At 7:02 PM on April 6, ESPN’s Marc Stein tweeted “ESPN sources say Sam Hinkie has stepped down from his posts in Philadelphial [sic].” Typos aside, the meaning was clear: Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie was leaving Philadelphia and likely taking the oft-maligned “process” with him.
The “process” focused on the idea that by repeatedly following through on sound decision-making, given enough chances, something will stick and success will follow. Decisions would be made based on value, not fear. For years, the Sixers’ executive decision making was a bastion of fear, a frustrating fear among the top executives of making mistakes, facing negative publicity, and actually committing to something long-term consistently stunted the ability of the team to make a leap. Believe it or not, mediocrity provides some level of comfort for most NBA executives. Winning forty to forty-five games per season and sneaking into the playoffs every two years allows general managers to tell the world, “we’re one move away!”
It’s an absolute farce.
Being “one move away” only matters if you have the flexibility, opportunity, and intelligence to make that move. For years prior to Hinkie’s arrival, all three of those plagued the Sixers, with the team continually making short-sighted moves and signing terrible contracts because of the fear of facing a losing season and putting their jobs in jeopardy. That’s an understandable fear, especially given how quickly owners can turn against decision-makers in their organization, but the resulting decision making process is fundamentally unsound. So they told the world publically that they would change. They were creating a new “process.”
And we bought it completely. The platitudes about the losses not mattering, their view for the future. The first season of the Hinkie-era Sixers began with a marketing scheme focused on the slogan, “Together We Build.” It put everyone on the same page. Without explicitly saying it, it told us, “we know this is a building process, and we need the support of the fans to get through this until we’ve built something special.”
And now, looking that future in the eye, they blinked.
Sam Hinkie might have been the only person in the room who realized just how difficult winning–and winning big–is in the NBA. Describing his mindset before his reign as general manager began in his resignation letter to Sixers ownership, Hinkie described the lofty challenge that faced the Sixers as “big enough to humble [him] to think about the enormity of it.” It’s likely that grip on reality clearly came through when he pitched his plan, but ownership did not fully understand the overwhelming odds facing a team embarking on a full rebuild of this scale. Majority owner Josh Harris said all the right things in public in that regard, and we, as Sixers fans, ate it up. Silly us.
The “process” could have become an innovation of sorts in the league. It was forward-thinking and it created unique advantages for the organization, particularly in terms of long-term thinking and financial flexibility. The Sixers ended the existence of the “process” with this premature end to what should have been the road to the top. Never again will there be a team with the willingness to delay instant gratification for future success to this extent. In retrospect, maybe there never was.
The “process” was forward-thinking and modern. It was innovative and exciting. What the ownership is following it with is quite possibly the exact opposite. Early this season, the Sixers brought in Jerry Colangelo as Chairman of Basketball Operations to share power with Hinkie in the decision making process. The successor to Sam Hinkie upon his resignation: Bryan Colangelo, Jerry’s son. He was rumored to take the newly open GM job less than an hour after the news broke about Hinkie’s resignation.
Nepotism is the oldest organizational decision-making process in the history of the modern world. It’s existed for as long as power structures have been in place. Kings hand the throne to the prince, sons take over their father’s business. It’s natural, but the decision making process is flawed. To hand the most important position in the organization to someone because his father has connections without conducting an exhaustive search is spitting in the face of everything fans have supported about this team for the last three years.
The point isn’t that Bryan Colangelo will be a bad GM (he likely will be), or that he wasn’t the best person for the job (he probably wasn’t). The point is that ownership panicked and that the Sixers are back to what they always were – cowards.
It’s possible that all the work that has been done wasn’t for nought. The Sixers are still in a great position going forward, and it looks as though some of the seeds they’ve planted will begin to come to fruition this year. Some combination of Joel Embiid and Dario Saric coming to the States, a possible four first-round draft picks this summer, and free agency could leave this team in a good place, all thanks to the vision of Sam Hinkie.
If this goes south, it will likely be blamed on Hinkie and the failure of the “process,” but I think that April 6 will have been the day the hopes for the future came crashing down to Earth.