Sixers ownership made (bigger) mess, pushed out Sam Hinkie


Yikes. You thought having only 10 wins was a bad look.

Sam Hinkie resigned as the Sixers’ president and general manager on Wednesday evening (see story). After talking to various people, it sounds like he decided to jump rather than get pushed. That’s what was happening. It started in December when the Sixers hired Jerry Colangelo as the team’s chairman of basketball operations. Shoving Hinkie off the organizational ledge, or at least toward it, continued when Josh Harris and the ownership group recently explained to him that they wanted to restructure the front office, according to league sources (see story). Those sources said Bryan Colangelo — former Toronto Raptors and Phoenix Suns general manager (and Jerry's son) — will be hired as the Sixers' new GM.

The idea, as I’m told it was outlined to Hinkie, was to have both Colangelos take bigger roles as a critical offseason approaches. Specifically, the Colangelos would deal more with agents and players at a time when the Sixers hope to be active in the free-agent market. Hinkie refused to yield more power than he already has and resigned, dropping a 13-page letter on his way out. According to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, “ownership had not planned to fire Hinkie.” They thought he would go along with adding “another high-level executive on a level plane with him.” Ownership thought wrong. Now the Colangelos run the Sixers.

That was always the end game here. Some people knew it right away and others learned it along the way, but here we are nevertheless. In a statement issued during Wednesday’s madness, Harris said, “there is no question that Sam's work has put us in a very strong position to take advantage of numerous opportunities for an exciting future."

That stands in stark opposition to Harris’ actions back in December when he effectively hit the eject button on The Process — which, by the way, he launched into the NBA atmosphere in the first place by hiring Hinkie and giving his plan the go code. When he brought in Jerry Colangelo, Harris said the Sixers were “still committed to the process” and “we’re committed to Sam” and he added he didn’t “expect radical changes.” (That last one kinda jumps out.)

“We’re committed to the process,” Harris repeated at the time. Then: “We want it to move faster.”

It was an obvious shot at Hinkie. After a little more than two years of urging patience, Harris wanted to go quicker. He set the Colangelo(s) counterbalance in motion. Maybe he did so because commissioner Adam Silver leaned on Harris to course correct an organization that — in the process of implementing The Process — had become a big and divisive topic in the NBA. Maybe the internal and external pressure became too much. Maybe Harris wasn’t fully honest with himself about how long Hinkie’s plan would take and how much heat everyone would absorb. Whatever the reason, Harris hired Jerry Colangelo. Then he signed off on bringing in Bryan. If Harris was still committed to Hinkie and The Process this week, that’s a bizarre endorsement.

When Jerry Colangelo was hired, Harris used the word “collaboration” a lot. Almost everyone with the Sixers did for the last few months. It sounded fine in that clean, corporate way, but functionally the word meant something else. It meant a dramatic shift away from Hinkie and his approach — and toward the Colangelos and their relationships around the league. The Colangelos are well liked by other general managers, by players, by agents. They’ve had varying degrees of success in the league. The obvious implication was that the Colangelos represent Hinkie’s negative image.

Whether that’s true or not doesn’t much matter. It’s done. What matters very much is that Harris and ownership tried something — a bold strategy, one that made real sense to people who don’t think of numbers and information as silly nerd stuff. And then, when the criticism cacophony didn’t die down, Harris and ownership decided to try this new thing where maybe they won’t get shouted at as much. No one likes loud noises, but this still feels like a premature reversal. It’s especially odd considering the people who pulled the U-turn are businessmen who have made billions taking calculated risks based on that silly nerd stuff like numbers and information.

Whatever you think of Hinkie, he got bashed a lot for doing exactly what he was hired to do. After hiring Colangelo 1, Harris said the Sixers wanted to move to the next phase of The Process. But as they usher in the reign of Colangelo II, the Sixers are already positioned for the coming offseason. They’re estimated to be one of four teams with $50 million or more available in cap space (a ton, even with the salary cap set to jump). They could add Joel Embiid and Dario Saric (or not, admittedly). They could land as many as four first-round draft picks this year, and there are lots of picks lined up for subsequent drafts. That’s not nothing.

Hinkie dreamed up that plan. Harris and ownership liked it. But a whole lot of other people didn’t. Now, two and a half years into a plan the Sixers always said would take time and patience, they’re going with a different plan. So, now what’s the plan?

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