Late Wednesday night, Sam Hinkie resigned as the Philadelphia 76ers’ General Manager and President of Basketball Operations. Over his tenure, the Sixers went 47-195, which translates to a pitiful winning percentage of .194.
This was entirely by design.
Hinkie felt that the route to win a championship was by acquiring star players and that the best way to do so was by doing so through the draft. With this in mind, Hinkie began a series of moves to stockpile draft picks and give Philadelphia the best chance of drafting a superstar player famously dubbed “The Process.” “The Process” also involved trying to win the draft lottery, as higher draft picks allowed for a better chance of being able to draft the superstar Hinkie coveted so desperately. His critics have accused of him tanking and making a mockery of the sport because of his unwillingness to sign big name free agents or feigning the appearance of trying to win and reach the playoffs.
During the same time, the Bucks have gone 88-154. In Hinkie’s first season with Philadelphia, the only team that finished with a worse record than the Sixers was the Bucks. The irony of the 2013-2014 season was that while the Sixers were not trying to reach the playoffs, Milwaukee certainly was. Going into the season, the Bucks signed and traded for veterans including Khris Middleton and O.J. Mayo, who are still with the team. Despite bolstering the roster, the season went disastrously; the Bucks went 15-67. The Bucks ended up getting the second overall pick of the 2014 Draft, with the Sixers picking third overall.
The 2014 Draft featured three consensus top picks: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embiid. Wiggins and Jabari went first and second, with the Sixers picking Embiid third, but less than a week before the draft, Embiid underwent foot surgery ending his season before it started. Further fueling Hinkie’s critics, Embiid has missed all of this season as well. The season before he drafted Embiid, he traded away All-Star Jrue Holiday for the rights to Nerlens Noel, who also missed his rookie year following knee surgery. With the 11th pick, he drafted Michael Carter-Williams, who won Rookie of the Year, but traded him to Milwaukee the next season.
While MCW hasn’t been a star like Bucks fans had hoped, he is still a solid player and the trade ostracized Hinkie even more with Philadelphia fans, who were upset that he had drafted players who weren’t even playing, but he was willing to cut bait with one of the few bright spots for the 76ers.
Ironically, in the 2013 Draft that netted the Sixers Noel and Carter-Williams, the Bucks selected Giannis Antetokoumpo with the 15th pick, not even a lottery pick. A year later, following an unplanned plummet to the bottom of the standings, Milwaukee drafted Jabari and the “Own the Future” era began.
The Bucks were the surprise of the league going 41-41 and increasing their winning percentage by .317. Although, Jabari tore his ACL 25 games into the season, the season was a huge step forward. Meanwhile, the Sixers actually regressed and ended up with another top three pick, using it on Jahlil Okafor, the third center Hinkie selected in three years.
It hasn’t done much, as the Sixers are a league-worst 10-67. For all of Hinkie’s meticulous planning, all he has to show are two solid centers in Noel and Okafor, but Hinkie hasn’t been able to improve the team. On the other hand, the Bucks have two franchise cornerstones in Giannis and Jabari, while also having shown the ability to recruit a star player like Greg Monroe in free agency.
Despite the Bucks’ struggles this season, the future is quite bright. Whereas, the Sixers will be living and dying by the ping-pong balls for another season.
In Hinkie’s resignation letter acquired by ESPN, he wrote, “The 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.”
While his plan was certainly a logical one, his live or die commitment to building through the draft certainly did not pan out, and Hinkie has missed out on opportunities to replenish the talent on his team via free agency and trades. While Embiid and even fellow 2014 draft pick Dario Šarić, who has played internationally since being drafted, could both pan out to be good NBA players, Hinkie’s gamble has not paid off.
Earlier in the season, league owners frustrated with the 76ers forced Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand in strongly urging Josh Harris, the Sixers’ principal owner, to hire Jerry Colangelo to become the new Chairman of Basketball Operations, a move that largely undermined Hinkie. Rumors are plentiful that Hinkie’s resignation was in large part because of his displeasure with the move and what he saw as outside interference with his blueprint to rebuilding.
In contrast, over the past three years, the Bucks have tried rebuilding through all forms available to them, including the draft, trades, and free agency. This well-rounded rebuild has paid dividends, like the trade for Middleton, signing Monroe, and drafting Antetokoumpo and Parker. While there have been mistakes along the way, such as trading away veterans like Zaza Pachulia, who is having a great season in Dallas, the mistakes are generally few and of little long-term consequence.
The Bucks are poised to “Own the Future,” whereas Philly fans are left wondering whether any players they’ve had from three years of “Trusting the Process” will help erase the sour taste of futility they’ve had to endure during Hinkie’s tenure.