Sixers' destiny in Hinkie's hands

Posted: May 23, 2014

BECAUSE THERE really is no choice at this point, the sign above the cash register at all Philadelphia sports bars is being replaced with a new one:

In Hinkie we trust . . .

. . . All others pay cash.

No single individual will have more to say about the success or failure of a Philadelphia sports team than Sam Hinkie, the Sixers' general manager. That is said with full awareness that a fellow named Chip Kelly works across the street from Hinkie. It is a close call, yes, because Chip is everything and everywhere and because changing a coach in the NFL has almost always meant changing an entire regime. But Hinkie stands alone.

And now that the draft order has been set, and Hinkie has the third and 10th picks in the upcoming NBA draft - two significant chances to add meaningful players to Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Thad Young, the remains of a season of strategic pain - the time has come for owner Josh Harris' bet to start paying off.

His bet? On a man, one man, Hinkie. It is the part of professional sports that has not changed. These men come armed with different experiences than their predecessors, and different tools - analytics, video, everything. And while some places are more collaborative than others, somebody still has to use those experiences and those tools to make a decision in the end. It has always been that way, about men making decisions, projecting players into the future, and it still is.

That is Hinkie, and this is where we begin to decide.

Now, before you say it, it needs to be acknowledged that Hinkie has an owner who supports him and personnel people who assist him and a coach, Brett Brown, whose fixation on player development will ideally accelerate the process - but this is Hinkie's show. Remember how when he was a coach in the NFL, Bill Parcells talked about also wanting to buy the groceries? Well, in the case of the Sixers, Hinkie not only is buying the groceries - he is choosing the store, stocking the shelves and printing the currency that the team will spend.

Again, Kelly is close - but general manager Howie Roseman is an entrenched presence in the Eagles organization now, and the personnel process in the NFL is far more unwieldy than in the NBA, far too much for one person. You probably have to go back more than a decade, when Andy Reid nudged general manager Tom Modrak out of the building and became the Eagles' king of all football, to find someone in Philadelphia with as prominent a footprint as Hinkie's. Before that, it was probably Buddy Ryan. Before that, Dick Vermeil.

For the Sixers, coach Doug Collins was a significant presence - but Hinkie is different. And now he has maneuvered to get No. 3 and No. 10, plus a fistful of second-round picks. This is what the NBA draft lottery has given the Sixers. That lottery did not validate Hinkie's tanking strategy - the strategy was validated by logic and common sense, validated months earlier. But now we really find out.

(A quick aside: The lottery was created in the 1980s as a way to counter the notion that NBA teams were losing on purpose to improve their draft position. Thirty years later, the truth is that franchises like the Sixers, at certain points in their life cycles, construct rosters that aren't good enough to win, no matter how hard they try - that is, to lose on purpose - in order to get one of the top draft picks. In other words, the lottery does not do what it was intended to do and merely mucks things up so that a team such as Cleveland can get the first pick. The NBA should just do away with the lottery and have the draft order determined by each team's record, with the worst going first. Thank you for listening.)

Everybody's definition of a good player is different. That said, the numbers suggest that a typical NBA team in a typical NBA year has a bit north of a 40 percent chance of drafting a good player with a top-five pick, and maybe a 25 percent chance with a pick from 6-10. The odds of hitting the daily double - getting two good players - is about 10 percent.

Those are broad, rough numbers for finding this mythical good player. And for picking an excellent player? You probably want to cut those numbers in half. It explains why this whole tanking thing is hardly an automatic solution.

But if Hinkie is right, and this is not a typical NBA year and there are more good players in the draft than usual, the potential improves. Still, that is only a part of the equation. Hinkie is the biggest part, as we are all about to find out.

On Twitter: @theidlerich


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