Hinkie Manifesto – page 12: The NBA can be a league of desperation, those that are in it and those that can avoid it. So many find themselves caught in the zugzwang, the point in the game where all possible moves make you worse off.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know that my love and affection for Sam Hinkie is well-documented. For real Sixers fans (those who watch 60 or more games each year), the post 2000-2001 years were some of the most difficult years as a fan. It was really challenging to see the future being bright with guys like Brian Skinner, Greg Buckner (who we are probably still paying), and Kenny Thomas eating up significant portion of the salary cap for years to come.

Each year, the Sixers would fight for a playoff spot and end up drafting towards the middle of the first round, which meant that they were typically going to be drafting role-player level talent. This also meant they were unlikely to find players that they could build a team around. It still didn’t stop me and legions of other dedicated Sixers fans from trying to hype ourselves up year after year for guys like Nick Young, Dorell Wright, and Spencer Hawes.

Between 2001 and 2012, the Sixers average draft spot in the 1st round was 14 (average of their first selection in the first round of each draft). There were two years where the Sixers didn’t even have a first-round pick (2003, 2005). During this timeframe, the Sixers had two top 10 picks (Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner) and one top 3 pick (Turner). There was only one draft (2007) in which the Sixers had multiple 1st round selections. In total, twelve players were selected in the first round between the 2001 Finals run and the hiring of Sam Hinkie.

This era yielded one 76ers All-Star appearance (Andre Iguodala in 2012, his last season with the 76ers) and a few guys that have become nice role players in the league (Young, Turner, Holiday, Harkless, Vucevic). This era essentially ended in a desperate attempt at maintaining mediocrity, when a solid chunk of the team’s value was traded for Andrew Bynum, in what Sam Hinkie would call a zugzwang.

This zugzwang is what delivered Brett Brown, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and Dario Saric to us. Since being given the forum to write in a longer form than 240 characters, I felt like I needed to get this article out of my system.

In order for me to put this Hinkie thing to bed once and for all, I have decided to officially debunk my three favorite anti-Process/Hinkie arguments.

ARGUMENT 1: “ALL HE DID WAS TANK. ANYBODY COULD HAVE DONE THAT.”

This is one of my favorite anti-Hinkie arguments because it shows a complete lack of awareness with regards to how sustainable winning teams are built. It also COMPLETELY ignores the situation that Sam Hinkie inherited. Here’s a reminder of that inheritance from the Investment Objectives section of the manifesto:

Hinkie Manifesto – page 7: Starting position –> In May of 2013 when I spoke with several of you—and even when we first met in the summer of 2012—the situation was clear. Your crops had been eaten. A team that clawed its way to a disappointing 34 wins in 2012-13 had a few handfuls of those wins walking out the door (Dorell Wright, Nick Young, Damien Wilkins, Royal Ivey) and a player that drove a bit more who had just undergone a surgery and was expected to be out for the season (Jason Richardson). That left the club with expected wins in the low 20s before replacing anyone. The young players on rookie-scale deals numbered two: Evan Turner & Arnett Moultrie. Two future first round picks were gone as was the recent youth pipeline of Nik Vučević & Moe Harkless. Gulp.

It is very easy to say that all Sam Hinkie did was tank. It makes it sound like such an easy thing to do. It implies that the only thing Hinkie and his staff did was set the team up to lose on purpose while they took a 3-year vacation as it all played out. Guess what? That was part of Hinkie’s plan.

If you followed the Sixers during the Hinkie era, you know that the local and national media treated Sam as a nerdy, analytics guy who couldn’t effectively interact with people. Sam never spoke out to defend himself, which further entrenched the media and the fans that didn’t support Hinkie’s strategy. Sam discussed this on the first page of his letter.

Hinkie Manifesto – page 1: There has been much criticism of our approach……We often chose not to defend ourselves against much of the criticism, largely in an effort to stay true to the ideal of having the longest view in the room. To attempt to convince others that our actions are just will serve to paint us in a different light among some of our competitors as progressives worth emulating, versus adversaries worthy of their disdain.

Sam Hinkie knew that this bold strategy (focusing on the long view) would be panned by the hot take media and traditional-minded fans – and he used it to his advantage. The disdain that he mentions is exactly what allowed him the head start he needed to fully capitalize on his strategy. And if you don’t think others have followed suit since, you aren’t paying close enough attention.

Look at teams like Sacramento, Chicago, Orlando, New York, Dallas, Phoenix, and Brooklyn. Most of these teams have traded away their “star” player for younger players and picks over the past couple of years. These teams have started full-on youth movements after trying the same fruitless strategy (overpaying mid-level talent to pair with their “star” player) for years. While these teams were previously trying and failing to stay relevant, Sam was clearing cap space, stockpiling high lottery picks, and stashing international players that would help the Sixers down the road. You also probably noticed how increasingly cap conscious teams have been these last couple of seasons. Fewer and fewer teams are offering long-term contracts to middle tier players.

