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Roundtable: The death of ‘The Process’

Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie, speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, in Philadelphia. The NBA basketball team announced the hiring of Brett Brown as coach. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Sam Hinkie stepped down from his post with the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday evening, effectively ending what had become known as “The Process.” A group of Today’s Fastbreak contributors got together to give their reactions on the news, what went wrong during Hinkie’s tenure and where the Sixers go from here.

Jason Patt: What was your initial reaction to this news?

Bryan Toporek: We were all in denial when Jerry Colangelo came on as “special advisor” (aka shadow emperor) in December, but this was basically inevitable, right? The Sixers’ ownership had clearly lost patience after starting Year 3 of the Process with a 1-30 record. During the presser to introduce Colangelo, co-managing owner Josh Harris spoke openly about accelerating the timeline of the rebuild. They were setting the stage for an usurping of Hinkie, as unthinkable as it seemed at the time.

The results weren’t there for Hinkie yet — in fact, this year was an abomination, even for Sixers die-hards — but with at least three first-round picks in this year’s draft, two former lottery picks likely to join the team this summer and upwards of $60 million in cap space, Phase 2 of the Process was just three months away.

For the Sixers owners to ask Hinkie to take a reduced role in the organization now, as USA Today‘s Jeff Zillgitt reported, is a total farce. He completely restocked the cupboard of young talent and undid the damage of the Andrew Bynum trade — which, no exaggeration, set the franchise back a full half-decade — and someone else (namely Bryan Colangelo) gets to reap the rewards of his work when the team begins to turn it around this summer? I’m going to be physically ill for weeks.

Sean Kennedy: Sixers management agreed to a long-term timeline when Hinkie first took over (somewhere between 5-7 years has been referenced by various individuals over the years). Then, when the reality of fully committing to a rebuild was more horrifying in the short term than whatever they dreamed up in their heads when Hinkie showed them his initial presentation on his laptop, they bailed after less than three years with the hiring of Jerry Colangelo. You can’t tell someone to focus on making every decision with a long-term horizon in mind, and have him do an exceptionally good job of doing that, and then be upset when his decisions didn’t reach some short-term goal that you specifically discussed not worrying about in the first place.

We’ve discussed this ad nauseam, but this summer was the tipping point. Between the top odds at the first overall pick combined with the Sacramento swap, the close to a coin-flip chance at getting the Lakers pick at No. 4 or 5, the two other first-rounders, an increasingly ripped and hopefully Qatar-healed Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric looking to come over, everything was coming to a head in the next few months. I was very much looking forward to seeing Hinkie continue to rip off the likes of New Orleans and Sacramento and whoever else in deals now that he actually has a full arsenal of assets at his disposal.

Instead, either Embiid will get healthy or Simmons or Ingram will be a game-changer and Bryan Colangelo will get all credit, as Bryan mentioned. Or alternately, those things won’t happen because of ping-pong ball misfortune and the vagaries of navicular bones and they’ll have a scapegoat at the ready in Hinkie.

My worst fear is that they don’t get the franchise-level talent in this draft for whatever reason, but still plow ahead in a determination to not be toward the bottom of the league again next year, and the team is stuck right back where they started on the treadmill of mediocrity. I couldn’t handle that if these three years were all for nothing.

Jeff Berest: Beyond the complete and utter incompetency the ownership just showed by marginalizing Sam Hinkie’s duties to the point that he felt it necessary to resign rather than be a bystander with only a title and no power, all I keep thinking about is “what if?”

We know the “what if” Embiid had been healthy, or “what if” the Sixers had been able to win the lottery once. But what really gets me incensed is that if the Sixers had been 20-58 instead of 10-68 right now, Hinkie would probably still be perched up in his office in The Center. If the Sixers hadn’t had that abysmal 1-30 start the other owners wouldn’t have been so reactive and forced Adam Silver to intervene. Of course the Sixers should’ve been able to make more progress over the last year, but winning 10 games or 25 games means the same thing in the long-term for them.

I don’t blame the owners for heeding Adam Silver’s advice and talking with Colangelo, and even ultimately hiring Colangelo. I blame the ownership, who had shown their intestinal fortitude over the past three years by sticking with the plan, for letting Jerry Colangelo get in their ears and start poisoning their minds. It’s abundantly clear that a Colangelo-Hinkie marriage was never going to work, although I can admit I was blind to this when they made the hire. I had convinced myself that it was going to work out and that Sixers ownership wasn’t that dumb to minimize Hinkie’s role and let all the blood, sweat and tears (metaphorically) that he had spilled into this team lay by the waste side for an old and out of touch basketball mind who just hired his son to be the new GM.

By hiring his son, it’s clear Jerry doesn’t even have the Sixers’ best interest at heart; he’s out for himself and his family. Nepotism is a disgusting way to further someone’s career, and it will be especially dirty if Bryan is reaping the benefits of someone else’s harvest. The argument that Hinkie was capable of stripping it down, but not building it back is completely bogus and a cop out and anyone who says that should deactivate.

