For Sam Hinkie’s Sixers, Tanking is not Necessary


Upon learning about Joel Embiid‘s pending surgery, many Sixers fans who have thus far “trusted the process” of general manager Sam Hinkie are starting to become skeptics. With the team’s would-be franchise player slated to sit out another season – along with growing concern that he might never play – it seems that the days of contention are further away than most had hoped.

Joel Embiid. Image Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Hinkie defenders will claim that Embiid’s injury doesn’t truly affect the process. It may push the eventual time of contention back by a season or two, but the Sixers will continue to accumulate good young players and draft picks. In theory, they will eventually acquire enough talent to allow them to compete for a championship.

The problem with this approach is that it requires a high level of patience from the fans. Sixers fans have already had to sit through two straight seasons where before the season began, it was obvious that the team’s roster was one of the least talented in the league.

Some fans are fine with enduring these lean seasons because they believe there will be an eventual payoff. They claim that they’d rather go through this than watch the Sixers bounce between the lottery and a low playoff seed the way they had since the Eastern Conference championship season in 2001.

Personally, I felt the 2011-2012 season in which the Sixers not only made the playoffs but came close to reaching the Eastern Conference finals was much more entertaining than the past two “no chance” seasons. But to each his own.

The prevailing belief among Hinkie supporters is that tanking is a necessary evil if the team ever wants to win a title. Otherwise, the team gets stuck in the purgatory-like state it had existed in for the previous 11 or so years.

I don’t think that is true. Tanking is not necessary. Sacrificing entire seasons is not necessary. Here is what is necessary: Drafting well, making smart trades, avoiding overpaying players, and getting a bit of luck.

The Sixers’ “purgatory” state was a result of failing at all four of those things at some point.

After the Allen Iverson-era ended, the mantle of “best player” fell to Andre Iguodala. Many people believed that Iguodala was a very good player who would thrive if he was a team’s second or third best player. His performance in the 2015 playoffs validates that thinking.

Andre Iguodala. Image Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

However, not wanting to lose their best player, the Sixers signed him to a six-year $80 million deal befitting a star. Not content to stop there, the Sixers also spent big money to sign free agent power forward Elton Brand.

At first glance, this seemed like a great move. The Sixers had a huge hole in their frontcourt, while Brand was a two-time All-Star averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds for his career.

Despite those numbers, Brand had never really been thought of as a top star in the league. During his nine-year career, he had made only one All-NBA team, and he was coming off a season where he played only eight games due to an Achilles tendon injury.

The Sixers were paying superstar money to two players who weren’t superstars. That didn’t leave them with much flexibility to improve the team, and essentially meant they would go as far as Iguodala and Brand could take them. (As we learned that wasn’t all that far.)

To their credit, despite winning a playoff series in 2012, Sixers management seemed to realize that the team didn’t really have much room to grow. So they began to rebuild, using an amnesty clause to rid themselves of Brand’s contract, and trading Iguodala.

Unfortunately, they used the money saved on Brand to sign the likes of Kwame Brown and Nick Young. And the player they traded Iguodala for was Andrew Bynum.

Andrew Bynum. Image Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, this was a good move in theory. They were able to acquire an All-NBA center just beginning his prime. Bynum seemed like the type of player they could build around and give the team a brighter future than it had with the Iguodala/Brand core.

I’m not sure if the Sixers were guilty of not doing their due diligence (there were some injury/attitude concerns surrounding Bynum), or they were just unlucky that his injuries were more severe than they thought.

Either way, the situation might have been avoided had they done a better job with their drafts. The Sixers didn’t draft horribly during the pre-Hinkie era, but they weren’t exactly uncovering a bunch of hidden gems either.

Perhaps the most glaring mistake came in 2010. Thanks to Brand’s injury, and an all-time horrible coaching job by Eddie Jordan, the Sixers were bad enough in the 2009-2010 season that they earned the second pick in the draft. When a team drafts that high, they absolutely need to pick the correct player. The Sixers did not pick the right player.

Evan Turner was not a complete bust. By the time he’s finished, he’ll have a long, far-from-horrible career. But if you re-did the 2010 NBA Draft, would he even be taken in the top ten?

As a result of those failed moves, the Sixers jettisoned most their front office decision-makers and brought in Hinkie.

I don’t want to come off as completely critical of Hinkie’s process; I have actually agreed with many of his moves. But with another poor season seemingly on the horizon, and not too many definite building blocks in place (Nerlens Noel is about it), my patience is wearing thin.

Since success is ultimately going to depend on good player evaluation and good luck, perhaps the Sixers should switch to an approach that doesn’t require so much patience from their fans.

Next: Phillies Pushing to Finish Papelbon Trade

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