Inside the Sixers: New GM Hinkie more than just a numbers guy

Posted: May 13, 2013

The abrupt hiring of Houston Rockets assistant general manager Sam Hinkie as 76ers president of basketball operations and general manager, coupled with the swift kick the organization gave to Tony DiLeo on Friday, shows that owner Joshua Harris is going full-bore in doing away with one culture and giving birth to another.

Harris has made his billions by propping up distressed companies, restoring them to value, and, in some cases, increasing their value. But in less than one year, the 76ers regressed badly after being one victory away from the Eastern Conference finals.

And this is why, for better or for worse, Harris has turned over the direction of the team to Hinkie, 35, a bright man with a Stanford MBA and diverse background who is steeped in the utilization of statistical data.

Readers of this column know that, unlike a growing number of Internet acolytes, I don't worship at the altar of advanced statistics. However, after 82 servings of the lukewarm gruel (on its best nights) delivered by the Sixers during the 2012-13 season, I'm open to seeing the role advanced statistical analysis might play in rebuilding a moribund NBA franchise.

One thing I've learned about Hinkie in the last 48 hours is that he's not just all about crunching numbers. Yes, he's big on ascribing value to shots taken at the basket vs. long two-pointers that should be threes, but perhaps there is more here.

In three conversations with people in Houston who have worked with him and watched him work, the common thread is that while Hinkie and former boss Daryl Morey, the Houston general manager, have hired a slew of MIT MBAs to analyze everything, Hinkie is a relentless worker who will "scout talent as much as anyone in the league."

Hinkie joined the Rockets in 2005, two years before Morey did. During that time, the Rockets more than doubled their scouting department - not including advance scouts - to six. That group included Morey and Hinkie, atypical in that many executives these days have scouts doing the legwork in obscure countries where they'd rather not venture in the dead of winter.

This does not appear to be the case with Hinkie.

"I think the misconception is these guys rely on nothing but numbers, and that couldn't be further from the truth," said a league source who did not want to be identified until the Sixers formally announced Hinkie's hire. "Sam is going to see a player a number of times. When he makes up his mind as to what the player is - his monetary value - he's not going to budge from his position."

Hinkie leaves the Rockets in pretty good shape. Following a three-year absence from the Western Conference playoffs, they were eliminated in the first round by Oklahoma City. They cleared enough cap space last summer so that when Thunder general manager Sam Presti called them, they were in position to trade for James Harden and reward the shooting guard with a contract that the Thunder could not fit under their salary cap.

Now that he's getting more minutes in Houston than he did in Chicago, center Omar Asik has proven to be a serviceable starter. Jeremy Lin's contract doesn't become burdensome until he's owed $14 million in the third year. And if last year's 16th overall pick, Royce White, ever overcomes his fear of flying and other emotional disorders, he could prove to be a steal. Until then, your best chance at seeing him is when his NBA D-League team plays at the Delaware 87ers.

But this is all in Hinkie's rearview mirror. Don't let the glorified consultant titles handed out to Rod Thorn and Doug Collins fool you either, for they are bit players in the Sixers' rehabilitation. Harris has turned over the future of this franchise and its emerging culture, yet to be determined, exclusively to Hinkie.

And whatever course he charts, the Sixers are going to follow - wherever it may lead.


Hinkie's To-Do List

Here are the most pressing matters for Sam Hinkie when he officially takes over as president of basketball operations and general manger of the 76ers:

  • HIRE A COACH. The draft will be here soon and whoever is going to replace Doug Collins needs to be in place as soon as possible.
  • PREPARE SWIFTLY FOR THE JUNE 27 DRAFT. Unless they move up into the top three in the lottery later this month, the Sixers will have the 11th overall pick.
  • MAKE A SWIFT DECISION ON ANDREW BYNUM'S FUTURE. He will be an unrestricted free agent July 1. Either he stays or he goes; either he's healthy or he's not.
  • DECIDE WHAT THE PLAN IS FOR EVAN TURNER. Is he worth a contract extension this summer, or do you let him get become a restricted free agent next summer?
  • BUILD A LEGITIMATE NBA PRACTICE FACILITY TO CALL YOUR OWN. The cramped dressing room at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine is the worst in the league and the last shared-quarters arrangement.

Contact John N. Mitchell at  jmitchell@philly.com. Follow on Twitter @JmitchInquirer.

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