Sixers' Hinkie doing what needs to be done

Posted: February 22, 2014

To understand why Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie traded Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, and Lavoy Allen before Thursday's trade deadline, why he took a team that was already speeding toward a top-three pick in this year's draft and placed a 25-pound barbell on the gas pedal, let's begin with a Friday night in early November. Let's begin with an anecdote about the player everyone knew Hinkie wasn't going to trade on Thursday.

Hinkie was sitting courtside at the Wells Fargo Center, watching the Sixers - and Michael Carter-Williams, in particular - shoot around before a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Sixers would win that night to improve to 4-2 (remember those days?), and Carter-Williams was the talk of the NBA. He was averaging close to 20 points, between seven and eight assists, and three steals per game, and because of him, the Sixers appeared capable of turning their season into something other than a lost cause.

So Sam, you must be thrilled with your rookie point guard, right?

Hinkie never took his eyes off the court.

"It's early yet," he said.

That's what's easy to forget about what Hinkie is doing. Over more than three decades, the Sixers have had two shooting-star seasons - the 1983 championship and the 2001 charge to the NBA Finals. Everyone's waiting for a return to those fleeting glory days, and it's taking so long to get back, and even if the Sixers can't get back there anytime soon, shouldn't they do all they can to put a competitive team on the court?

Hinkie appreciates the sentiment but rejects it as a strategy for establishing and sustaining success. He arrived as GM after 11 years of the Sixers' trying to patch things together to be competitive, 11 years of wishful thinking.

If we can just find a second scorer to complement Allen Iverson. . . . If Elton Brand can be the productive low-post player he was with the Clippers. . . . If Andrew Bynum could just stay healthy and care a little more about basketball.

So many quick fixes, and where did they get the Sixers? The question answers itself.

So yes, Hinkie will burn this village in order to save it. He netted a handful of second-round picks with the four trades he made Thursday, and he'll open up oodles of salary-cap room for the offseason, and the only shame is that it took so long for this franchise to start over.

The arguments against Hinkie's strategy are trite and obvious. Granted, there's little honor in reducing an NBA roster to a husk of hangers-on and might-bes in the name of securing a higher draft pick. But there's much about it that is logical, and if you're a Sixers season-ticket holder or an offended sports moralist and want to complain, don't call Hinkie. Direct your ire at NBA commissioner Adam Silver and his predecessor, David Stern, and the other men responsible for creating and overseeing a system that rewards failure.

All Hinkie is doing here is maximizing his opportunities to acquire what he calls "big players," and none of the players he dealt Thursday fits that term.

Turner was the second-overall selection in the 2010 draft, and it was a testament to the regard in which he's held around the league that the Indiana Pacers reportedly needed to surrender just Danny Granger (with his crumbling body and expiring contract) and a second-round pick to get him. Maybe Turner can be an important supporting player for a Pacers team that could win a championship this season, but he wasn't a building block here, so there was no reason for him to stay.

If nothing else, Turner serves as a reminder that nothing is guaranteed for the Sixers in their race to the bottom. Even Hinkie has acknowledged this. They may draft and sign the wrong players. They might mess this up. They also might erect the infrastructure of a team that can win with consistency for a long time, and this much is certain: Their old methods weren't working and never would.

"I love that we're all passionate about what we want and how bad we want it now," Hinkie said in a lengthy interview before the season. "It just doesn't change the realities of what is required. It seems to me an issue of what things will help you achieve your goal and what won't, and what's right to do in that context and what isn't. The rest seems like noise.

"If you can't find a way to focus on something different from what everyone else does, you'll get what everyone else gets."

Back to that night in November, when Michael Carter-Williams was wowing everyone except, apparently, the man who'd drafted him. Take a peek at Carter-Williams' last eight games. He shot 37 percent from the field. He averaged as many turnovers as assists (4.9). The Sixers lost all eight.

He may yet develop into a superstar, but nothing is assured, and Sam Hinkie was right about the one player he didn't dare trade Thursday and about the Sixers as a whole.

It was early then, and it's early now.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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