Confession: I like Sam Hinkie’s strategy with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Don’t get me wrong, Hinkie was way off with some of his pursuits during his time as GM. First off, three years is a little too long to be purposefully horrendous. The idea of a “culture of winning” or “culture of losing” may be cliches, but they’re also true to some degree. Second, as I wrote last week, it’s imperative for a young, bad team to have veteran leaders that can teach the youngsters the landscape of the NBA and how to act as adults. The Minnesota Timberwolves knew that when they brought in Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince, and Andre Miller, and Sam Hinkie didn’t get that memo. Jahlil Okafor seems like the type of dude who could use some locker room guidance. At least that’s what I heard from some guys at a bar in Boston.
For the general rule of tanking as the foundation of contention, though, how can you blame the guy? As much as guys like Joe Lacob want us to believe that success in the NBA is all about being infinity billion zillion times smarter than everyone else, the fact is that luck is heavily involved in an organization’s rise to the top. Sam Hinkie knew that, and in his 13 page letter to 76ers ownership, he admitted openly that luck was heavily involved in a team’s success. Sam Presti was smart about drafting Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden in consecutive years, but you might care to remember that Presti also admitted that he would have taken Greg Oden if he had the first pick in the 2007 draft. Imagine where the Thunder would be now.
If luck is going to be so heavily involved in a team’s success, why not do everything you can to increase your chances at getting lucky? In 2013, Philadephia had zero potential stars on their team, and I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that they wouldn’t have landed any superstars in free agency the past few years. They were going to have to build through the draft anyway, meaning that they may as well have increased their chances of finding that superstar in the beginning of the first round of the draft — or that diamond in the rough in the second round.
You know who I bet hates that strategy, though? The NBA’s 29 other owners. Nobody wants to go to 76ers games, and I can only imagine how infuriated the owners must be when they have so many empty seats when the Sixers come to town.
But what if Hinkie’s strategy pays off? What if the Sixers land Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram AND the fourth overall pick from the Lakers AND find some success in a couple of their approximately 387 draft picks over the next few years? Hinkie’s tanking strategy had its faults, but it could wind up building a future contender in The City of Brotherly Love.
If that happens, some other rogue, first time general manager will convince some ownership group who is feeling helpless about their situation that tanking is the right call. Sam Hinkie famously showed up to his 2013 interview with the 76ers owners with a Powerpoint demonstrating all the transactions that the Rockets pulled off that led up to the James Harden trade. The next time around, a general manager will show up with a Powerpoint, Excel file, Google doc, Snapchat story, annoyingly long Facebook status that is usually reserved for your uncle, and one of those pictures on Twitter where people take a screenshot of their notes section so that they aren’t limited to 140 characters, and all of those bits of evidence will be devoted to the success of Sam Hinkie’s strategy in Philly.
The owners can’t have that. They can’t envision another three year period of having one team drag the rest of the group down worse than the John Travolta/Robert Shapiro character dragged down the authenticity of The People vs. O.J. Simpson. (Travolta looks nothing like him!!!) They would need a solution to prevent such tanking from reoccurring.
That solution lies in the form of the NBA Draft Wheel. If you don’t know or you’ve forgotten, check out Zach Lowe’s first of multiple pieces that he wrote on the subject for Grantland. (The picture may not load in the middle of the column, so here is a picture of how the wheel would work.) Essentially, each of the 30 teams get slotted with a predetermined pick, and every team will have each pick from 1-30 exactly once every 30 years. Teams will be guaranteed to have a top six pick every five years.
The NBA considered the proposal in the summer of 2014, but ultimately decided against it, and the 76ers were (shockingly) one of the teams who most opposed the measure.