New GM gives Sixers shot at fresh start

Posted: May 13, 2013

If we can be sure of one thing about Sam Hinkie, it's that we can't be sure about anything.

The man who will run the Sixers is said to be as smart as a master of business administration degree from Stanford suggests. He is known to be in the vanguard of using advanced metrics to evaluate players and make decisions.

It is tempting from that sketchy information to conclude that Hinkie's hiring should drive the final stake through the Andrew Bynum Error. No matter how Hinkie crunches the numbers on Bynum, the only one that really matters is zero. That's how many minutes the center spent playing basketball for the 76ers last season.

If Hinkie really wants to take a numbers-based approach, he could try two. That's how many of Bynum's knees are damaged.

But not so long ago, it seemed logical that Chip Kelly's hiring would mean the end of Michael Vick's time with the Eagles. Kelly was reputed to be smart and innovative and looking for distinctly non-Vickian attributes in a quarterback: low turnover rates and quick decision-making, to name a couple.

But the Eagles will hold their first full-squad practices Monday, and, by all indications, Vick is No. 1 on the depth chart Kelly apparently writes in invisible ink. That doesn't mean Kelly isn't as smart as advertised, or that he won't win in the NFL. It just means he's wasting time reaching a conclusion that seems obvious to those who endured watching Vick the last couple of seasons.

When he's introduced, presumably this week, Hinkie can win some instant support by declaring Bynum an ex-Sixer (inasmuch as he ever was one). Just make a clean cut and move on.

But Hinkie is likely to continue the party line espoused by his new boss, Joshua Harris, and his predecessor, Tony DiLeo. They have kept open the possibility of re-signing Bynum.

Of course, they were also involved in the deal that brought Bynum here in the first place. It is natural Harris would still want to write a happy ending to that story. Hinkie doesn't have that issue. He was in Houston last summer.

While the Sixers were trading for Bynum, the Rockets were trading for Oklahoma City star James Harden. He averaged 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists. Oh, and he's 23 years old.

While the Sixers were signing Kwame Brown, the Rockets were signing Chicago center Omer Asik. He averaged a double-double and led the league in total rebounds.

While the Sixers were signing Dorell Wright and Nick Young, the Rockets were signing Jeremy Lin and Carlos Delfino.

The Rockets won 45 games with the youngest team in the NBA. The Sixers won 34.

Hinkie wasn't the GM in Houston. He was an assistant to Daryl Morey, who is closely associated with the advanced-analytics movement. It is never easy to sort out who deserves credit for what in the front office of a sports franchise. But we can safely presume that Hinkie will bring a similar approach to the Sixers job.

The stat-head approach is more widely used in baseball. It had a head start there, thanks to Bill James. It is also more applicable in measuring individual disciplines like pitching and hitting. There are many more, possibly too many more, variables in a team sport like basketball.

So it's probably oversimplifying to think Hinkie is going to run a bunch of punch cards through the old mainframe and make personnel decisions based on what comes out the other end. He will use quantifiable data as one tool - actually watching games and finding players with complementary skills will remain in the toolbox.

The second-best thing about the hire, from the little we know right now, is that it finally gives the Sixers a direction under their new ownership. Harris inherited DiLeo, Rod Thorn, and Doug Collins. That group took its big shot with Bynum. It didn't work.

The very best thing is that the hiring of Hinkie should extinguish all speculation about the likes of Larry Brown returning to the organization. This team needs a future, not a wallow in the past.

We can only hope that also applies to Bynum. But as Kelly proved with Vick, we just can't know for sure.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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