It’s been over eight months since Samuel Blake Hinkie “resigned” (let’s be honest, he was forced out) as General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers. In the months since, the Sixers have won the draft lottery, drafted Ben Simmons, and seen Joel Embiid take the court for the first time in two years. It’s late December and the Sixers might have the top two favorites for Rookie of the Year, and neither of them are named Ben Simmons. None of this would be possible without Hinkie’s efforts over the last three years to tear down a franchise stuck in NBA purgatory and institute a multi-year plan to get the Sixers competing for championships again.
Although Hinkie received some major criticism from media outlets across the country as he embraced losing like no other executive had done before, the franchise is in an undeniably better position today than it was following the dumpster fire that was the Andrew Bynum trade completed by the regime before him. The Sixers still have many holes to fill before they start jockeying for a playoff spot, but the number of assets that Hinkie acquired during his time as GM has the future of the Sixers looking bright, especially compared to other perennial basement dwellers like the Brooklyn Nets (remember they traded three first round picks and a pick swap for a 35 year-old Paul Pierce and a 37 year-old Kevin Garnett?). Hinkie established his genius when he swindled Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings out of a first round pick and pick swap, and flipped reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams for a first round pick at the peak of his trade value, just to name a few.
But on a night where future superstar Joel Embiid dropped a career high 33 points in a win over the aforementioned Nets, it was Hinkie’s biggest mistake as GM that made headlines. ICYMI, Nerlens Noel has been public about his displeasure over the lack of playing time and overall crowded frontcourt that exists at the Wells Fargo Center. A defensive stalwart with efficiency numbers matched only by the likes of Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert, his removal from the rotation continues to fuddle fans. This continued tension could have been avoided with one selection at the 2015 NBA Draft.
June 25th, 2015, the NBA draft commences with the Minnesota Timberwolves nabbing Karl-Anthony Towns. The Lakers surprise some by taking point guard D’Angelo Russell. The Sixers on the clock at #3, take C Jahlil Okafor, adding yet another center to the mix. At four, the Knicks select Latvian big man Kristaps Prozingis while the New York crowd rains boos as the loveable losers from New York have seemingly made yet another poor draft decision. But it was that moment that Sam Hinkie made his biggest mistake in a move that continues to haunt the Sixers today.
It’s hard to put all of the blame on Hinkie for choosing Big Jah over Porzingod as the Sixers approach was to take the “best player available” and sort out the positions later. And when the Lakers switched course and took the player the Sixers had been targeting for a month, the next logical choice was the big man from Duke who had just propelled his team to a National Championship (nothing says “future Sixer” like a National Champion am I right?), especially when Porzingis refused to give the Sixers a pre-draft workout citing the team’s lack of focus on winning.
But let’s pretend that Hinkie is actually Nostradamus reincarnated and sees that Jahlil’s lack of defense is a skillset that can’t be refined, so he instead takes Porzingis with the third overall pick. The Sixers no longer have a log jam at center as they have Joel Embiid as the franchise centerpiece starting at the 5, while Nerlens Noel supplements him off the bench. Kristaps lines up as the starting Power Forward, finally providing the floor spacer the Sixers have needed for years before Embiid’s arrival. A healthy Ben Simmons can run point and/or guard Small Forwards. Dario Saric joins Nerlens in the second rotation and the Sixers look like a team that is closer to the Conference Semifinals than another year at the top of the lottery.
Instead, Bryan Colangelo and the new regime continue to make matters worse by frustrating one of their top talents, forcing him to ride the pine and watch his early developmental years waste away. As Colangelo and Brett Brown are compounding the mistake Hinkie made at the 2015 draft, it’s hard not to dream of what could have been.