6-25-2015: When Sam Hinkie Lost Control

Was June 25, 2015 the day the process died? Sam Hinkie stepped down from the Philadelphia 76ers in 2016. Many have their theories as to why.

How many times have you heard someone say, “You’re only as good as your last game,” or “You’re only as good as your previous move.” It’s a cliché saying that has been beaten to the ground with a wooden stick over the years. Judging by his track record, former Philadelphia 76ers general manager, Samuel Blake Hinkie, doesn’t wake up every morning with that mindset. Sam’s actions and philosophy indicates a mindset that you’re only as good as your move five moves from now.

You’re only as good as your future; not your past. You’ll be remembered by your past, but this is what people often forget: It’s your future determines your past. Sam Hinkie wasn’t interested in pleasing one fan. His mind didn’t work that way. He didn’t have any objections to taking a seat next to another basketball mind to share his thoughts about an under-the-radar, undrafted free agent playing overseas. He could talk your ear off. But, unfortunately for his image, this wasn’t the narrative. Sam Hinkie wasn’t interested in soothing the ears of the media with fluff – which is something you hear from more than half of the league. To Sam, silence was leverage.

On May 14, 2013, Sam Hinkie was hired by the Philadelphia 76ers. A team, smothered in mediocrity, looking to get a fresh start and overcome the obstacles that teams perpetually stuck in the middle tend to face. Hinkie made it clear to ownership that the direction of the team’s path was changing — he made it crystal clear that the franchise’s win total was going east to south.

As a matter of fact, Sam’s mind doesn’t work east to west, nor does it churn north to south. Hinkie’s philosophy is simple, yet chaotic. The following thoughts may run through his mind: What is the exact combination of right turns, mixed with left turns, that it takes to reach your destination.

When most people veered left, Hinkie viewed it as leverage and darted right. When others headed north, it was almost as if he took notes and knew it was only a matter of time they’d go east. Sam wanted to beat everyone north. Sam was willing to wait it out, maybe, too long for the liking of many. Regardless, he was willing to weather the storm, also known as the media.

This is what made June 25, 2015 so strange.  It was 73 degrees and calm that day in New York, so there was nothing out of the ordinary regarding the weather. But the overwhelming reaction by night’s end, as well as over the upcoming months, was that of a category-five hurricane.

When Hinkie signed the paperwork, handed to him by Philadelphia 76ers ownership in 2013, it legally made him the general manager of an NBA basketball franchise for the first time in his life. Before the Sixers, Sam, who was born in the Netherlands in December of 1977, was named the special assistant to then Houston Rockets in 2005 to then general manager, Carroll Dawson. Two years later, he became the team’s Vice President. Then, three years after that, he moved up to executive Vice President in Houston. He was (current) general manager, Daryl Morey‘s right-hand man.

Sam was always thinking of numbers, directions, equations, health, wellness, leverage, and sports science. If the wind was blowing 7 miles per hour to the west, Sam would probably pay no mind to the forecast, and instead find those who were – and create a way to step ahead of them while they wasted their day thinking of something they couldn’t control. He needed to be in control.

He started his career with the Philadelphia 76ers and made a major statement. A team, without a face since the departure of Allen Iverson, may have had one in Jrue Holiday, who was named to the eastern conference all-star team in 2012-13. Before you knew it, he was gone.

Holiday and the 42nd pick in the 2013 NBA Draft were dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans for Nerlens Noel (shortly after he was selected 6th overall), along with a 2014 first-round pick. It was then evident, once again, that he needed to be in control, and ownership signed off on this. Soon after this came in Brett Brown, who was appointed the head of the new era on the hardwood; the head coach.

Over time, the 76ers were dismantled, one Evan Turner and Spencer Hawks at a time.

He must be in control. Was he in control on June 25, 2015?

I told you it was 73 degrees in New York that day, but in the draft room that night, it was most likely closer to 103. Based on the consistency of his actions, the outcome of this day didn’t coincide with the way he walked, ran, spoke, or thought. People often said he had the longest view in the room.

Once again, he wasn’t afraid of how he was viewed by NBA Twitter or the national media. It was obvious what the 76ers were doing. It was a plan, scrutinized more than the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Ironically, he was sinking a well-respected NBA franchise, and it just didn’t sit well with basketball people. Maybe, it was the length of ownership’s leash that pissed people off. Other general managers could have been jealous, as they turned their attention back to their 40-42 teams.

