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Thinking About Hinkie

Is the man to bring about Vivek's grand vision of NBA 3.0 also the only name they've left off of their official lists?

Raise your hand if you still remember NBA 3.0.

For the unfamiliar: when Vivek Ranadive vied for ownership over the Sacramento Kings in 2013, he didn't just center his pitch on a state-of-the-art arena in downtown Sacramento, he spoke of something bigger, something better, something global in significance and ahead of the curve in all things basketball. He pitched the Board of Governors, Commissioner Adam Silver, and most importantly, the City of Sacramento, on the concept of NBA 3.0 - a three pronged approach that used technology, globalization of the game and the idea that basketball can be an agent of positive change. Vivek spoke of using Big Data, deep machine-learning software and other tech-driven elements which he called his "secret sauce" in his hopes to make the NBA, by way of the Sacramento Kings, the most popular sport of the 21st Century. He's undeniably a tech genius, a man hellbent on "making a dent in the universe" (as his friend Steve Jobs used to say) and above all else, the man with the vision, capital and goodwill of the fanbase to make it happen.

So where did that mentality go?

First, I don't want to embrangle my message here. Yes, the arena that Vivek and Company built is nothing short of a blessing for the city of Sacramento and, in fact, most everything on the business and public outreach side of the Kings can be considered good, if not great. Vivek did what the Maloof brothers could not and got an arena done and did so with minimal harm to the taxpayers of Sacramento. Vivek took a stand on the right side of history when issues of racism and injustice came literally knocking at his doors. He, and the rest of the ownership group is to be commended on these things.

However, with the resignation of President of Basketball Operations and former fan-favorite Vlade Divac in mid-August, the Kings are now at a moment of reflection. It's been seven seasons since Vivek Ranadive assumed control of the Sacramento Kings. He's gone through five coaches during that time, with none posting close to a winning record. Only Mike Malone, Vivek's very first hire as owner, has had success after leaving Sacramento. Malone has led the Denver Nuggets to no lower than tenth place during his tenure, with two ninth place finishes and two playoff appearances. He boasts a 54% win percentage during his time with the team and is already fourth in Denver Nuggets franchise history with 194 wins. Vivek has also gone through a string of advisors, general managers and executives, all who have been shoved into the closets and under the various rugs at Golden 1 Center when the time comes.

I couldn't list every issue or mistake made in the last seven years if I had two lifetimes, but let's give a quick rundown of some relevant turnover that has occurred in the last few years. Pete D'Alessandro and Chris Mullins were pushed away after a variety of failures and backstabbings - including a scheme to fire Mike Malone in an apparent attempt to get Mullin installed as coach. Vlade Divac was brought in to settle the dust mostly because he was trusted among the ownership, but he brought in the likes of Scott Perry, who left for the Knicks less than three months into the job, Brandon Williams, who not only ousted long-time employees without explanation but also feuded publicly with then head coach Dave Joerger, who was in the middle of coaching the Kings to their best record since the '05-06 season. Both Williams and Joerger were fired at the end of that season, which led to hiring Luke Walton, who flamed out with the Lakers and was brought in without as much as a hiring process for other suitable candidates. Luke Walton saw sexual assault charges brought forward a week after he was formally hired, but was allowed to continue coaching after an independent investigation was closed due to lack of evidence. Divac and his sidekick Peja Stojakovic both stepped down just weeks ago after repeated misfires in the draft and general tumult in all things basketball, both victims of and perpetrators in the asylum that is the Sacramento Kings.

All the while, the franchise has failed in the very fundamental goals once sent out by Vivek across fields of rallying fans and national broadcasts that had finally regained a modicum of curiosity of the little team in the capital of California. Vivek was going to make the Kings into the model franchise of the 21st century - Moneyball for a basketball Metropolis. Yet, the Kings never truly boosted their analytics department. Sure, they hired Dean Oliver to be their Director of Player Personnel and Head of Analytics, the man who wrote the literal book on analytics in the NBA, but then they unceremoniously banned him from their summer league games and fired him with years left on the contract. They then replaced him with Roland Beech, another legend in the field, less than a month later. He spent two years in Sacramento and then exited stage left for reasons unknown. They then quickly hired Luke Bornn as their new Vice President of Strategy and Analytics, a man who had never worked specifically with basketball. At some point in the few years, Bornn quietly transitioned to an advisor role with the Kings. This is all to say that they couldn't hold onto two legends and an up-and-comer in the field of analytics, much less a staff of men and women of this ilk. During Vivek's tenure, the Kings have consistently fielded one of the smallest management teams in the NBA and the few home run hires that they've brought in have either been fired in embarrassing public fashion or left after less than a few years. This goes for scouting of college players, overseas players and those on opposing teams, as well. The Kings aren't hiring bad people, they haven't hired people at all. The Dallas Mavericks send their kindest regards.

In short, Vivek promised the NBA's version of Wakanda and what he's delivered is nothing short of Robocop's Detroit.

The Sacramento Kings now stand at a fork-in-the-road that will lead to continued disappointment, apathy and rumors of mismanagement that go right to the very top or to a semblance of success, however fleeting, and the calming and then reinvigoration of the fanbase. But to get to that latter path, to get to a place above mockery and nearest to praise, they'll need more than a President of Basketball Operations. They'll need more than any single General Manager can do or the efforts of any singular Vice President of Strategy and Analytics, or single scout that can project Luka Doncic being a star before he's a star, or Luka Doncic himself. Vivek, the ownership and the fanbase need something more if they have any chance of falling into the pit. They need a modern strategy for the way the game is played now, in 2020 and beyond, and a foundation firmly based in analytics. After coming up on fifteen years without a playoff appearance, the Kings need to rebound from this and not aim for an eighth seed or two. They need to publicly and privately commit to setting their eyes towards a championship in Sacramento. In short, they need NBA 3.0.

Enter Samuel Hinkie.

How much of an intro do Kings fan's need on Sam Hinkie? He's an oft-maligned, oft-misrepresented former General Manager of the Philadelphia Sixers. And if you've paid even slight attention to professional basketball since 2015, you've heard his name and probably have a vague understanding of "The Process". Even now, four years after his thirty-four month stint with Philly, you will still hear his name on national broadcasts and talk shows alike. The part meme, part legend of Hinkie, this Dr. Frankenstein that briefly ran that team in Philadelphia has only grown with time, and for some reason, every failure of the Sixers. To this day we see many outside of Philly still argue about the merits of The Process, whether or not it was anything more than blatant tanking and whether the endgame of the strategy that would ultimately force his resignation was worth the losing that took place during his tenure.

