Zilla Rocca knows his editor prays at the altar of Kristaps Porzingis.
After I read the latest fluff piece from SI.com last week on Sam Hinkie, aka Mr. Robot, I felt the burn of a thousand suns inside of me. The Sixers have six wins and are either losing close games in the final minutes or getting their lunch eaten anytime Joel Embiid gets a DNP-CD to preserve his body. Sam Hinkie is meeting with Uber and Amazon while projecting 60% unemployment in the future from his lair in Palo Alto. Why are we infatuated with sinister men who project hazy, unquantifiable success “in the future?” Like Cameron said on the outstanding show no one watches Halt and Catch Fire, ‘people always try to sell you on the “future” when it’s just a crappier version of today that will probably benefit them.’
Sam Hinkie is a con man functioning on TED Talks and queso dip.
In his SI.com profile, he claims to listen to audio books three times faster than the normal speed, something literally impossible to do, as just demonstrated live on the radio here on a sports talk station in Philly.
Sam Hinkie tricked chumps like me in Philadelphia—a town that wanted Andy Reid fired after 14 years of the greatest success the Philadelphia Eagles had ever known—into believing that losing and collecting assets trumped winning. Philadelphia, home of the fastest team to ever lose 10,000 games in professional sports (the Phillies), listened to a pasty android tell them that the sky is blue but maybe one day, in an unspecified future, the sky would rain golden bars and milkshakes. All we had to do was lose. A lot. For many years.
Sam Hinkie lost 199 games in 3 years.
To object to the plans of a humanoid in a blue blazer was a crime against Win Probabilities and Maybe One Day Becoming the Next OKC Thunder. To think that losing 199 games in 3 years was a bad thing meant that you enjoyed being a perennial 8th seed.
To be a Sixers fan was like fantasy football—you played the season just to get to the draft. This wasn’t the Lakers, a team forced to tank because of Black Mamba’s two decades of dickishness karmically striking the organization. This wasn’t the Spurs, a team who had one down year in two decades and lucked into Tim Duncan. This wasn’t the Cavs, hellbent on revenge post-Lebron and randomly winning the lottery 3 times in 4 years. This was The Process, a term more vague and bullshit than Make America Great Again.
This was an elaborate con perpetuated by a new kind of owner, Josh Harris, who had spent his career buying deflated companies, stripping them down to nothing, then flipping them for a vast gain. Josh Harris bought the Sixers in 2010 for $250 million in the fifth biggest market in the league. The Milwaukee Bucks last sold for $850 mil. Hinkie, as surrogate for Harris’ cost cutting scheme, never even hit the salary floor, something that would be lauded by baseball owners in the 1920s.
Year One of the Trusting the Process meant undoing the Doug Collins Era and the botched Andrew Bynum trade.The team won 19 games that year, the most wins Sam Hinkie would ever have on his resume.
Hinkie’s tour de force, his Only Built For Cuban Linx, was Year Two of Trusting the Process aka How to Lose Fans and Alienate Adam Silver. In 2014-2015, he decided that drafting, signing, or trading for competent NBA people was silly hearted. He chose to surround the reigning rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams—soon to be a career backup—and Nerlens Noel—an elite rim protector acquired the year before on draft night for then-21 year old All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday—with Malcolm Lee, Henry Sims, Furkan Aldemir, Tim Frazier, and Javale McGee. Wait, I’m not finished. James Anderson, Chris Johnson, Alexey Shved, Glen Robinson III, and Drew Gordon all wore actual Sixers uniforms and played in actual professional basketball games among the greatest athletes in the world.
Magically, on the strength of poor Brett Brown’s endless positivity and Spurs-ian makeup, the Sixers won 18 games. The prize was Jahlil Okafor, a gifted offensive big man with no interest in using his 6’11 270lb frame to block shots, defend anyone near the rim, or grab more than seven rebounds ever.
At no point during Hinkie’s reign of terror did he draft/sign/trade for a person who could shoot a basketball. We over-celebrated his “fleecing” of the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans in trades, never mind those are still two of the most sad sack front offices in the sport, incapable of doing anything beyond holding their prized superstars hostage.
Sports writers keep checking in on Sam Hinkie every few months without challenging him. They laud his sports science, sleep monitoring, and metric based decisions. They paint him as a disruptor, not as a charlatan who found a way to fail while getting checks for 36 months. Sports is the one realm where numbers most accurately gauge your performance. The greatest trick Sam Hinkie ever pulled was convincing fans and media that today’s results only matter against possible unknown future outcomes, but hey, it’s a lottery anyway, so there’s a chance you can lose 64 games on purpose and end up with Jahlil Okafor, who is radioactive next to previously assigned Major Asset Nerlens Noel (and now comes off the bench when Joell Embiid starts).
And no rational sports writer seems to spend any time digging into that part of the narrative. Local masochists bought a billboard after the draft that said “Hinkie Forever,” plugging a podcast that has spent the past 3 years appreciating grocery baggers like Jakarr Sampson and Brandon Davies. As Bunk Moreland stated, ‘the bigger the lie, the more they believe.’
Hinkie had bad luck—Embiid’s injuries, not getting D’angelo Russell or Andrew Wiggins, and the Lakers pick never materializing into another top 5 pick. But he never pivoted. He chose to do dumb shit when he rolled snake eyes. He passed on acquiring Brandon Knight for MCW to get a Lakers pick. He passed on The Greek Freak in order to draft MCW. He passed on Porzingis to take Okafor. He traded Jrue Holiday for Noel, who will most likely be traded for another late first round pick and a youngish guard who will never be an All-Star.
Sam Hinkie lost 199 games to get Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid is the runaway rookie of the year, with Dario Saric, another Hinkie pick, right behind him. But if the Sixers had been quietly shitty, they could’ve used regular ol’ lottery picks, done some scouting, and maybe drafted Zach Lavine, Devin Booker, Rodney Hood, Myles Turner, or Dennis Schroeder. And then, as Bryan Colangelo has demonstrated as the Man in Black who slaughtered RoboHinkie, you sign and trade for simply adequate NBA players, like Gerald Henderson, Ersan Ilyasova, Sergio Rodriguez, and Jerryd Bayless to round out your roster and show these prized prospects how to do stuff beyond sucking at historic rates so bad you get guns pulled on you in Boston after being punked at a nightclub.
My point is that I’m watching my hometown team lose, as always, but it’s not a deliberate sinister ploy to draft more 19 and 20 year olds into the worst situation in the league. When did fans begin identifying with the methods of a penny-stock trader? I was swindled the first two years because Hinkie was simply not Doug Collins, a man who tried to sign Kwame Brown to a five year deal. But now that I’m watching a normal mediocre team, with first round picks and kind of decent professionals, guided by a League Average Traditional General Manager, I realize how ridiculous it was to buy in to man who played three card molly with the future.