Hinkie and Brown are on this mission together

Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie listens to new Sixers Head Coach Brett Brown while meeting with the media on Wednesday, August 14, 2013. ( Yong Kim / Staff Photographer )
Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie listens to new Sixers Head Coach Brett Brown while meeting with the media on Wednesday, August 14, 2013. ( Yong Kim / Staff Photographer )
Posted: August 16, 2013

Sam Hinkie says it can routinely take him weeks to decide among candidates for internships, because you never know. Way down the road, beyond what can be seen as he shuffles through the resumés and the letters of introduction, having the right person in that role might mean the difference in something or other to the organization.

The 76ers general manager is nothing if not methodical, so it's far from a surprise that it took until the middle of August for the team to announce San Antonio assistant Brett Brown as the new head coach of the team. All the rocks were turned over and studied, all the potential candidates were researched and reviewed, all those pesky unknowables were prodded until they revealed as much as possible.

"It's fair to say we considered all possibilities and looked at a wide swath. I firmly believe good decisions come from good options," Hinkie said. "We didn't want to just mark time while we waited for some future to get here. There's so much to be done to get to where we want to be, an organization like San Antonio or Oklahoma City, or like Utah was for so many years. We've got a long way to go, and we think we can make a lot of progress on that during this period."

That sounded good to Brown, that the next coach would be in for the long haul and not be just a stopgap teacher who would be discarded when the team got good. He wanted it in writing, however, and was prepared to stay with the Spurs if the Sixers didn't pony up and guarantee the second half of his four-year contract.

"I was not going to take the job without the four years, and I am extremely grateful to the owners [that] they took a step back, and it's a tremendous reflection they know it's going to take time," Brown said.

Trust can be earned, trust can be built, and trust can also become a quick necessity when the back door is locked and you have to go out the front together or not at all. Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown are going to pull this off as a team or it isn't going to happen for the new administration and staff. That's the reality of what the partnership announced Wednesday means, and nobody was sugarcoating the degree of difficulty involved.

"We all know the pain of rebuilding is real. We've all experienced it," Brown said. "It's dangerous and . . . a bit scary at times."

In finding his partner for the tightrope walk of trust across this gorge, the least-surprising thing is that Hinkie raided a San Antonio organization for which he has a respect that one league source familiar with the GM referred to as "man love." The organization built by R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich has been an innovator in terms of team facilities, player development, and draft and free-agent strategies. The last time the Spurs didn't win at least 50 games in a full season was 1996-97, and along the way they have won four NBA titles and would have won a fifth but for an uncharacteristic last-minute collapse in Game 6 against the Heat in June.

"If someone on my [Houston] staff came to me with an idea of something that maybe we should try or do differently, I'd tell them to go find out if San Antonio did it," Hinkie said. "If the answer was no, then they should go back and rethink what they had."

San Antonio deserves that kind of admiration, but the secret of the Spurs' success isn't a secret, and it isn't really about the practice facility or the conditioning program or the ability to teach a piece player like Bruce Bowen to hit a corner jumper, or even that Popovich is one of the better coaching minds in league history. It was because the Spurs, during that long span, had the services of players like David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.

Brown can do all the right things, and he can make those on the current roster - what he calls the "workable pieces" - into better players, but there is a component of good fortune that has to be present as well. That part is another of the unknowables when asking if the Sixers will become one of those organizations.

"Everybody's got a right to dream. I'm no different," Brown said. "It is such a long way away in my eyes. There's so much work to be done in order to even be able to think about that. It's fair to think and fair to dream, but it takes so much work and so much luck to get to that level. It's a great thing to aspire to, but it's a long road."

The operating plan is that the teacher will teach, the team will lose with great regularity for a while, and the Sixers will then be in position to acquire some of the great players who make dreams come true. It has happened that way for other teams before, but, then again, it hasn't happened more often.

"Can you imagine if we get this thing right?" Brown said.

For the moment, that's all we can do. But the team and the coach are in it together now. They are joined by trust in each other and a little bit of healthy fear of the enormity of the task ahead.

Trust can be a great motivator. Fear ain't bad, either.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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