He's equally a savior to fans of misguided teams as he is a scapegoat for the problems the Sixers currently face and while he appears on the shortlist for many armchair owners, since his departure from the NBA in 2016, he's made no such show on any franchise's actual list of candidates. This includes the current list of leaked candidates for the Sacramento Kings. Whether that is his decisions or those with control of the franchise, I could only wager an uneducated guess. What I can say is that the Kings have seemingly had interest in him before, going back to 2017 when Marc Stein, Zach Lowe and Adrian Wojnarowski all tweeted about Vivek receiving permission to speak with Hinkie and their supposed interest in hiring an executive to place over the now resigned Divac. The Kings, of course, quickly denied those rumors. 

But why would the Kings, who have been deprived of playoff basketball for coming up on a decade and a half want to swing a deal, entrust what might be the very last straw that many Kings fans have to a General Manager who brought his team 47 wins and 199 losses in three years? Why would an owner want to hire a man who drove attendance from 18th in the league before he arrived to the bottom two in attendance for the next three years in a row? 

Upon his departure, Sam Hinkie left what he called his €œinvestor's letter€ - equal parts resignation letter, resume, and explanation to the whole of just what the hell he was attempting to do, in an attempt to save face to those that were now edging him out the door. It was meant to be private, but in typical embarrassing Philly fashion, those same people leaked it. Most media had a good laugh at him quoting Max Planck and Elon Musk, and citing examples that range from extinct birds to the Ten Thousand Year Clock and then it faded into just another anecdote in the legend of Sam Hinkie and The Process. The Process never left NBA fan discussion for Palo Alto like its creator, instead bouncing around in Twitter threads and blog conversations, usually in arguments and devoid of the necessary context on both sides, solidifying itself as one of the most controversial topics in sports, residing in a sort of space between worship and infamy. So let's talk about it for a second. 

 Before we get started, I want to provide you a link to the resignation letter in case you want to read the entire thing. It isn't nearly as dense as its reputation and while it is thirteen-pages long, it's accessible and intelligent all the way through. This is an undressing of the strategy and goals of a franchise in a way fans rarely get access to. It's a fascinating read and I'm going to give some of the highlights. 

To first give some context to the Philadelphia Sixers team that would hire a man like Hinkie to run their front office: the 2012-2013 Sixers had won 34 games that season, saw the likes of Damien Wilkins, Dorell Wright, Nick Young and Royal Ivey headed away in free agency and maybe the best player left on that team, Jason Richardson, sidelined for the coming season. The Sixers cupboards were bare with only Arnett Moultrie and Evan Turner as guys on rookie contracts. Just a season before, the Sixers traded Andre Iguodala, young Nikola Vucevic, Mo Harkless, and a protected future first for Andrew Bynum, a guy who was less of a star and more of a constant knife in the heart of then coach, Doug Collins. Bynum was nursing an injury and stayed injured for pretty much his entire tenure. In short, the Sixers cupboards were bare. Hinkie cites in his letter ESPN's future Power Rankings, a mixture of current roster, player potential, assets, cap space, coaching etc. that projects how they should fair in the next three years: the Sixers were 26th. Sidenote, the Kings were 27th and shoutout to cowboyron96 (Rise the Hot Hand, buddy) on STR who relayed succinctly why:

In his letter, Hinkie states matter-of-factly €œYour crops had been eaten€. The Kings are a small patch of potatoes in the back field away from not being allowed into their stall at the farmer's market. 

The Sixers fortunes would change in a variety of ways with the firing of then GM Tony DiLeo and the ascension of Hinkie. Hinkie sprinkled a variety of goals and observations throughout but his general methodology and recommendation for the long lasting success of the Sixers can be summarized as seeing their position in the hierarchy of the league €œnecessitated a zig while our competitors comfortably zagged€ and to do so would require €œa culture of finding new, better ways to solve repeating problems€.  In short, the Sixers needed to innovate, do so quickly and continue to do so until they reached the NBA summit. The Sixers needed to find a way to fight a three front war with four clips of ammo and an abandoned tank. In his own words:

 €œThe strategy we settled on was straightforward, even if arduous. Replenish the talent pipeline, improve the quality and quantity of players on the roster, shift the style of play towards tomorrow's champions, and become a culture focused on innovation.€ 

More specifically he listed the need to €œplay a faster style that recognizes the importance of speed in tomorrow's NBA and one that quickly integrates young players€. Four and a half years after his resignation and 2700 miles across the country,  this is where the Kings should be headed right now, if not for the last few years. 

He continues, €œWe set out to improve our shot selection toward high efficiency basketball.€ I'm imagining what they asked Buddy Hield to do in the bubble and I'm shaking my head vigorously with this. 

€œWe also wanted to build a defensive identity that€”in time€”could thwart tomorrow's high-efficiency offenses. Lastly, we needed to build a world-class training center, develop an ever-evolving player development program, and change the organization's culture to one of innovation and a constant search for competitive edge.€ 

Now this is obviously an eight year old assessment of a different franchise at a different moment in the league, but it's also (other than the world class training center) every single thing that the Kings need and that their fans have called for. Recognizing the strengths of this current franchise, a fast paced offense fits them like a glove, but beyond that, fans cries for a defensive presence have gone ignored since, what, Samuel Dalembert? Metta World Peace? We've all spent time in the comments pining for a true farm system in Stockton that developed our guys down there into ready made players. Much of the appeal for Webster and Tolzman from Toronto are for that exact reason: the Raptors built a pipeline that ran from their G-League team straight to the Larry O'Brien trophy. And that end bit about a culture of innovation and a constant search for a competitive edge? Now where exactly have we heard that before? 

