“It all ends now!!!!!”
There’s a scene in the movie “Wyatt Earp” where the hero, played by actor Kevin Costner, burst through the doors of an out of control saloon, flanked by his two brothers, fires off a shotgun blast and uttered the phase “I’m Wyatt Earp, it all ends now”. The “it” he was referring too was the out of control lawlessness that plagued Dodge City.
The Earps had strong reputations as unwavering lawmen, while Dodge City, once a quiet peaceful town, had become overrun with gun violence after the murder of the town’s Marshal.
Ironically, Earp was earlier relived of his duties as Marshal there, due to his zero tolerance while executing law & order. In some ways the town’s people were indirectly responsible for the tragedy, by choosing a popular Marshal over an unpopular, but very effective one.
Sometimes sports franchises find themselves in similar circumstances, where they need strong willed individuals with good reputations, to fix the mess they’ve gotten themselves into.
The Philadelphia 76ers originally thought they had found such a person 3 years ago when they hired Sam Hinkie away from the Houston Rockets to become their new General Manager & President of Basketball Operations. Hinkie drove right into the job trading away the Sixers only all-star player Point Guard Jrue Holiday on draft night one month later.
Hinkie’s rational for this move & others like it was that the Sixers team as constructed then, were mediocre at best. His theory was that they needed to get worse first before they could get better. The following year, he traded away other reliable veteran players like Guard Evan Turner, Forwards Thaddeus Young, Lavoy Allen & Center Spencer Hawes, to name a few.
With each roster opening, Hinkie replaced good players with mostly younger players. These players just weren’t good enough, nor ready to compete at the NBA level night after night. This was just what Hinkie was counting on, the Sixers were now in full “tanking seasons” mode.
With the trade of Holiday, Hinkie acquired, injured Center Nerlens Noel in 2013 & Forward Dario Saric in 2014. By tanking (losing on purpose to get a better draft position) the Sixers finished 3rd in the 2014 draft lottery, selecting injured Center Joel Embiid.
So far, these picks have produced mixed results. After waiting a year for Nerlens Noel’s injured left knee to heal, he is quietly developing into one of the leagues better defensive Centers. Injured Joel Embiid still hasn’t played, after requiring a 2nd surgery on his broken right foot. Absentee Forward Dario Saric is reported to be anxious to join the team this season after playing the last two seasons in Turkey.
The most controversial move of Hinkie’s tenure, involves Micheal Carter Williams. MCW as he is called by the fans & media, was selected with the 11th pick in the 2013 draft.
He played well enough to be awarded Rookie of the year, yet less than 10 months later, he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for a No.1 draft pick (the draft pick originally belonged to the Los Angeles Lakers, they were able to keep it since the pick was top 5 protected, the Lakers finished 2nd in last year’s draft lottery).
After another year of tanking & finishing 3rd again in the 2015 draft lottery, Hinkie selected yet another Center Jahlil Okafor. Okafor was performing very well for a 19 year old rookie, but he too suffered a right knee injury, ending his season on the injured list.
For those keeping score at home, that’s three years of tanking, 3 Centers of which 2 are injured & zero cornerstone player to build the team around. Needless to say after posting a 47–195 three year record under Hinkie, no one was very happy.
The fans, tired of being patient, wanted results. The media, tired of interview requests with Hinkie being denied, wanted answers. Yet all the reclusive Hinkie would give them was the phase “Trust the process”
The last straw for Hinkie happened in a rare interview earlier this season. When asked point blank if 2016 was the last year of tanking, he wouldn’t guarantee it. The Sixers tanking was becoming a national joke. Some late night comedy shows were building their opening monologue around the subject. And of course the newspapers took their shots.
Eventually NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had seen enough. The league was getting national attention for all the wrong reasons. He nor the other NBA Owners, didn’t think any of it was funny. He was urged by them to put in a call to Sixers Owner Joshua Harris, and suggest/force/or plead with him to end this madness.
Silver convinced Harris that Hinkie was out of control, and that the Sixers needed a respected basketball man to act as an adviser to Hinkie. And at the same time, become the voice of reassurance to the fans & the media that the organization was ready to move forward from the constant losing.
Enter the Colangelo’s (aka the Earps) 1st Jerry (former CEO of the Phoenix Suns) was hired by the Sixers as Chairman of Basketball Operations. And later, his son Bryan (former General Manager & President of Basketball Operations for the Toronto Raptors)
Prior to Senior Colangelo’s hiring, any deals Hinkie felt compelled to make went unchecked. Now under this new arrangement, the Chairman would have final say. This didn’t sit well with Hinkie. His beloved, “process” wasn’t being trusted. It also didn’t take him long to see the handwriting on the wall, especially since Bryan, who was once voted Executive of the year, was currently unemployed. Feeling squeezed out, Hinkie resigned 4 months later.
After a long, extensive search for Hinkie’s replacement, that took all of 4 days, Joshua Harris appointed Bryan Colangelo as the new CEO of Sixers Basketball. (Jerry claimed he had no evolvement with his son’s hiring — Jerry : “Honestly Joshua, I don’t know how my son’s resume ended up on your desk”)
Bryan’s 1st decision after “the take over” was to retire Senior as Chairman. (Thanks for the job Dad, now go take a nap!) He also decided to keep overmatched Brett Brown on as head coach of the team.
Finally at his new hire press conference, Bryan uttered the words everyone was dying to hear about the tanking, saying basically “it all ends now!”
Junior Colangelo seems to have the golden touch so far. After finishing 3rd in the NBA Draft Lottery two years in a row under Hinkie, the Sixers finally won the number 1 pick Tuesday night. (Ben Simmons, come on down!)
That’s not to say that the ghost of Hinkie won’t be ever present in Sixersville. Most of the transactions the Colangelo’s will make decisions on in the next few months & years will come from assets Hinkie’s “process” acquired.
Regardless of who gets the credit, let’s hope this once proud iconic franchise, finally finds it’s way back from the abyss.