Good Riddance, Sam Hinkie

Philadelphia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie resigned yesterday, and hopefully his failure discourages anyone from trying his soul-sucking rebuilding strategy ever again.

Hinkie theorized that the only way to win an NBA championship is to land a superstar, and that the best way to do that is through the draft. Either draft a future LeBron, or stockpile enough assets to trade for one.

On average, top draft picks do better than players drafted later, so Hinkie aimed to tank harder than anyone has ever tanked before. In his three seasons, the 76ers were deliberately terrible, going 47–195.

They also traded away any halfway decent player who lacked star potential for picks, which:

  • ensured that the team remained awful, increasing its chances in the draft lottery
  • gave the Sixers enough players to field what they insisted on calling a “professional basketball team”
  • kept the team salary as low as legally possible so the owners didn’t lose money
  • added more picks that could turn into stars or assets

With all these extra picks, Philadelphia drafted seven players in 2014, and six in 2015. Few are good, none are great.

That’s the problem with putting all your eggs in one basket. Philly got unlucky, losing the draft lottery and picking 3rd both years. But it’s not as if the top picks have turned into superstars. Both now play for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are 26–52. The Sixers are once again the worst team in the NBA, at 10–68.

Hinkie’s motto was “trust the process,” and, technically, he’s not wrong. Bad luck doesn’t falsify the underlying logic. Tank this hard for long enough, and you’ll eventually draft a superstar. Probably more quickly than a monkey will write Hamlet.

Maybe they’ll get lucky this year, win the lottery, and draft LSU star Ben Simmons. And maybe he’ll grow into a superstar. And maybe a few current Sixers will gel with him and develop into solid role players. And maybe then a top free agent will want to come play with the young, exciting team in Philly.

But probably not.

In the process of putting all his chips on one improbable outcome, Hinkie cut off every other rebuilding avenue. Instead of playing the hands he’s been dealt, he folded over and over, waiting for aces or kings.

A basketball team is greater than the sum of its parts, but Philly isn’t. The revolving door means the young players never get a chance to learn to play together. And the team never figures out if their individual talents will thrive in any particular role in any particular system.

With no veterans, the rookies are less likely to develop hard-to-measure skills like a work ethic, dealing with wealth and fame, or sacrificing individual stats for team success. And why would they? All the players know their time in Philadelphia is just an audition — for the team that’s going to acquire them for a draft pick, or the hypothetically competitive Sixers of the distant future.

So farewell, Sam Hinkie. May you become a cautionary tale, forever warning other teams away from screwing over their fans and the entire basketball-watching public on a low probability/high reward gamble.

Sorry, I mean a low probability/high reward process.

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