Hinkie spends a good portion of his letter talking about the need to see down the road further than any other team in the league. That the team shouldn't be committed to a preferred style of play but rather €œaim for where future champions would be crowned€. Hinkie is in no way rigid about how to reach the ultimate goal only that they should be aiming solely for that. I mention this because, well, there's a lot of people that say something to the tune of "I don't want The Process in Sacramento!" as if that was the only thing Sam Hinkie ever focused on. Admittedly, its the only thing we've been able to see out of Hinkie, but that's more to do with Hinkie's employers being pressured to end their plans prematurely. "The Process" itself wasn't about losing a bunch of games - it was about ensuring the best chance of winning it all by maximizing every single advantage the Sixers had. The Kings have different assets and ownership than the Sixers (for better AND worse) and if there is one thing I am certain of in reading this thirteen pages a million and a half times, it's that Sam Hinkie is NOT a one trick pony. Three pages in, Hinkie mentions that he writes in a decision journal, putting down on paper what and why he thinks he's the way he does about every single move he makes, when he makes it.

"Reading your own past reasoning in your own words in your own handwriting time after time causes the tides of humility to gather at your feet. I'm often in waist-deep water here." 

This man knows the mistakes he's made, The Process and otherwise. There would be no Process in Sacramento, and for a variety of reasons. First, the lottery odds have changed enough in recent years that the advantage Hinkie sought is now split between the bottom three teams. That change in itself negates the most displeasing part of The Process.   Secondly, if the the NBA ever does allow Sam Hinkie back into the fold, their blacklist already has a line and his initials chiseled in stone. Most importantly thought, his strategy for a team in 2021 would be different solely because the league has caught up to where he expected and predicted they would be at this point. In 2012, prior to being hired Hinkie wrote Sixers owner Josh Harris another document laying out where he saw the league headed. In it, he noted "History's lessons are clear, but tomorrow's championship caliber teams may break from historical trends" and gave two examples: "A 3PA-happy champion like Orlando under Stan Van Gundy" and "A fast-paced champion like Phoenix under Mike D'Antoni". In 2015, the Golden State Warriors were far and away the fastest paced team in the league, hit the third most threes in league history and beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals in six games.

But what were the actual tangible results of these goals? We've seen where they were and we've seen where they aimed to go, but what actually happened?  Well, in short, all hell broke loose. Over the next two years, the Sixers added a draft pick or a pick swap to the team EVERY month over the draft picks that they had already. Twenty six months after taking charge of the Sixers, Sam Hinkie had himself a total of 28 draft picks or pick swaps. TWENTY-EIGHT more chances at grabbing the players necessary to build a championship team. Resigning just a month before the 2016 NBA Draft lottery, the Sixers had positioned themselves for an absolutely wild haul. They had the best chances in the league for the #1 pick, owned the rights to the Lakers pick if it fell out of the Top 3, owned the rights to swap their pick with the Kings if Sacramento jumped. They also already owned the 24th and 26th pick in the draft that year. This was, of course, the year the Sixers and GM Jerry Coangelo picked Ben Simmons at #1, the Lakers pick was not conveyed (they drafting Brandon Ingram) and the 24th and 26th were used on Timothy Luwawu-Cabarot and Furkan Kormaz.

I'm not here to defend Hinkie's draft record necessarily. Drafting Jahlil Okafor over Kristaps Porzingis was a miss. I've seen people whine that he drafted then Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams at 11 when Giannis Antetokounmpo fell to 15. It's also easy to attribute too much success to him either. He did not draft Ben Simmons and there are still rumors that float around that Hinkie said he would have taken Ingram over Simmons. Hinkie hit and he missed, like all general managers. But when he hit, he hit. Joel Embiid is the best center in the NBA. Jeremi Grant drafted in the second round is a key cog off the bench for the Nuggets. Kings starting big man and fan favorite Richaun Holmes, second round pick. He signed another Kings legend,  Dewayne Dedmon to a two ten day contracts at the end of one season prior to him getting any recognition in the league. The picks that he acquired still haven't all come to pass. Just this last season, Mikal Bridges was selected by the Sixers (and traded away quickly). That pick was send away for Zhaire Smith. I can't go over 28 moves and swaps, but the point is: Hinkie put 28 rounds in the chamber, knowing they weren't all gonna hit, knowing good and well they only needed two or three from each round to have themselves something special. Beyond that he emphasized a fundamental goal of searching out every advantage he could find, every avenue of data, to get those picks and signings right.

As a Kings fan, nothing was more patronizing than hearing the likes of "trust me, I'm a developer" or Pete D'Allesando jumping on a radio show to answer fan questions only to say "you need to trust me" or even Vlade proudly proclaiming at the lowest spot of his tenure "I believe we have a super team, they're just young". Anyone in their right mind knew this was bullshit, whether the speakers truly meant it or not. The Kings have been flying by the seat of their pants, patching teams and coaching staffs and front offices together for 14 seasons now, heading vaguely in a direction that might or might not be towards a playoff berth. I don't want to be excited that our new GM got Zach Randolph and a sad-faced George Hill to join our team as a favor. I don't want to hear how we're supposed to believe that Giorgios Papagiannis is a hidden gem but Luka Doncic isn't even the second choice for a team in need of everything he had. Trusting one of the least knowledgeable management staffs in basketball history with top picks is soul sucking, especially when it came to the draft. Over and over seeing trade downs that resulted predictably someone from a Final Four team who made a splash in March. Decision-making that wasn't just not focused on the future, but not even based in the present. I want to share one last anecdote that he mentions in his letter. For a team as short-sited as the Kings have always been, Hinkie mentions that "in this league, the long view picks at the lock of mediocrity", the very thing the Kings have been trapped behind since 2005. This is wrapping up now, so bear with me. He states:

Warren Buffett in the late 80s on this topic: €œIn any sort of a contest€”financial, mental, or physical€”it's an enormous advantage to have opponents who have been taught that it's useless to even try.€ Ask who wants to trade for an in-his-prime Kevin Garnett and 30 hands will go up. Ask who planned for it three or four years in advance and Danny Ainge is nearly alone. Same for Daryl Morey in Houston trading for James Harden. San Antonio's Peter Holt said after signing LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, €œR.C. [Buford] came to us with this plan three years ago, four years ago€”seriously. And we've worked at it ever since.€

Kings fans have been told through the actions of this franchise time and time again that it's useless to try. They've finally started to believe it. I don't want the guy that want's to get us an eighth seed and a little extra TV revenue. I want the guy that sees the decade and half plus of losing, the mish-mash in the Kings cupboard of small assets and  bloated contracts and stills says: "fuck it, let's go win a couple championships". This fanbase and franchise are both desperate to have Vivek finally own up and make good on NBA 3.0's basketball potential in Sacramento and Sam Hinkie just happens to be the guy who wanted those exact same things and attempted to execute a plan to achieve them over eight years ago.