Hinkie Manifesto – page 10: This approach, like many that create value, isn’t popular, particularly locally. But it’s also nothing new, just the same typeface bolded. It requires deep player evaluations around the globe, is helped by a network of international relationships, and most of all, patience. The venerable San Antonio Spurs don’t have three rights-held players playing internationally like we now do, they have thirteen. Most of their names are hard for many fans to pronounce. Ginobili used to be, too.

Hinkie Manifesto – page 11: In the first 26 months on the job we added more than one draft pick (or pick swap) per month to our coffers. That’s more than 26 new picks or options to swap picks over and above the two per year the NBA allots each club. That’s not any official record, because no one keeps track of such records. But it is the most ever. And it’s not close. And we kick ourselves for not adding another handful.

All he did was tank…debunked.

ARGUMENT 2: “HE HAD POOR RELATIONSHIPS WITH AGENTS AND GMs.”

This one is my personal favorite. It is the argument that the “smarter” segment of the anti-Hinkie group cling to the most because they like to demonstrate that they know how the business side of the NBA really works. It also gave this same group of fans some validation when the Sixers hired the preeminent political family in the NBA – the Colangelos – to lead the organization (a move Hinkie knew was coming).

Hinkie Manifesto – page 7: So often a new management regime looks at an organization and decides that the primary goal is to professionalize the operation. For you, I hope that doesn’t happen next. As I described to you in our first ever board meeting, we were fundamentally aiming for something different—disruption. We should concentrate our efforts in a few key areas in ways others had proven unwilling. We should attempt to gain a competitive advantage that had a chance to be lasting, hopefully one unforeseen enough by our competition to leapfrog them from a seemingly disadvantaged position.

Guess what? The Sixers have leapfrogged most of the Eastern Conference from that seemingly disadvantaged position. Last season, the Sixers won 50 games for the first time since 2001.

Guess what else? Most of those GMs that people were worried about Hinkie having bad relationships with have been replaced over the past few years. Over the last three years (essentially since Hinkie resigned), eight of the thirty NBA GM positions have turned over, and there are probably a few more that are on their last leg. My guess is that Sam figured he might not make it to the finish line in Philadelphia because of the backlash that he would inevitably receive. I would also guess that Sam knew that he would likely be out of a job in the same amount of time if he didn’t do what he did.

As for his relationships with agents, you can read the recent article by our own Brian Jacobs in which he discussed conversations with two NBA agents who worked with Sam Hinkie in the past. You will see that both of the agents that Brian spoke to had nothing but good things to say about Sam Hinkie. Also, if you listened to The Burner Podcast (Episode 6), you probably heard Dr. Lydecia Holmes on with Brian and Jason Blevins, where she also was praising Sam on how he dealt with Richaun and the Holmes family. She even stated that this dynamic changed significantly when Bryan Colangelo was hired to oversee basketball operations for the 76ers.

He had poor relationships…debunked.

ARGUMENT 3: “THERE WERE OTHER WAYS TO REBUILD. THERE IS NO GUARANTEE THIS WILL WORK.”

I have heard and seen this argument on numerous occasions. Some local columnists even used it on Twitter. A good friend, with whom I have attended many Sixers games, clung to this one for a long time. The best part of this argument is if you ask these people to explain an alternative rebuilding strategy, they will outright refuse to give you any details. This is because they have no clue. Sadly, I have learned that the more clueless people are, the more willing they are to share their opinions. Some of these people just really want to believe in conventional wisdom, and they are petrified of supporting something so bold for fear of being ridiculed by others. Basically, they are the opposite of Sam Hinkie.

Hinkie Manifesto – page 8: In the press conference announcing my arrival at the Sixers, I said:

  • Our challenge was not for the faint of heart. It wasn’t.
  • Our challenge was big enough to humble me to think about the enormity of it. It did.

We would have to get so very much right.

What’s ironic about this short blurb in the manifesto, which I never noticed before, is that it is very similar to the tweet I have had pinned on my Twitter profile for the last year and a half.

I know – Sam’s phrasing is much more eloquent than mine. But, in my opinion, these three categories always apply when I find myself debating with one of these folks.

Not understanding the enormity of the challenge of building a sustainable winner does not mean that there is a better or faster way to rebuild. It just shows an inability to analyze and evaluate the situation.

Hinkie said that The Process was not for the faint of heart. As someone who watched 99% of the games under Sam Hinkie, I can confirm that he was right. Hence, the Settlers category in my pinned tweet. There was no guarantee that it would work. As Sam said, “we would have to get so very much right.” Thankfully, he and his staff did. Because of this, the Sixers are now in the opposite position of a zugzwang.

There’s no guarantee it will work…de-f’ing-bunked.

Thank You!

In the end, my epiphany is that the anti-process folks were exactly what Hinkie needed in order to pull off the rebuild of a lifetime. So, I guess this article is more of a thank you letter. Thank you to all of the insecure, hot-take, bandwagon media members and fans. Thank you to the fans that will never come back and to the fans that were unable to see the forest through the trees. You guys made all of this possible.