Fans of sensible front-office behavior have been given a pair of big gifts over the past six months, in the form of the departures of Chip Kelly and Sam Hinkie. Last December’s removal of Kelly was a chance for the Eagles to step away from his “revolutionary” and ultimately unsuccessful coaching ways and begin the business of becoming a real NFL franchise again—though there’s no guarantee the Jeffrey Lurie/Howie Roseman axis will deliver anything other than more heartache.
Ever since Jerry Colangelo joined the team’s executive branch, it was becoming more and more evident that Hinkie wouldn’t go the duration. His escape—ahead of Sunday’s formal announcement that Colangelo’s son, Bryan, would be taking over as president of basketball operations—was marked by curious timing. Some league executives, however, knew Sixers owner Josh Harris had given up on Hinkie’s ill-advised “process” and wouldn’t keep him around—not with Colangelo offering counsel.
Hinkie’s departure ends an era of Sixers history that featured a preposterous reliance on numbers over actual basketball knowledge and a GM so convinced he knew everything about the sport that he risked alienating agents, other league executives and even those who worked for him in pursuit of his own aims. Until Colangelo appeared on the scene, there wasn’t a single basketball person in the front office. Everybody there was an analytics type who thought the NBA was about numbers, rather than people.
That may have been Hinkie’s biggest mistake. Yes, professional sports have embraced advanced metrics more than ever before—and for good reason. The new level of statistical knowledge provides a tremendous amount of assistance in personnel decisions. But that can’t be everything. Hinkie’s inability to see that, coupled with his clinging to the idea that the draft would cure everything, created an environment of losing so severe that the franchise grew to become a league-wide joke.
After I gave the Sixers a “B/B+” for their first draft following his purchase of the team, Harris told me I “never got anything but A’s all my life.” Turns out he couldn’t take the ridicule. Neither could the league, which was irate that rookie Jahlil Okafor was allowed to maraud about the country with no security protection or consequence, finally stepping in to demand that a grown-up like Colangelo take over.
So now what? Expect the draft to yield a solid player or two, and maybe even a future star. The team will likely trade either Okafor or Nerlens Noel. Don’t expect much—at least next year—from Joel Embiid and his cranky foot. And don’t be surprised if Dario Saric decides to stay in Europe another year or two—the better to join the league as a free agent.
But also figure on Colangelo’s ability to lure some solid free agents to town to play guard and wing positions. The Sixers also won’t be interested in being league-wide punch lines next year. They’ll want to make a run at 30-35 wins, and bigger things in 2017-18.
The time for aimless losing is over. Hinkie’s way is the old way, never again to be replicated in the NBA. In fact, it will be a shock if he ever has another GM job—though the Nets did hire Billy King after the Sixers jettisoned him. Here in Philly, Hinkie’s reign of error is done. It’s time to move back toward being a real NBA team—not a laboratory experiment gone horribly wrong.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: Although Villanova’s Kris Bryant and Josh Hart will work through the NBA Draft process, it’s unlikely either will bypass his junior year at the school. Although both were great this season, they have work to do. Bryant must improve his game off the dribble, while Hart needs to improve his shooting range. Another season at Nova will help them prepare for the professional life—and make the Wildcats one of the nation’s best in 2016-17.