Am I claiming that Sam Hinkie is the only man up to the task? No. There are plenty other talented people in this league. Other people can check boxes off of the wish list, other people could get the Kings to their end goal. Is Hinkie the scary, high risk, high reward candidate? Sure. But, part of the reason to reject fear and plow on is exactly because fear had been the dominant motivator of the actions of too many for too long. Afraid to properly rebuild, afraid to hire capable people who could usurp your job, afraid to fire the coach or hire the coach or stick with the coach. Time and time again. Honestly, this whole piece might be less about Hinkie and more about that wish list we, the hive mind, have for a great GM. There just happens to be paper proof that Sam Hinkie at one point or another was and/or is that kind of GM for Sacramento. If he'll take it, Hinkie needs to be interviewed.

It's been seven years since Vivek Ranadive took control of the Kings and four since Sam Hinkie stepped away from the Sixers. There's been superteams and various NBA records broken left and right and even a bit of a dynasty. And yet there is still a larger basketball universe out there ripe for some real, permanent denting. It's time for Vivek, Hinkie and the Kings to come together, take a look way down the road and see that they can still be the ones to do it, if they do it together.

 

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jay14bay
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September 1, 2020 10:09 am

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RikSmits
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September 1, 2020 10:20 am

Great stuff!

My main question after reading this in-depth article: I wonder how cowboyron is doing?

TheFifthMookie
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September 1, 2020 10:21 am
Reply to  RikSmits

I like to think he’s rising the hot hand wherever he is

RikSmits
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September 1, 2020 11:57 am
Reply to  WGriffith

Haha, awesome!
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jay14bay
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September 1, 2020 10:38 am

The last three paragraphs of this piece are just perfect.comment image

eddie41
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September 1, 2020 11:01 am

no thank you. Hinkie and the 76ers are getting their just desserts right now.

TheFifthMookie
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September 1, 2020 11:05 am
Reply to  eddie41

Did Hinkie trade for and then not re-sign Butler?
Did Hinkie trade for and overpay to re-sign Harris?
Did Hinkie sign an aging center in Horford?

We could discuss the draft misses he did (Okafor in particular), and whether a core of Embiid and Simmons is a decent enough starting point or not, but mismanagement post Hinkie’s expulsion can’t be blamed on him.

furious.d
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September 1, 2020 11:47 am
Reply to  TheFifthMookie

I don’t blame him for mismanagement after his firing, but for the same reason he also receives only partial credit for the good things that happened after he was gone. If we’re strictly judging on his actual tenure, his record is: 3 sub-20 win seasons, 3 of 4 lottery picks busted (plus 1 incomplete), and a culture that was so controversial that the league forced him out, which started the domino effect of mismanagement. Hell, Embiid is his crowning achievement and he never played a single game while Hinkie was employed. Does he get credit Embiid’s development under a different front office? If so, he must have some culpability for the risks he took that matured into problems, as well.

To me, the only conclusion you can make without a huge amount of butterfly effect assumptions is that The Process (ie. stacking up as many draft assets as possible without caring about wins for a couple seasons) was a good idea in a vacuum, but whether he’d be able to transition from great asset collector to great GM is unknowable. Right now he’s 0 for 1.

andy_sims
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September 1, 2020 11:56 am
Reply to  furious.d

As to your observation that Embiid never played a single game while Hinkie was GM:

€œA society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.€

furious.d
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September 1, 2020 12:18 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

Yeah, I agree with the sentiment and recognize Embiid would’ve been very likely to become a star under any GM. Who knows, he might’ve been better under Hinkie.

But I think it goes both directions. If Hinkie never poisons the well instead of planting the tree by drafting a third consecutive center (Okafor) ahead of Porzingis, then the 76ers never have to mortgage their future for a third playmaker in Butler or Harris.

Last edited 1 year ago by furious.d
BestHyperboleEver
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September 1, 2020 12:28 pm
Reply to  furious.d

They didn’t have to mortgage their future for a third playmaker. Nothing Hinkie did forced them to do that. But things Hinkie did enabled them to do it.

Literally, the best team the Sixers have had was the one Hinkie left (yes, I’m including Simmons as a Hinkie move since he was the concesus #1). They’ve done nothing but spend assets and get worse since.

furious.d
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September 1, 2020 3:18 pm

A better word choice on my part would’ve been “never choose to mortgage” rather than “never have to mortgage.” Either way, the negative consequences of picking Okafor over Porzingis remained after he was gone.

Anyway, my point here isn’t that Hinkie’s a bad GM candidate. I’d be excited if we got him. I just think we have far more proof that his strategy was smart than proof that he is the best person to deploy that strategy. For instance, the article references a few times his looking toward 3pt shooting and fast pace as important aspects of future success in the NBA. Obviously that came true, but the practical outcome of his assessment was choosing Michael Carter Williams (a guard who’s a career 25% 3pt shooter) and two traditional bigs (Noel and Okafor). Vision is crucial, but so is the finesse to deliver outcomes matching your ideals.

andy_sims
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September 1, 2020 12:38 pm
Reply to  furious.d

“A third consecutive center ahead of Porzingis.”

Kris is one of your better 7’3″ shooting guards.

furious.d
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September 1, 2020 1:39 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

height = position

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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Nostradumbass 14
September 1, 2020 12:36 pm
Reply to  furious.d

Yes, he gets credit for Embiid. He hired Brett Brown who developed Embiid.

furious.d
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September 1, 2020 1:39 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

So does he get blame for limiting Embiid with Brett Brown’s coaching if Embiid’s next coach ends up using him more successfully? Or can the impact of his decision making only ever get extrapolated if it’s positive?

BestHyperboleEver
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September 1, 2020 1:43 pm
Reply to  furious.d

Embiid has been limited by Brown’s coaching?

furious.d
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September 1, 2020 2:55 pm

I don’t know. My point isn’t to assess Brown’s coaching,

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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September 1, 2020 1:44 pm
Reply to  furious.d

Goal posts moved.

