September 18, 2016, 11:18 am
One Big Thing: The limits of patience
So Sam Hinkie has penned his latest manifesto, this time on Twitter. He talks about his life after basketball, though it’ll probably end up being life between basketball if we’re being honest; he should find his way back into a front office before too long.
Basically he’s chilling in Palo Alto, taking a sort of ‘gap year’ that some kids take after college. Except, you know, with lots of disposable income and whatnot. Semantics aside, he’ll be talking (which I assume is teaching for people afraid of commitment) at Stanford and snowboarding, watching basketball and just soaking up some knowledge. Those all sound like valuable pursuits to me, and I don’t even snowboard.
The Hinkie tenure will stand as the most obvious symbol of an (allegedly, depending on how old school your content source usually is) overly-analytical approach but should stand the test of time as an unwavering commitment to a plan. To pin his downfall on analytics is foolish because that’s no longer the war being waged and to have ever framed it as Old School vs. New School was a mistake. In actuality the battle is between those who choose to consider all available information and those who don’t. But I digress.
Philadelphia is undoubtedly better off now than when they were when he came to town but some questions remain. On a large scale, was Philadelphia right to tire of the tank and did they wait long enough to see results?
That depends on some smaller questions. Firstly, was his tanking strategy correct?
I think it was. Lots of virtual ink has been spilled about the deadly treadmill; too good to tank, too bad to contend. The Sixers were decidedly not stuck in limbo.
Trying to compete when you just aren’t good enough is essentially digging your own grave. It’s how you wind up trading for Derrick Rose. Or like when Toronto traded for Rudy Gay- there’s Mr. Colangelo with an early appearance.
There’s a school of thought, usually among dumb adolescent kids, that the best way to preoccupy someone from pain is simply to hurt them in another spot. If your left arm hurt, for example, the proper course of action would be to get punched really hard in the right arm. Sam Hinkie is the guy that punches your other arm while ripping off a band-aid quickly. Philadelphia’s decline was swift and deliberate. It was also the right call.
They might have too much young talent in the frontcourt (if such a thing as ‘too much young talent’ exists), but there are some incredibly valuable building blocks in place for the next guy. To be fair, you won’t, or at least you shouldn’t, find many people who were opposed to the tanking.
The proper question might be if Hinkie was the right guy to get it done. In essence, with an assignment so simple, could anyone have pulled this off?
There are some shades of gray here but Hinkie should get some credit. Just about anyone could lose games with purpose but it seems like Hinkie is cut from the right cloth to tank so ruthlessly.
Credit Hinkie for flipping assets quickly and decisively. Reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams was traded halfway through his sophomore campaign when it became clear he didn’t fit management’s vision. Promising athlete KJ McDaniels was traded to Houston for Isaiah Canaan and a pick. In case you’ve been ignoring Philadelphia entirely over the past few years, assume every deal nets the 76ers a draft pick. Evan Turner, Thad Young, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen also were shipped out for picks and lesser players.
The constant roster turnover has served two masters by ensuring that Philadelphia wouldn’t win much whil also unearthing useful players like Robert Covington. Covington’s shot selection seems to support analytic-driven hypotheses on the surface and he’s turned out to be a real player. While another manager might have discovered RoCo, Hinkie’s willingness to run a team of complete and total unknowns did set him up to find diamonds in the rough at a higher clip than usual.
So, yes and no. Most management teams can execute a tank but few will yield as much fruit as Hinkie. I’ll lean towards yes but some of that credit should go to the team’s basketball ops and scouting departments. Whether or not you think Hinkie was the right man for the job the question then becomes if Philadelphia (with some pressure for Adam Silver, apparently) exercised enough patience before dispatching their GM.
Did Philly pull the trigger too early? I would say they did, but then again pretty much anyone can say they weren’t given enough time to accrue elite talent through the draft. It’s easy to say ‘I didn’t have the time’ when the plan is to lose so much that a game-breaking talent falls in your lap in the draft.
Sunk cost fallacy be damned, it seems a shame to commit so heavily to The Process and then bailing when things are looking up.
The Hinkie tenure will be fun to look back on in time simply because Philadelphia has, rightly or wrongly, emerged as this petri dish for tanking and data-driven basketball. The strategy itself probably doesn’t deserve to be lauded, but you have to respect and admire the tenacity of execution.
So while they bailed too soon, this whole scenario is about knowing when to cut the cord. In a high pressure business, it’s tough to remain patient. Doubly so when the plan you’re following comes with a built in excuse.
Only time will tell if Jerry Colangelo and the Phildelphia 76ers were patient enough.