It’s basically like this: three years ago the Sixers began running a marathon, they had picked their runner (Hinkie), and now after going the first 26 miles they’re making Sam hand the baton to Bryan Colangelo, who has now entered the race with 0.2 miles left and an enormous lead.

I summed up the blame of ownership and their all-of-a-sudden short-sightedness which will likely cost them. But the absolute worst part of Hinkie walking away is the fan perspective. You have an almost religious sect of fans who have withstood all of this “tanking” and rebuilding, and who have been side-by-side with this franchise when they sold us on this idea. We didn’t want a run-of-the-mill mediocre team that perennially competes for the seventh or eighth playoff seed. The Sixers wanted to build something great and long-lasting.

Now right before the penultimate moment of this whole rebuild we are being stripped of the architect and innovative mind we have clung to and believed in wholeheartedly. The draft picks and immense cap space are nice, but any faith that was had in ownership was directly correlated in faith in Sam Hinkie. Hinkie was the only move they had gotten right; he had cleaned up a mess that was irreconcilable and now will not be able to fulfill the vision he had sold the same owners three years ago.

Philadelphia 76ers co-Managing Owner Josh Harris, center, takes questions from the media as they announce that Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member and Chairman of the Board of Directors for USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo, right, will be joining the Philadelphia 76ers as the Special Advisor to the Managing General Partner and Chairman of Basketball Operations and general manger Sam Hinkie, left, beside him prior to the first half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

AP Photo/Chris Szagola

Jason: So clearly you guys are all pretty upset by this news. It probably shouldn’t be much of a surprise given the presence of Jerry Colangelo, and I must say it’s pretty absurd that they thought they could bring in Colangelo’s son to work alongside Hinkie and he’d be okay with it. I have to think they knew very well that he wasn’t going to stand for that and that he’d quit. Got to love that nepotism.

But looking back on his tenure…what do you think was Hinkie’s biggest misstep? A lot of people will point at Embiid, but that was a calculated risk that was probably worth taking. Some serious bad luck on that front. Was it the Okafor pick? Was it the general relationship issues that seemed to crop up with people around the league? It seems like he made a good amount of enemies.

Bryan: I think the one that cost him his job was not bringing in a replacement-level PG this offseason. It’s pretty apparent that the Sixers thought Towns and Okafor were going first and second, respectively, to Minnesota and the Lakers, leaving D’Angelo Russell for the taking at 3. The Lakers pulled a last-minute switch and took Russell second, which left Hinkie back in BPA mode.

Based on what’s happened over the past year, I do wonder whether Hinkie wanted to take Kristaps rather than Okafor and had ownership overrule him. After getting no immediate tangible benefit from the 2014 draft class, maybe the Sixers owners forced Hinkie to swing for a single or a double in 2015 rather than another home run. I’m only saying that because the Okafor pick was so unlike what we came to expect from Hinkie — he’s a slow, plodding low-post player and Hinkie had very clearly been building around a fast-paced team with long, lanky athletes. Okafor is the antithesis of that.

Still, after it became apparent that Embiid would be out for another season and making Okafor and Noel the two centerpieces of the 2015-16 roster, Hinkie’s failure to bring in a starting-caliber floor general set the stage for this debacle of a season. Russell may have been plan A, but when that fell through, it was imperative to sign someone as a plan B.

I had long lobbied for them to overpay someone like Cory Joseph or Jeremy Lin (the latter on a short-term deal), but even bringing back Ish Smith on a one-year deal would have been preferable to relying on an undrafted rookie (T.J. McConnell) as the nominal starting point guard for the first month-and-a-half of the season. That set the stage for the Sixers’ miserable start, which directly led to Jerry Colangelo’s hiring (and thus, this inevitable conclusion).

Sean: I agree with what both Jeff and Bryan brought up in that Hinkie’s leash began to disintegrate when the Sixers went from being very bad to flirting with being historically bad. The problem was that Hinkie saw first hand the consequence of not having the worst overall record when Minnesota ended up with Towns last year. So he left no shadow of a doubt in his pursuit of the highest available lottery odds this time around. Maybe signing Cory Joseph in the offseason would have once again given the Sixers only the second- or third- worst record, and they miss out on Simmons and Ingram as a result.

Hinkie’s miscalculation was in figuring that he had the unconditional support of management in doing this, because they had discussed how this was a seven-year timeline anyway. Between Adam Silver, the 1-30 start, and just basically being treated as national laughingstock for over two years, they obviously shifted course at some point, to Hinkie’s downfall.

