For many NBA fans, Sam Hinkie was the harbinger of a new NBA that they didn’t want to be a part of: The (too) logical extension of his former boss Daryl Morey as a GM who values his players not for what they mean to a team or how they fit within it, but rather how their age and contract status function as assets for him to flip into, well, more assets.
Think how awful it would be if the NBA had more Sam Hinkies. Almost no player would stick around long enough to make an imprint on fans, as coldhearted executives would ship them out of town as soon as they deemed that little to no upside remained and that it might be better to blow it up rather than stick it out with a core that isn’t delivering results.
Here’s the thing about that hypothetical apocalyptic NBA: It wouldn’t require Hinkie to go all Orphan Black, all it would take is a group of typical fans.
The rise of Twitter has made the NBA offseason a thrilling saga, but it also reveals how little fans actually care about the players on their favorite team in comparison to the team itself. The logic seems to be that players come and go while the team always remains (although ask fans in Seattle, Vancouver and Charlotte about that). Think about the typical reaction you see to a free agent. Often it’s something along the lines of, “Well, if he wants that much money, then we better let him go. Can’t build a team that way.” Only an all-time legend like Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki can escape that type of commodification.
While Sixers coach Brett Brown told ESPN’s Pablo Torre, “The team I’m coaching now isn’t the team I’ll be coaching a few years from now. Some people will make it. Some people won’t,” it’s other teams that have bailed on high draft picks as rookies, with three top 15 picks from the 2014 NBA Draft already set to play for their second team. After Adreian Payne (#15) didn’t even last a full season with Atlanta, Charlotte punted on the potential of ninth pick Noah Vonleh for the short-term fix of Nicolas Batum and, along with some draft capital, Sacramento sent eighth pick Nik Stauskas to the Sixers in order to create salary cap space. The general fan reaction to the latter two seems to be that neither was good as a rookie and both franchises have been bad for so long that it’s if that’s what it takes to become respectable, so be it.
As for veterans, recent examples include the way some Oklahoma City fans blamed James Harden for his split with the franchise, the tone changing in Portland regarding LaMarcus Aldridge during the playoffs and free agency, and Chicago turning on Derrick Rose as he worked his way back from serious knee injuries.
Furthermore, Roy Hibbert was once the only kryptonite any Eastern team possessed for LeBron James, spurring article titles like “Roy Hibbert is in LeBron James’ Head,” while Chicago’s big man tandem of Joakim Noah (Defensive Player of the Year) and Taj Gibson (runner-up for Sixth Man of the Year) didn’t just keep the Bulls on the periphery of the playoffs without Rose, they led them to a series win in 2013 and a top four seed in 2014. Fast-forward to this summer and Pacers fans were more annoyed by Hibbert than LeBron ever was, and if there was an even mildly interesting target on the trade block, Bulls Twitter had a proposal at the ready containing Noah or Gibson, with the assumption that both, especially Noah, are in steep decline at only 30 years old.
This isn’t to say that Hinkie is going to succeed or that he’s to be commended (K.J. McDaniels, who was later traded after electing to sign for just one year, shed light on Philly’s questionable protocol of giving second-round rookies slightly more financial security in exchange for controlling them for an extra year), merely that people loath him for a frame of mind that isn’t dissimilar to their own.
Sam Hinkie might be more brazen about it, but in reality, he’s just like everyone else.