2013 In Review: Top Five Individuals in Philadelphia Sports in 2013

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3. Sam Hinkie-76ers General Manager and Team President

Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike Roseman, Hinkie is not nearly as available when it comes to accessibility for the man in charge of putting together a winning franchise. That being said, when Hinkie makes a move or opens his mouth, usually the whole basketball world listens.

Although the Eagles finished 4-12, the worst success rate when it comes to wins and losses of the four major teams in Philadelphia, the situation for the 76ers was much more bleak. Like so many franchises in the NBA, Philadelphia was lodged in mediocrity with only the hope of a miracle as a potential light at the end of the tunnel. The team’s one splash to try and accelerate their path to a championship, acquiring center Andrew Bynum in a trade prior to the 2012-2013 season, had blown up in their face and the team suffered through one of the most embarrassing seasons in franchise history.

After a laundry list of GMs failed to turn around the 76ers roster since their run to the NBA finals in 2000-01, it became clear that things had to change in Philadelphia or they would slip into complete irrelevancy in the scope of the league and city. In his second year of ownership, Josh Harris decided to distance the organization from the ‘old school’ mentality of the NBA and launch the team into what appears to be the future of the NBA.

After months of speculation as to who was going to take over for the departed Tony DiLeo, who was little more than a figurehead while Doug Collins pulled the personnel strings, Harris tabbed Rockets executive VP Sam Hinkie as the man to help usher in a new era of 76ers basketball with a whole new approach. Along with current Houston GM Daryl Morey, Hinkie had helped turn a Rockets team that was stuck in neutral into an exciting new team on all fronts. They had a superstar in James Harden, a deep roster full of young players that were contributing on a nightly basis, a stockpile of draft picks, and enough cap room to spend freely. Despite the Heat winning the NBA championship, the Rockets appeared to be as ideal a franchise as one could ask for from a big picture standpoint.

Houston’s emphasis when it came to piecing together their team was on a budding concept known as ‘analytics’ that had started to surface around the league. Along with teams like the Indiana Pacers, Houston wanted to break down formulating their roster to a science, rather than be a victim to the ‘eye test’. With very little exception, such as the Detroit Pistons of the mid-2000s, it was often the team with the best 2-3 players that captured the NBA title. Whether it was Tim Duncan, arguably the greatest power forward in NBA history, leading the way for the Spurs; Kobe and Shaq dominating the early 2000s for the Lakers; and most recently the ‘Big Three’ led by LeBron raising banners in South Beach, the last team standing was usually the one with the shiniest toys.

The concept of analytics was formulated with an emphasis on averages and playing things out over a long stretch to try and counteract the superstar-driven NBA to achieve success. The Indiana Pacers, a team constructed with this in mind, have given the Heat substantial scares the last two playoffs because they are without weakness for the most part. The 76ers brought in Hinkie in attempt to assemble a roster without weakness to rise to contention in the Eastern Conference.

Rather than trying to make a splash in free agency to announce his arrival in Philadelphia as general manager, Hinkie set forth a plan in motion that would set the team up for future, long-term prominence. Although there are no certainties when it comes to projecting forward in professional sports, Hinkie’s vision is one that, should the chips fall the right way, could pay off sooner than one would have expected.

After taking inventory of what was at his disposal, a few things became clear to Hinkie. Adding one or two players to the roster would do little more than increasing the team’s wins at the end of the season by a marginal amount. There was very little young, controllable talent that could drive the competitiveness and depth of the team. Finally, he had one player that might be a factor on a championship team and almost no chance of building the roster around him in a short enough time to avoid breaking the bank by paying him a max contract. Once Hinkie saw what was at his disposal, he acted swiftly and without hesitation.

The 2013 NBA Draft looked as if it were going to be as boring as they come. With no lynchpin talent at the top and few intriguing names on the board, many figured it would be another year of finding out what players were going to make the really bad teams in the NBA only slightly better. Little did the viewing audience, myself included, realize that Sam Hinkie was about to make the annual event his personal playground. In just a few short hours, the 76ers would go from a team destined for irrelevancy to a franchise with hope and a future.