How long was ownership’s leash on June 25, 2015?

Well, it was March 22, 2015. Most likely, Sam Hinkie was watching or listening to feedback of two games in particular. The Duke Blue Devils were playing San Diego State in the Spectrum Center (Charlotte, North Carolina), while Real Betis Energia Plus was facing off against Movistar Estudiantes at the Palacio Municipal de Deportes San Pablo (Seville, Seville).

For the Duke Blue Devils, Jahlil Okafor registered 26 points (12-16 from the field), 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 33 minutes.

For Real Betis Energia Plus, Kristaps Porzingis tallied 9 points (3-8 shooting), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals in 21 minutes and 18 seconds.

Jahlil Okafor clearly had a better day than the seven-foot, three-inch Latvian. But, if you knew Sam, he didn’t care about one game. He didn’t care about a March 22 box score. He threw away the fact that it took place on March 22, 2015, simplified it to a game, then took that game and simplified it once again to a lie detector test.

What were these young basketball players telling the world? What were they lying about? Were they simply showing us how good they were on March 22, 2015, or were they providing us with hints and the imagination that they’d become great on March 22, 2025.

Whether or not Okafor’s game spoke to the short-term narrative or the long-term (same with Porzingis), they were in control of their destiny. They were in control, because they were some of the most talented basketball players in the world, with millions watching ever move. They were in control, just like Sam Hinkie, who refused the alternative.

One thing Hinkie couldn’t control was the May 19, 2015 NBA Draft Lottery, where the Minnesota Timberwolves won the rights to the number-one draft selection. The Los Angeles Lakers received the second pick, followed by Sam Hinkie’s Philadelphia 76ers, who came away with the third.

Flash forward 37 days.

The Philadelphia 76ers are on the clock, once again, third overall. To the accurate projection of many, Karl-Anthony Towns was selected first by Minnesota, but it’s what the Lakers did that begs us to ask the question: Was Sam Hinkie in control?

D’Angelo Russell, who many believed was going to be sitting there when the Sixers announced their selection, was snagged by the Lakers and the draft room went from a comfortable 73 degrees to that fiery 103 I spoke of.

80 days prior, on April 6, the Duke Blue Devils, lead by Jahlil Okafor, won the Nation Championship over the University of Wisconsin 68-63. It was an opinion to some that Jahlil Okafor had the track record to be deserving of the third-overall pick, even though the Sixers already had two centers on their roster (Nerlens Noel and an injured Joel Embiid).

The 76ers were coming off of two horrendous season, where they were a combined  37-127 from 2013 to 2015. Ownership knew what they signed up for, but they also knew, all to well, what it felt like to be the butt end of jokes around the league. Not only were there jokes, but there was harsh criticism from all angles, whether it was the local news or ESPN.

So, here we are; two years into what may have felt like the biggest failure (in terms of wins) in the lives of Joshua Harris and his fellow ownership partners of the 76ers.

Please Note: The following is purely speculation, and not a report of any kind. 

Sam Hinkie was no longer in control.

On one hand, you have the national champion and someone who was thought of being worthy of the number one pick (for most of the NCAA season), Jahlil Okafor. On the other side, you have the unproven Latvian. There was no way to project how this man — no — this kid would fair in the NBA. But, the projections were there and names such as Dirk Nowitzki came up. For some tortured 76ers fans, the name Shawn Bradley may have popped into their minds.

For ownership, maybe it was those aforementioned March 22 box scores. The selection made by the Philadelphia 76ers was not consistent with he way Sam Hinkie’s brain worked. I own the belief that Sam Hinkie desperately wanted Kristaps Porzingis to be a member of the Philadelphia 76ers for the next decade, but ownership, terrified of what the public opinion would be, was having none of it.

From that day forward, It’s up for debate whether or not Sam Hinkie was truly in control of the Philadelphia 76ers ever again.

In came Jerry Colangelo, followed by his son Bryan Colaneglo. The writing was scribbled all over the walls of the Wells Fargo Center. Sam Hinkie was no longer in control.

Sam Hinkie had to be in control.

Now, all we have are memories and what ifs.

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