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Nets, 76ers, Warriors Prove There’s No ‘Right’ Way to Build an NBA Team

Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports

Heard any good 76ers jokes lately? How about some hot takes as to why Golden State built through the draft, but didn’t do so from tanking? Oh, maybe there’s that guy in your timeline you remember praising the Brooklyn Nets for spending like a 16 year-old who was given a credit card without a limit for some ungodly reason?

Everyone, as well as their collective (respective) mothers, has an opinion on what Sam Hinkie is doing in Philadelphia. The process, as it’s become known, is either a genius attempt at gaming the system, an affront to the game of professional basketball or a future LP Hinkie will be dropping. Granted, I know we’re all hoping it’s the latter.

Regardless of how you feel about Hinkie’s attempts to get better through the draft via purposely playing horrible, we need to recognize it’s the exact opposite approach the Brooklyn Nets took a few years ago.

Brooklyn went the supposed, planned to some degree, “faster” route at getting better — as they traded away a slew of future first-round picks, signed nearly every veteran who was at some point a superstar but were clearly on the decline, and hired people to coach and manage the front office who failed elsewhere.

Brooklyn’s approach left them with a very small window to be a franchise of relevance of the NBA. It was clear as day when they did it, as they essentially built an NBA version of a retirement home, and the window actually shrank quicker than anyone imagined.

Honestly, it was a “poof” and the window was shut nearly the moment they tried to open it situation. Oddly enough, however, Brooklyn’s attempt at getting good — quickly, with absolutely zero long-term vision — isn’t met with as much scorn as what Hinkie has done in Philly. I’m only assuming it’s because, you know, at least they tried — which is a polite way of saying they were still really bad at their jobs and it’s put them in a position to be rather incompetent at basketball for about a decade…So, ugh, I guess that’s the better approach?

We use hindsight as if it were actual time travel and not a luxury afforded to us...

We use hindsight as if it were actual time travel and not a luxury afforded to us…

Yet a funny thing has been happening lately. People are using the Golden State Warriors — and to a lesser degree Oklahoma City — as examples as to how teams should build their rosters. You know, be bad organically or something. I’m not exactly sure why, but to them the semantics of how teams are bad is of the utmost importance.

Here’s the thing, especially with Golden State: Stephen Curry wasn’t some sort of known, definitive lock to be a gosh-slam basketball revelation. He was passed on by teams because there were legitimate question marks at the time. Same could be said about other key, drafted players on their roster such as Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

It wasn’t only that they were organically bad, had terrific scouting and whatnot as to reasons why they’ve become what they are now. A lot more than we’d like to admit had to do with luck.

For the love of Sam Cassell, Curry is a freaking unicorn. A once in a generational type…except there’s never been a player like him before. Golden State’s run of dominance, with no end in sight, was helped by other teams passing on Curry, which is good fortune. Not exactly a skill set acquired via front-office abilities.

Almost exactly the same thing can be said for OKC. Kevin Durant was certainly a more sure-fire prospect, but Russell Westbrook, James Harden (RIP to his game?) and Serge Ibaka were not. Even with Harden now being gone, as Westbrook continues to be an athletic marvel who’s somehow magically under-appreciated, much of their success is due to luck and teams passing on guys they’ve drafted.

All Sam Hinkie is trying to do in Philadelphia is higher his percentages of getting lucky in the draft. The more lottery picks, the more chances of landing basketball unicorns. The more second-round draft selections, it increases the chances of finding diamonds in the rough such as Draymond Green. Really, it isn’t that complicated to figure out what he’s trying to do.

Heard he has no handle, but sign this unicorn!

Heard he has no handle, but sign this unicorn!

Still, because Hinkie has been unlucky in finding his basketball unicorn, we view him as a failure. His “process” isn’t only as a mistake either, but some sort of evil being done to the basketball community. So, ugh, yeah. Let’s do that rather than acknowledging he’s merely trying to use a broken system to solve an issue.

Thing is, there’s no right way to go about getting better. Such a huge factor in getting better is luck. We can try to assign so much credit to scouts and general managers for drafting Curry — or {insert whoever} — but not only were they as unaware as we were about Curry becoming a basketball gawd, it wasn’t as if they drafted him with the first overall selection. Curry, Westbrook, every player of MAJOR consequence — sans a few exceptions — fell to a team because other general managers and scouts were not dumb or less intelligent, but less lucky.

No matter. No one ever wants to admit that luck in building rosters plays such a huge role in everything that happens after. We’ll ignore that Brooklyn’s attempt at getting better tried to take luck out of the scenario by signing known commodities. Their failure wasn’t unlucky. It was because history has shown that most title-contending-caliber teams features a nucleus of talented players they drafted — you know, the approach that has a HUGE luck factor.

The exceptions for above rule I may have created from the figment of my imagination being Miami with LeBron James (though they had a homegrown guy) and the Boston Celtics (again, with a homegrown guy). Neither of those teams would’ve been able to eliminate luck from the equation had they not been lucky enough to draft Wade and Pierce. So, yeah…luck there too!

Think of it this way: Bill Polian was a long revered NFL GM. During his time with the Indianapolis Colts he was considered a genius. Honestly, though, he wasn’t. He got lucky enough to be there when a once-in-a-generation Peyton Manning was there, and rode him to over a decade of success. Mind you, during Manning’s run, Polian’s brilliance failed to ever put a better than average defense on the field. So was he actually a genius at that time, or was he simply lucky enough that Manning hid many of the flaws he failed to fix?

Eh, I digress…


Time and time again we see teams try to take the bull by its horns, eliminate luck and then fail miserably. Season after season we ponder why certain teams are always better than others while not acknowledging the obvious of the former having been lucky enough to draft a superstar player. We continue to want to give all these things some sort of grand meaning despite it being more simple than anyone cares to discuss.

At the end of the day, Brooklyn failed because it was shortsighted, tried too hard to build a roster via ways that don’t work and hired people who had a track record of failures in their wake. Golden State and OKC succeeded not only because of their scouts and general managers (I don’t want to trivialize how important they are, because they are), but because they were lucky enough to have ping-pong balls bounce a certain way, enough teams to pass on certain guys and have attempted to put better coaches and front-office people in those organizations.

Sam Hinkie is simply attempting to do the latter, but more efficiently by way of increasing his odds of being lucky each NBA Draft. If you rather the Sixers be dishonest and sign a few washed-up bums who have name recognition, then fine. I don’t know what to tell you.

It’s just weird to me, though, as most sane people would agree nearly every franchise in the league can’t land unicorns in free agency. That the only way to get them to a franchise player is through the draft, that we’d bash a guy for trying so desperately hard to do so by exploiting a system which has worked by teams who weren’t actually naturally bad, but were sneaky enough to make you think they were somewhat trying by signing a dude whose name you knew.

Truly, there’s no organic or natural bad. It’s simply bad. How you got to be that is irrelevant, because becoming a great franchise nearly always takes being it.

The point here being: there’s no right way to do this. There’s wrong ways, certainly. But let’s stop pretending Hinkie’s plan is dumb merely because it’s unfounded, irrelevant or evil. It just hasn’t worked (yet). He simply hasn’t gotten lucky yet. Something I thought all us basketbloggers would be able to relate to more…

Except me. I have tremendous hair.

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