You basically said he shouldn’t get credit for Embiid’s development but are now saying Embiid hasn’t been developed enough? Or can the impact of his decision making only ever get extrapolated if it’s negative?

furious.d
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September 1, 2020 2:55 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

I didn’t move any goalposts. My argument isn’t whether or not Embiid is developed enough. It’s that the impact of his bad decisions didn’t stop the day he was fired, just as the impact of his good decisions eventually made them a 50-win team. Whether he could’ve taken them from 50 wins to championship is not knowable, but we should at least consider the possibility that the guy who picked Noel over McCollum, Carter-Williams over Giannis, and Okafor over Porzingis might’ve bumped into some problems that were as bad or worse than what the succeeding FO did.

AirmaxPG
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September 2, 2020 10:05 am
Reply to  furious.d

I think the difference with those examples is that those were pretty much consensus picks. Noel was projected higher, but injuries were a concern. Right before Noel, you had Cody Zeller and Alex Len. Immediately after, McLemore and Caldwell-Pope. It was a risky pick that didn’t work out. Especially since Embiid came along a year later. But to Hinkie’s credit he took BPA Embiid instead of worrying about fit with Noel. McCollum was picked 10th, right ahead of MCW, and Giannis wasn’t until 4 picks later (after Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk, and Shabazz Muhammad). Even Okafor was a consensus pick at #3 that year. These aren’t like Vlade bucking the trend to get his guy, which turns out to be completely wrong. These are selections likely a majority of knowledgeable people would have made.

Hinkie also traded MCW while he was reigning ROY for the pick that ended up being Mikal Bridges. Probably got max value there. And Okafor was reportedly on the block in the middle of an all-rookie season for the Nets 2016 1st (which ended up being Jaylen Brown).

My point is there is a whole lot of context for the examples you are citing. Hinkie had some fuck-ups for sure, but bottom line is he put that team on the track to relevance by accumulating assets and attempting to maximize their value.

Otis
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September 2, 2020 10:49 am
Reply to  AirmaxPG

Brought this up a few weeks ago regarding Phoenix. A team can miss on some draft picks, but if they get enough bites at the apple, they should eventually land a high end talent or two in the draft.

Which was really Hinkie’s point, IMO.

furious.d
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September 2, 2020 12:00 pm
Reply to  Otis

A team can miss on some draft picks, but if they get enough bites at the apple, they should eventually land a high end talent or two in the draft.

Someone should alert the Sacramento Kings. 11 top-10 and 5 top-5 draft picks in the last 12 years.

Wonderchild
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September 2, 2020 12:24 pm
Reply to  furious.d

That’s the biggest conundrum IMO. Despite changes in management and coaches and even ownership, the Kings continually whiff on draft picks. Year after year after year.

furious.d
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September 2, 2020 11:50 am
Reply to  AirmaxPG

I agree with all of this and would never suggest Vlade is a better GM than Hinkie.

To your point about MCW, that trade ended up being a 2013 11th pick (MCW) for a 2018 10th pick. That’s essentially a lateral move that took 5 years just to get back to even value, and it’s a much worse outcome than picking the right guy (Giannis).

With Noel, that pick was acquired by trading Jrue. The deal ended up being Jrue for 2013 6th (Noel), 2014 12th (Saric), 2015 35th (Willy Hernangomez), and 2018 26th (post-Hinkie selection). In theory those four picks for Jrue is amazing, but in practice Noel, Saric, Hernangomez, and a 2018 26th pick is bad value for Jrue. Again, his vision was better than his ability to produce a positive outcome.

Same for Okafor – great job tanking to put yourself in position to get an all star, bad job missing that all star.

It seems to me that finding a GM humble enough to lose games and take the consensus BPA is the easy part. You or I could follow the trail Hinkie blazed there. The hard part is having the personnel, infrastructure, contacts, etc to know when to ignore consensus BPA and trade up for Luka, trade down for Tatum instead of Fultz, reach for Giannis, etc. Hinkie’s record in that respect is pretty pedestrian. Being better at it than Vlade is too low of a bar.

AirmaxPG
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September 2, 2020 1:01 pm
Reply to  furious.d

On the MCW trade, the pick would have conveyed sooner if the Lakers kept dodging bullets and remaining in the top 3 for a couple years. But we’re talking about MCW, a player who probably wouldn’t get you a top 59-protected 2nd nowadays. And Hinkie got a lottery pick.

Seems he had the same in mind for Okafor. His value at an all-time high during his rookie year, and Boston was offering a top 3 pick in 2016. Ownership likely nixed it.

Point is not to compare to Vlade. Hinkie ate Vlade for lunch and got a pick out of it. I think Hinkie is right up there with Ainge, Ujiri, Morey, and Presti. All of those executives had their screw-ups as well. But they built sustainable contenders, just like Hinkie did. All while accumulating assets to help ensure continued success. Had Hinkie been able to see his plan through, I don’t think we’d even be able to entertain the possibility of someone like him coming here. It’s a golden opportunity (if he even wants it). A real chance to move the needle in my opinion.

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September 1, 2020 5:11 pm
Reply to  TheFifthMookie

All Hinkie did was tank, lose games, and get lucky with the lottery ping pong balls. His was not even really good at drafting players, taking the obvious choices in Simons and Embiid but whiffing on Okafor and Fultz.

Otis
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September 1, 2020 5:20 pm
Reply to  eddie41

He actually didn’t get lucky in the draft. Moved down one year, was on the number the other two. And Embiid wasn’t the obvious choice at the time.

I’m not sure it takes brilliance to tank the way he did, but it does take some courage. And putting his team in position to get those “obvious choices” was his strategy, no? There’s always a better chance in the top-3 than picking in the 7/8/9 spots year after year.

And he didn’t draft Fultz, think that was Colangelo.

Last edited 1 year ago by Otis
eddie41
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September 1, 2020 5:29 pm
Reply to  Otis

Well, I don’t want to tank and lose games, so I still think it’s a bad idea.

Otis
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September 2, 2020 4:19 am
Reply to  eddie41

I think that’s what Will’s article is getting at – that might not be Hinkie’s general philosophy, just the one he felt Philly needed at the time.

Having said that, it’s hard to know if Hinkie is a one-trick pony in that regard.

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September 2, 2020 11:43 am
Reply to  eddie41

We do that already without even trying.

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September 1, 2020 5:31 pm
Reply to  Otis

Putting aside the tanking. He did a pretty nice job with drawing value in trades and finding talent in the 2nd round (Holmes, Jerami Grant) and the G-League (signed Covington and Christian Wood, then Colangelo let him walk).

