy option for James’ prognosticators — with young stars in Simmons and Joel Embiid, don’t currently have the max cap space” (Shelburne, Windhorst, ESPN.com). The fact that Philadelphia is in the conversation for the LeBron sweet stakes is a profound accreditation towards Hinkie and his efforts during his time in Philadelphia.

Taking all transaction and developments into account, the Sam Hinkie era will be remembered for ingenuity and shrewdness. Not only did he turn around a distraught franchise back into a contender and back into the national media spotlight, he set them up for success on the long-term basis. It would be interesting to see Hinkie back in the National Basketball Assocation with a new franchise to see if his abilities translate with a collection of new and varying assets. Nevertheless, Sam Hinkie supplied Philadelphia with a winning product. A product he promised long before experts could even begin to conceptualize the possibilities. A team built through systematic losing and a broken lottery system. And for that, his reign will go down as one of the most successful reigns in modern NBA history.

 

Works Cited

 

Berri, David J, et al. “From College to the Pros: Predicting the Nba Amateur Player Draft.” Journal of Productivity Analysis, vol. 35, no. 1, 2011, pp. 25–35., doi:10.1007/s11123-010-0187-x.

ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, http://www.espn.com/nba/team/stats/_/name/phi/philadelphia-76ers

“Philadelphia 76ers (Average) Home Attendance 2006-2017 | Statistic.” Statista, http://www.statista.com/statistics/197977/nba-home-attendance-of-the-philadelphia-76ers-since-2006/.

Shelburne, Ramona, and Brian Windhorst. “While the Lakers Pine for LeBron, His next Home Remains a Mystery.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 14 Dec. 2017,

Simmons, Bill. “The Winners of the NBA’s First Month.” The Ringer, The Ringer, 17 Nov. 2017, http://www.theringer.com/nba/2017/11/17/16669644/nba-winners-joel-embiid-ben-simmons-jayson-tatum-celtics-sixers.

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