RIP “The Process.”
As you are probably well-aware I was never a fan of “The Process.” I don’t think you should be rewarded for losing on purpose. If badminton can figure out how to punish people for intentionally throwing matches, then the NBA should be able to as well. Yet, it was a little bittersweet to hear that Sam Hinkie had resigned because “The Process’s” inability to yield tangible results means we are most likely stuck with the current version of the NBA lottery for the foreseeable future. Plus, it’s not his fault that the NBA clings to an archaic system whose main beneficiaries are extremely terrible GMs.[i] He was just taking advantage of it. So, RIP “The Process” until some new enterprising GM decides to try to replicate it. In the meantime I have three thoughts about Sam Hinkie’s resignation.
1) Sam Hinkie’s Resignation Letter- I think you can make a strong defense for Sam Hinkie’s vision. He’s right that being terrible on purpose in the NBA is an avenue to high draft picks and hoarding cap space allows you to acquire draft picks in exchange for taking on other teams’ bad contracts (one should note cap space is becoming less valuable as more teams have it). He regularly got the better of other teams in trades, so he had plenty of chances to acquire good young players via the draft. The problem is that a lot of his draft picks just weren’t very good or didn’t make very much sense. Spending most of your first-round picks on post players whose skill sets don’t complement each other isn’t a good idea.
Plus, “The Process” turned every person into an asset and Sam Hinkie treated them as such by trying to force players with limited leverage, e.g. second-round draft picks, to sign extremely unfavorable contracts and by alienating agents, members of his own organization, etc. Sam Hinkie may have seen the constant roster turnover as a positive thing in the sense he was getting rid of less valuable assets for more valuable ones, but it’s difficult for young players to develop in that type of environment. Many of us, maybe even most of us, have worked in negative work environments with high turnover rates, unhappy workers, etc. and it’s not a long-term recipe for success. The only workers who want to stay in situations like this are the bad ones who can’t find better jobs.
However, if he had written a shorter and less rambling letter defending his strategy, while admitting that perhaps he could have drafted better or created a healthier organizational culture I think the general public would have been much more sympathetic. Instead, he defended himself with arguments like “we [have] found two 22 year-old gems to date, including Jerami Grant (#39) and Richaun Holmes (#37).” Sorry, to rain on your parade 76ers fans, but the aforementioned players come off the bench for a historically terrible team. In his resignation letter Sam Hinkie admits that part of being a NBA GM involves making lots of mistakes and learning from them; however the only ones he talks about is not signing Robert Covington to the 76ers’ summer club roster and failing to acquire several second-round draft picks. Does Sam Hinkie really believe those were his biggest errors running the 76ers?
2) Will Sam Hinkie be “repotted professionally?”- Let’s make a national pact to no longer use the phrase “find a new job.” You are not “finding a new job,” now as Sam Hinkie would say you are “repotting professionally!” Secondly, I have tremendous respect for Adrian Wojnarowski. Whenever he writes something I usually assume he’s right because he’s right so often. However, I can’t see how Sam Hinkie could have been so naïve to think his resignation letter wouldn’t be made public. He was the most polarizing executive in the NBA and he sent a thirteen-page resignation email to the twelve “equity partners of Philadelphia 76ers, L.P.” Did he really think his email wouldn’t be forwarded and shared with the media? Maybe Jerry Colangelo really did leak this letter, but someone else would have even if he did not.
Sam Hinkie definitely has his fans as was clearly visible from the national sports media dividing itself into two camps. The first seemed to think his resignation was the end of the world and the 76ers were dooming themselves forever, and the second reacted as if a terrible dictator had just been overthrown. So, it only takes one NBA owner or ownership group to decide that he did not get a fair shot with the 76ers and hire him. I think eventually he will find another home in the NBA, but this resignation letter will not help. Frankly, I would not hire him after “The Process,” but I’m also not a billionaire NBA owner, so my opinion doesn’t matter.
3) The Colangelo Era- Bryan Colangelo has made some great moves and some terrible ones. He may end up doing a great job or a terrible one, but most likely he will end up somewhere in the middle. He has some good assets, but I think the hardest part of his job will be deciding the value of his young players who are good, but not great, e.g. Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, etc. Right now they are very valuable assets since they are signed to rookie contracts, even though they have flaws. For example, Jahlil Okafor’s terrible defense, Nerlens Noel’s limited offense, their awkward fit together, etc. However, since almost all high first-round draft picks who produce decent stats sign max (or near max) second contracts, they won’t be nearly as valuable assets in a few years.
If the 76ers haven’t found a superstar in the draft by then, they may end up becoming the Jazz of the Eastern Conference in the sense they have a bunch of decent young players that are drastically overpaid so they can’t sign a great free agent, but they won’t be drafting high enough to have a decent chance at acquiring one through the draft either. So, Bryan Colangelo’s next few moves, especially in the draft this year, are incredibly important. He needs to find a real impact player or else the national sports media is going to have a field day since his father is his boss.
Christopher Linnan is a second-year Fulbright Fellow who currently works in Medan, Indonesia who has a life-long sports and politics addiction.
[i] Imagine if we took this system to other walks of life and forced the best young law graduates in the U.S. to sign with the worst-performing law firms in the country or the best young cooks were forced to work in terrible restaurants.