AirmaxPG
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September 2, 2020 9:20 am
Reply to  Otis

Yep. Colangelo traded the #3 pick and the 2019 Kings pick (which Hinkie heisted from Vlade two years earlier) to move up to #1 and draft Fultz. Celtics got Tatum.

And that… is where the ceiling of the process may have been severely limited.

I don’t think Hinkie gets owned by Ainge like that. If Philly gets Tatum they might have had their big 3 for a decade.

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September 2, 2020 9:40 am
Reply to  AirmaxPG

Yup, if Philly took Tatum they might be chasing a title this year.

Just the thought of that reminded me of the Game of Zones episode that featured Hinkie. It’s something like him locked in a dungeon and he asks someone “How many titles have the 76ers after they drafted Tatum?”

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September 2, 2020 9:43 am
Reply to  Adamsite

but none of this happens if Hinkie doesn’t fleece Vlade. How does this Kings team look with Tatum over Fox?

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September 2, 2020 9:46 am
Reply to  Wonderchild

I think the Kings still would have taken Fox at #3. Didn’t Vlade say he would have taken Fox at #1 if he had the pick?

AirmaxPG
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September 2, 2020 9:46 am
Reply to  Wonderchild

But Vlade would have taken Fox at #1, remember?

furious.d
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September 2, 2020 12:37 pm
Reply to  AirmaxPG

Ainge said before Tatum had ever played a game that they would’ve picked him #1 overall. I think grabbing the Romeo Langford pick was just icing on the cake.

Here’s some video:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oq5N5RPPJj8&t=67

AirmaxPG
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September 2, 2020 1:09 pm
Reply to  furious.d

That is true, there are a lot of variables we’ll never know for sure. I mean Ainge could just be blowing smoke, but I believe him. Maybe Hinkie then grabs Fox (knowing the Kings affinity) and fleeces Vlade again for #5 & #10 and gets Isaac and Mitchell. Who knows… Just would’ve loved to see the guy finish what he started. He literally did all the groundwork, took all the criticism, and was canned right before his labor came to fruition.

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September 1, 2020 8:38 pm
Reply to  TheFifthMookie

I wonder if the Okafor pick would be viewed the way it is now if ownership had let Hinkie trade him to the Celtics. Sure, Hinkie screwed the trade value of Okafor and Noel once the team had a legitimate logjam at Center. But it was pretty clear that he took Okafor for two reasons: 1) the Porzingis camp didn’t want him to go to Philadelphia; 2) he picked BPA with the intent of flipping the player later on. It’s pretty clear that the Colangelos stopped him.

https://www.nbcsports.com/philadelphia/philadelphia-sixers/report-jahlil-okafor-was-celtics-target-proposed-blockbuster

Last edited 1 year ago by jdwhit
AirmaxPG
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September 2, 2020 9:30 am
Reply to  jdwhit

I forgot about that. Okafor’s value was at its highest point, since he was averaging 17 points on his way to all-rookie. But it seems Hinkie wanted to flip him for Brooklyn’s unprotected 2016 pick (which yielded Jaylen Brown).

If that goes through, it definitely changes the narrative. I wonder if ownership was losing patience, and trading a rookie in the middle of a promising campaign they just saw as taking it too far.

But once again, Hinkie would have been right.

Greg
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September 1, 2020 11:05 am

Last edited 1 year ago by Greg Wissinger
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September 1, 2020 11:10 am

Ha! The article picture is hilarious!

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September 1, 2020 11:15 am

Just wanted to proudly say that this is the type of in-depth coverage of the Kings that you can’t find anywhere else. This website and the community is absolutely the best part of being a Kings fan.

We may all be rooting for the most hopeless and shit franchise that ever existed but at least we’re all in it together.

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September 1, 2020 12:34 pm
Reply to  King4life

Hear hear!

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September 1, 2020 11:15 am

First things first – brilliantly composed and constructed article. What a phenomenal read!

I too have no idea whether or not Hinkie would be the right guy. But you would have to figure that he would only agree to the job if he had close to absolute control over the basketball decisions, and that in itself would be highly encouraging for this dysfunctional excuse for a professional basketball organization.

Again, kudos. Really, really, reeeeeeeally good article. Thanks for what had to have been a lot of time putting it together.

Otis
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September 1, 2020 11:37 am
Reply to  RobHessing

Yeah, this is the good stuff. We are a lucky group.

Kosta
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September 1, 2020 12:57 pm
Reply to  Otis

comment image

Kosta
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September 1, 2020 5:25 pm
Reply to  WGriffith

Thanks, Will!

Your 2000-word article, and your picture that is worth a thousand words (that’s 3000 words total!) are both amazing.

You guys are the inverse of the Sacramento Kings. Champions of the sports blog world. 🙂

Last edited 1 year ago by Kosta
Adamsite
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September 1, 2020 1:00 pm
Reply to  Kosta

Holy shit!

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September 1, 2020 1:02 pm
Reply to  Kosta

Jesus H. Divac!

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September 1, 2020 2:56 pm
Reply to  Kosta

Extra credit for biegs getting his own card.

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September 2, 2020 11:37 am
Reply to  Kosta

This is the best thing I’ve seen in my life.

1951
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September 1, 2020 11:20 am

This is fantastic. This type of stuff is what made that old place and this new place so special.
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1951
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September 1, 2020 11:24 am
Reply to  1951

“The Process” is one of the most talked about and yet least understood sportsball events I can recall in recent sportsball memory.

So much conflation of facts and timelines and so much emotional reaction to some of the concepts of the Process, as opposed to what actually happened and the overall context in which decisions were made and the plan was formulated.

Last edited 1 year ago by 1951
Jman1949
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September 1, 2020 12:14 pm
Reply to  1951

The writing’s prime,
The prose sublime!
It took some time€”
But it doesn’t rhyme!

Otis
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September 1, 2020 11:35 am

This is so good – you’re lucky we’re socially distancing Will!
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Fireplug
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September 1, 2020 11:48 am

Nicely done.

andy_sims
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September 1, 2020 11:53 am

This really is a spectacular and thoughtful examination of Hinkie, and of the Philadelphia and Sacramento franchises. Your hard work in managing to put into context nearly a decade of decisions and actions spanning two different organizations has truly resulted in a masterful analysis. You ought to be very proud of this, long-form journalism that’s actually worth the effort to read remains rare, despite the surplus of writers and sites making the attempt.

