Sixers' new risk-management team

Posted: May 16, 2013

NEW SIXERS president of basketball operations and general manager Sam Hinkie said yesterday that he likes "smart risks," likes to "push the chips to the middle of the table in a big way" if he sees "something where you can find an edge."

Sixers owner Josh Harris repeated again yesterday, several times in fact, that despite the train wreck of a season created by last summer's Andrew Bynum deal, he would do it all over again.

Hinkie said that he liked that about Josh, that it swayed him in accepting Harris' offer to leave the Houston Rockets for the Sixers.

Whew, this analytics stuff sure hurts my brain.

Because if Bynum's knees weren't made of Twinkies and he played in even half the games this season, wouldn't Tony DiLeo still be the GM? Wouldn't he be receiving accolades from the Sixers owner instead of a dismissal notice? Wouldn't an NBA championship - which yesterday was described as a distant goal of an extensive "process" involving many small, smart decisions - be discussed in more imminent terms?

"I want to build a league-best basketball operation that consistently makes high-quality decisions,'' Hinkie said at one point. "Just beating the average by a bit in a league of 30 competitors will only serve to disappoint all of us in the long run."

Actually, we're at the end of a long run here, and pretty much out of patience, too. As Harris noted, it's been 30 years since the last Sixers championship, with only one visit to the NBA Finals over that span. That visit was more of a meteor than a plan, the short-run result of a great but impatient basketball mind, Larry Brown, with a great but incorrigible talent, Allen Iverson.

The meteor in this time warp was Bynum, who created Iverson-like hype when he was traded here from the Lakers last summer. But the season that never was did not just kill that buzz. It heightened the cynicism surrounding this team, which, given the last 30 years, seems impossible.

It is a reflection of this team's inertia, in fact, that reports of Brown's interest in returning here as coach this week were the most intriguing piece of news about the franchise since, well, the Bynum deal.

More intriguing than the Hinkie hire? I'd say so, but I've neither made billions in hedge funds nor managed a team into the playoffs despite having $40 million of my $70 million cap (Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady) wearing street clothes one season.

This feat, and what it suggests, it why Hinkie is here and DiLeo is not. Houston has done more with less over the last few seasons, has judged and paid for emerging talent wisely, has a system in place.

The Sixers' free-agent signings have been almost as disastrous as Bynum's Gumby knees, and they have overpaid for players whose promise now appears to be a mirage.

Harris said he endorsed these moves because the team had surprising success in his first year, had upward mobility. He now would like to build his team the way he has built his fortune, via "small, smart decisions."

"Winning in the NBA is a step-by-step process," he said. "If you just want to be slightly above average, that's easy to do. You can go out and overpay for free agents.

"There's no secrets . . . You build a process and start to make good decisions. I think some of the decisions we made could have been better informed. When you look at some of those decisions and I look back at the process and some of the outcomes, it certainly did orient me towards going back to how I know how to build this thing - from the ground up."

That won't exactly create the same kind of buzz from a summer ago. "From the Ground Up" is not much of a banner to hang on the Wells Fargo Center, not much of a jingo for the hard-working folks in the Sixers' ticket office.

Then again, "Analytics" isn't much of a motto either. Yet, anyway.

"I think the fans, so far, and I really appreciate it, have hung with us," Harris said. "They, too, want a championship team. And I think what we have to do once Sam gets done with some of his early work here, is articulate how we want to go forward."

Today on PhillyDailyNews.com , Bob Cooney writes about Sam Hinkie and the analytical approach he brings to the business of basketball.


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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