Hinkie's sleuthing garners two picks for 76ers

Posted: June 30, 2014

A little more than a month ago, Sam Hinkie, having just learned the 76ers would pick third and 10th in the NBA draft, stood among the crowd in a Times Square television studio and spoke two sentences very dear to him.

And, no, they weren't: "We're patient. This won't happen overnight."

The general manager was asked what needs the team might try to fill with those two picks - a reasonable question, although directed to Hinkie, a rather pointless one. He didn't even smile.

"This time of year, a lot of information can be gained and a lot lost the more you say. You have to be careful people don't know what you're going to do," Hinkie said.

And that was pretty much the insight he let slip about the picks until the moment commissioner Adam Silver took the secrets to the podium in Brooklyn on Thursday night.

As it turned out, the Sixers, from their point of view, were able to scoop up the most talented player in the draft with the third pick because other teams were scared away by Joel Embiid's broken foot. The Sixers, naturally, did their orthopedic homework on the subject.

"He is a remarkable talent that, in our minds, in only this scenario does he fall to three," Hinkie said.

With the 10th pick, they took point guard Elfrid Payton, whose Sixers hat didn't fit on his unruly cascade of hair as he approached Silver and who didn't seem to fit the Sixers' plans at all.

But Hinkie had done his homework on that stretch of the draft as well. Perhaps from that moment in Times Square when he saw that the Orlando Magic, with the 12th selection, would be picking just two places behind the Sixers, Hinkie saw an opportunity.

The Magic, by dint of the Andrew Bynum trade, held a future first-round pick that previously belonged to the Sixers. Hinkie wanted that back. It bothered him like a gap in an otherwise-perfect smile. If he could determine which player the Magic truly coveted with the 12th pick, he might be able to snatch him up first and then ransom him back to Orlando. So, Sam Hinkie began to watch closely.

"You never know, honestly. All of these are sort of calculated risks," Hinkie said last week. "What players make sense for their team? Who they might be after? A lot of what you do is sleuthing information. Who's been working out who? Who's been interviewing who? Who's been on which college campus?"

Hinkie knew the Magic, holding the fourth and 12th picks, wanted a young point guard to eventually replace Jameer Nelson but also needed frontcourt help. Unless Orlando took either Dante Exum or Marcus Smart with that fourth pick, general manager Rob Hennigan would need to find his point guard with the later selection.

On June 11, the Magic worked out point guards Payton and Shabazz Napier in Orlando, and the reports were that Payton had a standout day. Hinkie made it his business, as he did with every other team in the league, to keep track of what the general manager was saying, to find out which media members were plugged into that market, to find out in whom the GM confides around the league, and to quantify all of that information.

In the days before the draft, the Orlando Sentinel published its final mock draft and listed Payton as the 12th pick. Maybe that didn't seal it, but it was another brick in the wall of information Hinkie was constructing.

"Was the intel solid? Yes," Hinkie said. "Was it airtight? No way."

Still, it was airtight enough that when the Magic took forward Aaron Gordon with the fourth pick, the Sixers were ready to spring the trap. They wanted Croatian power forward Dario Saric, and Hinkie's sleuthing had also reasonably determined that Saric's two-year commitment to a Turkish team would cause him to fall far enough to make the play.

In Orlando, things were going nicely. Exum and Smart were taken, and no other teams appeared likely to come between the Magic and Payton. Sitting just ahead of them were the Sixers, with rookie of the year point guard Michael Carter-Williams, and the Nuggets, tied firmly to Ty Lawson at that position.

And then with the 10th pick in the 2014 NBA draft, the Sixers threw a bird into the punch bowl.

The deal offered by the Sixers required the Magic to draft Saric and trade him, along with that missing first-round 2017 pick and a 2015 second-round pick as well, in exchange for Payton. If that seems heavy - a first-round and a second-round pick in exchange for moving two places late in the lottery - well, it was. But Orlando went for it.

"The draft's a fluid thing," Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. "Elfrid's a guy we had targeted. We felt it was worth it to acquire him using some of the assets we had for the future."

What's he going to say? We got robbed?

It was a robbery, though, of the smooth sort that happens only after carefully casing the landscape and keeping the job a secret. As the man said, you have to be careful people don't know what you're going to do.

The rest of the league - and the NSA, for that matter - could learn something from Hinkie about guarding one's secrets and discovering someone else's.

He's hoping they don't, though.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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