My inclination toward Hinkie is lessened by the change in draft odds for the worst teams, as you pointed out. I honestly don’t know who ought to be considered, although my gut tells me that it ought to be someone who has shown the kind of forward-looking ideas that Hinkie, in retrospect, had in Philadelphia. As you wrote, Hinkie doesn’t seem to be a one-trick pony, so if the conceptualist who will run the show in Sacramento turns out to be him, I’d say we could do a hell of a lot worse.

Again, just top-level work, Will.

Marty
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September 1, 2020 12:05 pm

I am the third of four generations of Philadelphia sports fans. A car load of great uncles settled in the Wilmington area after escaping the coal mines of West Virginia, and became dedicated Philadelphia sports fanatics prior to World War II. The most excitement I can personally remember were the Phillies fans of the late 70s and early 80s, and then again in the 2000s when they won so many NL East pennants. Yes, it’s true, Eagles fans are the craziest fans you can imagine, but the winning is fleeting and isn’t sustainable year after year, so that’s a little different.

The Hinkie process years were the most exciting years I’ve ever experienced as a Philadelphia sports fan. I don’t claim to be able to explain it, but it captured the interest of a city like nothing I have ever seen before. Memories of fans following Saric through the airport exclaiming €œThe Homie is here!€, live-casting his trip through baggage claim.

It wasn’t without friction though, media and friends alike were angry and divided, and some of those rifts seem to be permanent. People are still dying on those hills in Philadelphia.

IMHO you are very right in wanting to see that happen here in Sacramento. Years from now the history of that episode in Philadelphia will be written with just a few sentences, and I don’t think they’ll ever really be able to explain what it was like for fans.

Last edited 1 year ago by Marty Marty
RikSmits
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September 1, 2020 12:09 pm

Question:

This includes the current list of leaked candidates for the Sacramento Kings. 

Does anyone know how legit that list is? It was from before that external agency was appointed, right?

Wonderchild
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September 1, 2020 1:12 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

Basically a bunch of media members leaked a ton of names the 2 days after Vlade resigned. Most likely these were names said media member has a positive relationship with. We’ve heard basically nothing of note since.

Last edited 1 year ago by Wonderchild
BestHyperboleEver
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September 1, 2020 3:48 pm
Reply to  Wonderchild

I’m not sure they were leaked. More just a bunch of spitballin’. I think anybody would have put together a pretty similar list without any inside info at all.

hank_04
September 1, 2020 12:11 pm

First of all, what a great read. Thank you so much for putting so much time and energy into this piece, the effort really shows.

However, and I know that I’m in the minority here, I don’t believe Hinkie is right for this team. You’re right to point out that “The Process” is frequently oversimplified as a synonym for tanking. A better description might be not allowing the norms and customs of the NBA and the lure of adequacy to distract from the pursuit of championship level success. And while for 28 out of 30 NBA teams this is sound advice, I just can’t get myself to feel this is the remedy for the Kings.

The problem with the Kings under Ranadive has never been a lack of innovation. We’ve innovated our way to the bottom of the standings year after year. It’s never been falling for the norms and customs of the NBA, we drafted Bagley over the consensus pick contrary to those norms and customs.

The problem with the Kings under Ranadive has been a fundamental inability to consistently make competent, well thought out moves, either in isolation or as a part of a grander scheme. At this point in the Kings life, I think the ownership group shouldn’t aim to build a championship contender against all odds, or to prove the NBA wrong. I think the aim should be to string together a season’s worth of competent moves, each bringing us closer to respectability. And I don’t believe that Hinkie is the man for that job.

As you noted in your piece, Hinkie doesn’t have the most solid draft record. Moreover, aside from tanking, the thing his tenure is most widely known for is its perpetual roster turnover. While he could get away with this in Philadelphia, in a franchise with some level of success and in a market that NBA players are drawn to regardless of prior season outcomes, the same can not be said for Sacramento. We lack the sort of credibility to be seen as an innovator or up-and-comer. It’s easy to see Vivek smiling when he hires Hinkie, but what happens when the articles start coming out questioning his first major roster shift? His second? His third? What happens when ticket sales plummet after he trades De’Aaron for a high draft pick, whether or not it’s the right move? I just don’t think we have the ownership, market, or reputation to be at the cutting edge of basketball.

While I would certainly be interested in a Sam Hinkie hire and would likely prefer it to Dumars, what I really want more than anything is for the Kings to hire a GM who makes the right moves in an effort to make this a competent franchise. It’s like we’re watching footage of Lillard nailing half court threes and saying “why not us?” Sure, that’d be swell, but maybe we should start with getting a few players who can hit catch and shoots from the corner, then work our way out from there.

I don’t believe a championship banner is anywhere in the Kings near future. But I’d love to see a playoff run or two, then, after that happens, we can talk about next steps and shooting for the moon.

ManilaBayCleanerCrew
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September 1, 2020 12:32 pm

So you mean to tell me all this BS that’s happening to the Kings is an excuse by Vivek to hire Hinkie as the GM?

andy_sims
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September 1, 2020 12:42 pm

Vivek owns the team, he doesn’t need to make excuses to hire or fire anyone.

Gabriel_Bonito
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September 1, 2020 12:38 pm

This is just about perfect. I hope it can creep upward toward the higher echelons of Kingsdom. I was always very jealous of what Philadelphia was doing. Think Hinkie would be a bold hire.

Adamsite
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September 1, 2020 12:52 pm

This just has to be posted in this thread…

1951
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September 1, 2020 1:02 pm

When I think about Hinkie’s “process,” the actual timeline offers some nice perspective when compared to other team building processes, such as the Vivek Era.

Sixers’ Timeline.

The Sixers made the playoffs in 2011-12. They made the playoffs again in 2017-18 after a 52 win season. Their entire playoff drought was five (5) years. But that isn’t even the Hinkie timeline.

Hinkie Timeline.

Hinkie was hired in June of 2013. The Sixers had just missed the playoffs (so that year of the 5 is not even on his watch) after winning only 34 games.

Hinkie was gone by April of 2016. His entire tenure as GM was less than three (3) years. So, yes: the team was crap during those three years (19, 18, and 10 wins), but folks seem to remember The Process as being some long and drawn out ineptitude when it was not. It was quick and decisive.

