To Tank or not to Tank?

That is the question…. Or at least that was the question that Josh Harris and his group asked themselves when considering whether or not to hire Sam Hinkie as the new General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers in May of 2013.

Hinkie laid out the plan to management during the hiring process. It was unique and something that had never actually been done before. When was the last time a team publicly admitted to throwing away seasons, for the purpose of adding draft picks, young players, and cap flexibility for the future?

In a hyper competitive league such as the NBA throwing away games to this degree sounds like lunacy, but what about the infamous “Treadmill of Mediocrity”, that a lot of NBA teams dread? You can’t find yourself stuck in the middle. You either want to be a young developing team, or a Championship contender.  

The Sixers were on that Treadmill for 5 years prior to Hinkie’s arrival, something had to be done; something had to be fixed, so why not try something that no other team has had the guts to do intentionally? It was a clear vision that someone had for the team for the first time in a while, and while it was generally labeled as a 4-5 year plan, the fans certainly understood and were able to embrace that vision.

Ownership, was initially willing to go along with that vision as well and at least see it through. Yes it would be painful losing countless games, yes it would be painful always being in the lottery, but it was a case of “investing in the future” as Hinkie laid out in a leaked 13 page letter of resignation, after he stepped from the General Manager position this past Wednesday.

In year three of this plan (known as The Process among Sixer fans) Hinkie resigned from the position. The perpetual losing eventually wilted away at ownership, Harris brought in Jerry Colangelo as the President of Basketball operations in December to give more of a “basketball voice” instead of sticking with Hinkie’s vision. It got worse (as mapped out in this report byYahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski) as ownership wanted to bring on additional voices to “help” Hinkie and his vision as the team was building towards the future, and he saw the writing on the wall. The 76ers had actually hoped Hinkie would stay, but he decided it was time to move on.

There have been many hot takes on what the 76ers have been doing for the past three seasons, and it baffles me how misguided most of the opinions are on the whole “Tanking” subject. I hear comments such as “Sam Hinkie has/had no idea what he is/was doing as a GM” “His win-loss record has been terrible as General Manager” and I just question whether or not anyone understood what Hinkie was actually trying to accomplish.

Was The Process a full proof plan? No, there isn’t a “full proof” plan when it comes to professional sports, and The Process in my opinion, did have some chinks in the armor. Hinkie, did lack a human element to building a team and he reportedly had less connectivity than most NBA executives would in a multi-billion dollar business, in terms of relationships with player’s agents etc. There are fair criticisms, however, despite clear intentions that were put on display for the public to know from the beginning, most of the pundits still criticized and blasted the Process, without even as much as an attempt to put things in its proper context.

There were quite a few things I took away from reading Hinkie’s 13 page letter of resignation, (besides the History and Economy lessons he sprinkled in throughout the letter) but more importantly it only strengthened my belief that most of the critics had no idea how to put the intentional tanking in perspective

Hinkie by all accounts is well respected around the NBA as a smart man, and Sixer fans got a glimpse of just how smart Hinkie is when reading the resignation letter he crafted for ownership (that somehow leaked online). Above all the quotes, from Abraham Lincoln, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk and Walter White (kidding on the last one), you got a glimpse of a mapped out vision he presented to ownership when he was first interviewed for the job.

He broke down his thought process into multiple sections, Innovation, Intellectual Humility, having a Contrarian View, and then he went on to do a victory lap listing the number of draft picks he has acquired during his time as GM, and some of the young players he has accumulated. He even went on to remind ownership (and fans) that before his arrival, the 76ers traded away their young talent (Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic) and their first round pick in a three team trade for Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson in 2012. That trade was so bad that the only thing exciting about Bynum’s time in Philadelphia was figuring out what ridiculous hair style he’d come up with next… as he sat in a suit on the bench because of injury.

 

 






 

You can't say that it wasn't entertaining....

 

The part that I think irks 76er fans about the timing of Hinkie’s departure is that this upcoming off-season was supposed to be Hinkie's make or break year to cash in on the assets that he's been stockpiling.

The 76ers have the potential to get FOUR first round draft picks for this upcoming draft, including a solid chance to land two of the top four lottery picks (as well as two pick swaps with The Kings and Warriors). Dario Šaric is also supposed to come from oversees to make his NBA debut in the 2016-2017 season, along with the 3rd overall pick from the 2014 draft, Joel Embiid, who has yet to play because of multiple surgeries on his right foot.  “Replenishing the pipeline of talent” was always one of Hinkie’s pet phrases when he held his pressers, and after this upcoming draft, that pipeline will still send the Sixers 17 more draft picks over the next 5 NBA drafts.

Though I’d make the occasional “Ponzi Scheme” joke among my friends, I typically leaned towards Team Hinkie, while also realizing that he has had some bumps in the road during the Process, but I got it. Sixer fans got it. We want to win, we want to be a respected title contender again, and Hinkie wanted to try a method to get us out of mediocrity and give us the best chance to form a young core (Like the Timberwolves, or the Thunder in 2010) to eventually compete for a championship. Ownership was with this plan initially but eventually the dark side of the NBA Business prevailed.

I, along with other Sixer fans think Hinkie deserved at least one more year to see this through.

Head Coach Brett Brown certainly thought so.

Instead of Hinkie reaping the fruits of bottoming out the roster, now, newly appointed GM Bryan Colangelo will get to play with the cache Hinkie left behind, thanks to his Daddy, Jerry.

Bryan Colangelo (who was the Raptors GM/President from 2006-2013) is the same man who paid Hedo Türkoglu a 5 year 55 million dollar deal in 2009, and shelled out a 4 year 24 million dollar deal for Jason Kapono in 2007. He also traded his first round pick for a past-his-prime Jermaine O’neal. Sure, Bryan has had some shining moments (2x executive of the year award, though both of those can be disputed), but look at his history and the context behind his decisions, and you’ll see a trade happy mad-man who is willing to give up future draft picks for mid-level players as well as overpay for veterans, just to be a “respectable” team. A fear many Sixer fans have now with this hiring. 

This situation reminded me a little bit of a Boondocks episode (bare with me here) that I recently re-watched with a buddy. Huey Freeman was put in charge of directing a 3rd grade Christmas play, and at first, he bottomed out the talent, much like Hinkie did with the Sixers, and he “fired” every 3rd grader involved in the play.

He went on to hire big-time actors, producers, and composers for the play to match his “vision”, only to have his vision high-jacked by corporate executives who wanted to "change" some things in the script. Huey then decided to step-down as the play’s main director saying “Just do whatever you have to do to put on the play tomorrow, but take my name off it, it won’t be my vision”. At the end of the episode Huey’s third grade teacher ultimately decided to display the play in Huey’s original “vision”.

This is almost exactly what happened to Hinkie, unfortunately we won’t truly get to see the final product of his vision, because there is no telling what the Colangelos might do to screw up the stock of goods that was left for them. If you couldn’t stomach the tanking fine, but the Colangelos, especially Bryan, is not the answer.

Cheers Sixer fans. There is a chance we could be heading for more years of mediocrity.


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