Bryan: That shifting timeline from ownership is my biggest problem with this whole thing as well, Sean. According to Dr. J, the Sixers’ owners had a seven-year timeline in place. Hinkie presumably made the Embiid and Saric picks with that timeline in mind, figuring he had the job security to do so. Both of those guys were undervalued assets in the draft for reasons other than their on-court talent — Embiid with the foot injury and Saric because he couldn’t come to the NBA right away — making them the quintessential “Process” picks. We still don’t know if either player is a difference-maker, but based on what we’re hearing about Embiid and seeing from Saric in Europe, there’s at least a reasonable chance that one, if not both, will become a long-term centerpiece of the franchise.

You’re totally right that signing a Cory Joseph or Jeremy Lin probably costs them the best shot at the No. 1 pick, and given the relative scarcity of elite talent at the top of this draft class, that’s likewise an issue. So much hinges on the lottery this year, more so than ever before, between Philly’s own pick and the chances of the Lakers pick conveying.

It just seems insane that ownership decided to meddle with the front-office dynamics prior to the lottery. How in the hell is Bryan Colangelo going to get up to speed with the franchise’s long-term plan over the next three months? Or, as many of us fear, is the previous plan now out the window? Going right back to the treadmill of mediocrity would make these last three years a total waste, as far as I’m concerned.

Toronto Raptors president Bryan Colangelo represents his team during the NBA basketball draft lottery, Tuesday, May 21, 2013 in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

AP Photo/Jason DeCrow

Sean: I shudder at the thought of Bryan Colangelo shelling out $10M per year to reunite with Jerryd Bayless and fill the PG vacancy this offseason.

Jeff: Throughout the process you could point to several instances that would appear to be the linchpin in Hinkie’s demise. I don’t believe it was the 2014 draft by taking Embiid and Saric knowing they wouldn’t be making an immediate impact. Although Embiid missing consecutive seasons probably started to eat away at the trust between Hinkie and ownership.

It’s weird to pinpoint the Sixers not rostering a legit NBA point guard in a season they knew they wouldn’t be competing as THE mistake in the process for Sam, but him not signing Cory Joseph or someone along those lines, led to the series of events that ended his tenure in Philadelphia. That’s the utter absurdity of this whole thing, when I said before that if the Sixers were 20-58 vs. 10-68, Hinkie would most likely still be here. Bottoming out with 10 wins or 20 wins makes zero difference in a strategic sense.

Besides signing a veteran competent point guard, I feel a lot of why Hinkie is gone is because of perceptions of him and the Sixers around the league. So obviously this can’t be the determining reason why he left, because it was not a single event that transpired. But he was clearly disliked by many executives around league, who may have been plainly jealous of the job security (we thought) he had. He was very shrewd in his dealings and that was abundantly clear. Maybe he could’ve been in the spotlight more so these perceptions wouldn’t have metastasized, but you had a GM and an ownership group who were flat out losing on purpose and who did not play nice with the media.

Eventually this just boiled over to the point where Jerry Colagelo had to be brought in and the NBA, and all the other owners, were finally fed up with the Sixers. Josh Harris and Co. clearly had a breaking point where they did not want to deal with this anymore and did not have the faith in Hinkie to repair all these open wounds between other teams and every agent and player representative he had rubbed the wrong way.

Jason: So now that Hinkie is out and it’s now Team Colangelo, where do you guys think this goes? Hinkie still has them set up for success, but they still need some luck and have to be smart about what they do moving forward. How worried are you about things going awry?

Sean: I think even more now depends on next month’s draft lottery and the Sixers grabbing one of the top two picks. Reason being, I think father and son Colangelo are going to plow ahead in free agency regardless of what happens with the draft.

If the Sixers get Simmons or Ingram, they can say, “we have our franchise guy,” and filling out the roster in free agency makes some sense. The flip side is not getting a franchise-level talent in the draft and still signing a bunch of mid-term players. That’s the formula for eternal eight seeds (unless Embiid happens to stay healthy). The LAL pick and future SAC first-rounder represent additional contingency plans.

Bryan: Agree with Sean that the lottery will largely decide where things go from here. If they get a top two pick with No. 4 or 5 from the Lakers, they’re almost certain to be fine in the short term. I’m mostly worried about the impending “Noel or Okafor?” decision. Hinkie strikes me as someone who would value Noel’s defense over Okafor’s offense. Who knows how the Colangelos feel? I’m of the opinion that Noel is a better long-term fit with Embiid and Saric — not to mention easier to build around altogether — than Okafor, so I’d be inclined to build around the former. Having a new GM handling that decision hardly inspires my confidence in the future direction of the franchise, though.

Sean: Good point, Bryan. Okafor very much has the old-school game with traditional scoring stats that a “basketball guy” like Jerry Colangelo might place a lot of value in. Meanwhile, Noel’s value isn’t as obvious in the traditional box score stats, while advanced statistics tear Okafor’s game apart and support Noel’s importance, which would align more with the quant-Hinkie era.

Jason: Yeah, I honestly have no idea which way this is going to go now, but I can definitely see the Sixers do something desperate in order to take a step forward. The offseason certainly just got way more intriguing.

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