The 2016-17 Sixers enjoyed an 18 win improvement, winning 28 games without rookie Ben Simmons and having Embiid for only 31 games. For perspective, 28 wins matches or exceeds seven (7) of the Kings last 12 seasons.

The following year, with a full season of Simmons and over 60 games from Embiid, the Sixers won 52 games. They followed that up with another 50+ win season and a .589 winning percentage this year.

So, to recap: 5 year playoff drought in all, only 3 under Hinkie. It took Hinkie’s process 4 seasons to build a 50 win team. Now, compare that to Sacramento’s timeline, or Minny from 2004-2016, or the Suns, or the Knicks.

Would any Kings fan really say no if we could go back in time and tear it all down for three years when Vivek took over in order to build a team that wins 50 games each year four seasons later? Of course not. And given that, why would we say no to that right now?

Last edited 1 year ago by 1951
Adamsite
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September 1, 2020 1:27 pm
Reply to  1951

Yeah, for the folks who say, “But Hinkie will tank a bunch of seasons away!” I say, “the Kings haven’t exactly been winning the last 14 seasons.”

BestHyperboleEver
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September 1, 2020 1:29 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

At least the losing would be in service of some sort of plan. Instead of this random, haphazard, direction-less losing we’ve been seeing.

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September 1, 2020 1:32 pm

Yup, if he were to blow things up it would at least be losing with a purpose, rather than losing while trying to win.

BestHyperboleEver
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September 1, 2020 1:36 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

I will say, that’s what intrigues me about Hinkie. It’s the ability to draw up a long-term plan based on rational strategies, expectations, and efficiencies, and stick to it. Patience can be a real market advantage.

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September 1, 2020 1:40 pm

That is also why I don’t think Vivek will hire him. My guess is he wants results now and doesn’t want the honor of being the owner with the longest playoff drought in league history.

I fully believe the Kings will eclipse 15 seasons without the playoffs, but I don’t think Vivek will take it willingly.

Last edited 1 year ago by Adamsite
CoreyBrewersD
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September 1, 2020 9:12 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

Agreed! We win when we should lose, walk when we should run, pay when we should save, draft stiffs over studs. we Don’t need a fresh innovative GM. We have Vivinovation!

CoreyBrewersD
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September 1, 2020 9:12 pm
Reply to  CoreyBrewersD

Fucking sad really.

Wonderchild
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September 1, 2020 1:31 pm
Reply to  1951

Hinkie relied on luck as well. He did get a 1st and 3rd pick in his tenure. He was also lucky Embiid fell to 3rd that year because of his foot problems.

Otis
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September 1, 2020 2:02 pm
Reply to  Wonderchild

Is that entirely luck though? That was sort of the point of bottoming out.

And Embiid was a risk at three even, for the exact reason you noted.

Wonderchild
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September 1, 2020 2:56 pm
Reply to  Otis

well yes. But bottoming out and staying in the top 3 is still considerable luck. Also look at that draft. Embiid is the only all star in that entire first round. Lots of decent/good role players, but nothing close to his talent.

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September 1, 2020 3:08 pm
Reply to  Wonderchild

From what I recall, the other teams passed on him because of his injury history. He was a high risk/high reward player. Now is that luck for Hinkie or other teams not willing to risk as much as he would?

Wonderchild
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September 1, 2020 4:40 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

Probably both. He drafted Embiid after drafting Noel the year before (who also sat our his rookie year due to injury).

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September 1, 2020 5:35 pm
Reply to  Wonderchild

I always wonder if he fully intended to flip at least one of Okafor, Embiid, and Noel. At the time Cs, were still highly prized. The league hadn’t quite moved to the perimeter yet. Since Hinkie saw that as the future, I wonder if he wasn’t trying to profit on other teams still valuing those guys. It clearly wasn’t a strategy that worked out either way, but it always felt to me that he was drafting them to be trade chips.

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September 2, 2020 7:53 am

I think he just took the BPA at the time, which is what you should do with top 10 picks, regardless of positional need.

It ain’t rocket surgery. Pick the BPA then adjust the roster accordingly. I mean, if the Kings get the #1 pick in 2021, they had better take Cunningham and it shouldn’t matter if they already have Fox on an extended deal.

AirmaxPG
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September 2, 2020 9:41 am

It does appear that Okafor was on the table at the 2016 deadline for the Nets 2016 unprotected 1st (article referenced by jdwhit above). But possibly ownership stepped in? Jahlil was having a nice rookie year, so I could see that happening.

If that happens and they draft Jaylen Brown at #3 that year, that changes a lot of the narrative, imo.

And it wasn’t like Okafor wasn’t consensus at that pick. It’s not like a Bagley situation.

Otis
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September 1, 2020 4:44 pm
Reply to  Wonderchild

But bottoming out and staying in the top 3 is still considerable luck.

Actually, they would have had to been unlucky to stay out of the top three:

2014: 2nd best lottery odds, ended up with the third pick
2015: 3rd best lottery odds, ended up with the third pick
2016: Best lottery odds, ended up with the first pick

Otis
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September 1, 2020 4:48 pm
Reply to  Wonderchild

I’d agree that he’s a decent risk pick there, but I don’t think (for this particular debate) you can look at it in hindsight. IIRC most mocks had Embiid in the 4 to 6 range.

RORDOG
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September 1, 2020 6:18 pm
Reply to  Otis

Somewhat unrelated, but I remember in those Grantland videos that Pete tried to trade up to #3 to draft Embiid, and Hinkie wouldn’t do it.

BuffaloDiaspora
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September 1, 2020 1:43 pm
Reply to  1951

A 10 win season would really have me questioning my season tickets. 3 straight sub-20 win seasons and I would nope right out.

That’s not quick and explosive, that’s 3 years of torture

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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September 1, 2020 1:45 pm

What have the last 14 years been?

BuffaloDiaspora
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September 1, 2020 1:55 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

They’ve been bad but not awful? I can deal with bad – wins still make for a fun evening – but paying for my (awesome but also pricey) seats to watch 3 straight years of teams as devoid of talent as the process Sixers requires a level of masochism that I simply cannot muster.

Otis
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September 1, 2020 2:01 pm

Dunno, I’d love to watch a couple of fifty win seasons and consistent playoff appearances/wins.

BuffaloDiaspora
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September 1, 2020 2:06 pm