Saturday, November 01, 2014

The cult of Sam Hinkie

By John McMullen

PHILADELPHIA - Cults are basically born from misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or ideology.

Here in Philadelphia, Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie hasn't accomplished much -- at least not yet -- but he's pulled off a trick few others would even have the testicular fortitude to try in what was once regarded as one of the toughest markets in the country.

Hinkie is beloved by a significant segment of the city's basketball public despite little empirical evidence that points toward ultimate success or continued failure.

To those who don't like him, Hinkie's a con man who avoids the tough questions and spellbinds his deranged acolytes with talk of collecting assets. Those who swear by him consider themselves basketball elites and pity those who dare question any of his moves.

The truth undoubtedly lies somewhere inbetween.

All that's known right now is that the 2014-15 Sixers are awful, sporting perhaps the worst roster ever assembled by an NBA team.

And some are disgusted by Hinkie's over-the-top tanking techniques, most notably ex-Sixers coach Larry Brown, who took aim at his old organization last week.

"I hate what's going on in Philly," Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday. "They don't have a basketball person in the organization. It makes me sick to my stomach."

"What they are doing to that city to me is mind-boggling," he continued. "That's the greatest basketball city in the world with its fans and you want them to sit back and watch you lose."

That salvo sent Hinkie's fan club into a tizzy and its members tied themselves into pretzels trying to protect the bell of their ball.

The Hinkie cult immediately puts critics into one of two categories, one utilizing ageism or if you happen to be among a younger generation, into a group that fails to accept the "settled science" of player-based analytics.

And Brown made it easier for them because he's over 70 and dislikes the term analytics.

"These analytics, they don't mean squat to me," the current SMU coach said. "Throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. To say that these analytics guys have the answer is crazy. It doesn't apply to basketball."

It does to some degree and Larry actually contradicted himself a moment later but the Hinkie devotees already had all the ammunition they needed and pressed the stop button in their brains.

"Everybody uses the data you get, but that's what coaching is," Brown admitted. "Maybe it will work, I don't know. But it's a shame what those fans are going through waiting to see if it will."

No one should dispute that last statement.

It is a shame, even more of one when you realize the team raised ticket prices while staying over $20 million under the cap.

Hinkie is certainly playing a shell game with a new breed of journalist which at its core is a fan-based group that shrouds itself as innovative based on their own twisted view of those analytics.

It's almost a groupthink mentality unwilling to ask the tough questions or even consider opposing views that aren't in line with their own ideology. And it's always funny and a bit sad when the close-minded use the term innovation to describe conformity to one view, in this case the "you-have-to-get-
embarassingly-bad-in-order-to-get-great mentality."

If that sounds like a religion, give yourself a gold star. Any dogma resistant of other views, whether it's based on religious doctrine or "settled science" (an oxymoron) can be destructive.

Brown was over the top in saying there were no basketball people in the Sixers organization but anyone with a modicum of common sense knew who he was aiming that statement at so the Hinkie supporters went even further on the disingenuous scale by acting like that barb was anything more than it was.

Brown wasn't talking about Brett Brown, who will not survive this process even if it is successful, or the Sixers' assistants and scouts. He was directing his criticism toward owner Josh Harris, CEO Scott O'Neil and Hinkie -- the decision makers with the actual power in player personnel.

In regards to Harris and O'Neil, Brown's claim is unquestionably on the mark so he was really just calling out Hinkie and obviously has little respect for the current Sixers GM.

Because Hinkie refuses to talk, O'Neil acts as the team's mouthpiece and spent much of his time late last week retuning fire at Brown, a tact which comes across poorly if only because Brown will reside in Springfield for the rest of time and Scott O'Neil is well Scott O'Neil.

For now, though, forget about the personal stuff and think about the basketball issues O'Neil and by default, Hinkie, are trying to sell.

The organization constantly points toward Oklahoma City as the blueprint but that's laughable. Did the then-Sonics lose with Kevin Durant? Of course but KD was playing and more importantly learning next to others who could actually help him grow into a professional. The Thunder continued to build from there by adding Russell Westbrook and eventually James Harden in the draft.

How is that even remotely similar to what's going on here in 2014?

Nerlens Noel is nowhere near the prospect Durant was, and Michael Carter-Williams is a few notches south as Westbrook. Leaving that aside, however, both are still promising young players but who is teaching them the ropes?

That grizzled veteran Henry Sims or perhaps the always under control Tony Wroten?

Noel and MCW could learn more in Sonny Hill's Baker League.

Joel Embiid, who actually is the only current Sixers asset who could develop into a true superstar, will face a similar hurdle when he's finally ready to return from the court unless Noel teaches himself to be a pro by osmosis.Dario Saric won't be in Philadelphia until 2017-18 at the earliest and no matter how skilled he is as a player he will be facing the NBA learning curve.

To me though Hinkie has already failed at what he is supposed to be good at. You don't need the genius to figure out LeBron, Durant or Tim Duncan can play, you need him to find the role players that can complement the superstar and while Hinkie continues to churn the back end of his roster, there is little evidence he has found anyone.

The organization believes K.J. McDaniels may be that but so far the ex-Clemson star is stuck in the muck with Chris Johnson and Malcolm Thomas, bodies who are more suited for the NBADL.

Also remember the Hinkie apologists say this is all about building to a championship so why is O'Neil so quick to throw out the  Thunder nonsense? Did I miss the OKC championship parade?

The real comparison here should be the Detroit Lions of the NFL. The Sixers will be better at some point because if you pick in the top five every year, you have to improve.

But, when they get back to being a 40- or 45-win team, understand the sychophants who will try to paint that as progress are just following their Pied Piper over the cliff.
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