His first major move under his new title was a bombshell. Hinkie would trade the team’s star point guard Jrue Holiday, a player just entering his prime and a fan favorite in the city, to the now-named New Orleans Pelicans. The return for Holiday: a substantial one. First there was Nerlens Noel. The Kentucky shot-blocking phenom was destined to be the top pick in the 2013 Draft, but a knee injury cut his one year in Lexington short. Noel would fall to the 6th pick in the draft before New Orleans finally scooped him up. Many did not expect Noel to return for the beginning of the 2013-2014 season and there was even speculation that he might have to miss the entire season. Hinkie seemed more than happy with this thought, especially considering the other piece he received for trading the team’s star player. A top-five protected pick in the 2014 Draft completed the compensation for the swap. Were it any of the last handful of drafts, some might sneer at the thought process of trading an established star for the uncertainty of a draft pick. Fortunately for Philadelphia, 2014 looks as if it could be the type of draft that people remember for all the right reasons. With one of the most star-studded freshman classes in recent history, highlighted by the trio of: Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Julius Randle (Kentucky), and Jabari Parker (Duke) many feel the 2014 Draft has a chance to represent the post-LeBron generation of players that make up the power figures in the NBA. Toss in names such as Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart, and Dante Exum and the names toward the top of the 2014 Draft make some of the first selections in 2013 almost laughable. Not only had Hinkie traded away the 76ers best chance at consistent competitiveness in Holiday, improving the team’s chances of securing one of the top picks in 2014, but he had acquired another first round pick from a team that, while promising, does not appear ready to compete in the loaded Western Conference.

As if Hinkie’s first splash was not big enough, it could be the move that night that involved the least creativity that defines Hinkie’s tenure as general manager. Philadelphia’s original selection was the 11th pick. In a year seemingly barren of talent, it was tough to get excited about which player the team would pull the trigger on. Yet while everyone focuses on how the team will fare in the 2014 Draft, there are those that feel that Hinkie and the 76ers won the lottery a year before everyone expected. They would go on to draft point guard Michael Carter-Williams out of Syracuse to fill Holiday’s role. Although the 2013 draft has generally outperformed expectations for the most part, Carter-Williams is the crown jewel of the class and its not really that close. Save for the fact that he has missed a handful of games due to injuries, Carter-Williams impressive play on the court is perhaps only dwarfed by his limitless potential and maturity off of it. His first game as a 76er, against the defending champion Miami Heat, was one of the most prolific debuts for a rookie in the NBA, let alone Philadelphia. 22 points, 7 rebounds, 12 assists, 9 steals (record for player making NBA debut in a winning effort against LeBron James and the Heat thrust ‘MCW’ into the hearts of fans and made Holiday almost an afterthought. He has continued to sprinkle in stat-stuffing performances and clutch showings against legitimate opponents that have people associating the lanky point guard with some of the greats of the NBA.

By the end of the night, Hinkie had acquired two apparent future organizational lynchpins as well as Arsalan Kazemi. For the first time in over a decade, the 76ers had a direction and a plan that did not revolve around hoping and praying for a miracle.

Hinkie’s offseason was far from over. Key additions, most notably the dynamic, albeit spotty Tony Wroten, have increased the depth and competitiveness of the team. While the wins and losses might not end up where they were last season, the product on the court is far superior and entertaining. Yet it could be the hiring of the team’s new head coach that round out a duo that could bring basketball prominence back to Philadelphia. Tapping into the San Antonio Spurs staff, arguably the most successful NBA franchise of the 21st century, Hinkie announced Brett Brown as the new coach of the 76ers. After a painfully extensive interview process, Brown emerged as the candidate that most appealed to Hinkie’s vision. With a versatile history, including coaching on an International level and working with some of the great talents the league has seen over the last 15 years, Brown was the final piece to Hinkie’s first step in his grand vision. The passionate, yet brilliant Brown is an endless source of basketball knowledge that spares little when it comes to breaking down the performance of his young team. Behind his New England accent and silver fox appearance, Brown has established himself as an asset to the organization that has not been seen in the coaching position since Larry Brown.

Many feel that Hinkie will round out the ‘cleansing process’ of the roster in the near future by trading a few, if not all of the team’s remaining veteran players. Brown’s up-tempo, attacking style of play has highlighted the performances of Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, and Evan Turner. While each player could probably lend something to the future that the 76ers envision, many speculate that Hinkie wanted to raise their stock as high as possible to acquire more future assets to pounce when the time is more appropriate.

If you ask any person living in Philadelphia with an inkling of fandom for sports, they will agree that things are better when the 76ers are relevant. Even though they are not winning many games this season, the knowledgeable fanbase appears to be attending more games because they see a vision and a future. With a pair of 2014 1st round picks, enough cap room to sign any free agent, and a couple of potential franchise players already on the roster, one could argue that the 76ers are as well set up for success in the NBA as any team in the league. The man to thank for that is Sam Hinkie.