Sam Hinkie Slashes His Way to the Future

By cutting player payroll, the Sixers GM has left the team maximum maneuverability.

If Sixers’ GM Sam Hinkie wants to get his team anywhere close to playoff contention in the coming seasons, he would be wise to stay clear of Boston’s strategy of hiring a college coach to lead the way.

Go for a high school guy instead.

Or maybe a CYO dude.

This isn’t your basic tanking column, although the idea is certainly one the Sixers should embrace. (How do 35 minutes a night for Lavoy Allen sound?) Instead, it’s an appreciation for Hinkie’s opening gambit as the franchise’s GM. He may never prove to be a shrewd collector of talent, but when it comes to providing the flexibility necessary for the Sixers to make future progress, he has been right on time.

By trading Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and — we hope — a lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft bonanza, the Sixers jettisoned $11 million per. By not even sniffing around Andrew Bynum (and who can blame him, considering the stench the center emitted last year?), Hinkie avoided any long-term entanglement with the crippled pivot and his equally incapacitated attitude. Dorell Wright? He’s Portland’s property. Jason Richardson will likely be paid off and asked to move on. And, if Hinkie can do it, he will slide serial disappointment Evan Turner to a team that lacks the good sense to recognize a poisonous contract when it sees one.

The goal is to be nimble as possible. Why? So that the Sixers can some day do what Houston has done the past several months. Just before the beginning of last season, the Rockets acquired James Harden from OK City, which was unable to offer the gunning guard a long-term deal and had to ship him off in a one-sided — for Houston — deal. Friday, word came that Houston had shuffled off enough expiring contracts to sign free-agent center Dwight Howard. In the span of a little more than eight months, the Rockets went from a team with little or no relevance to one that should have an embedded ESPN reporter and plenty of courtside visits from Johnny Football and other south Texas celebrities.

(DISCLAIMER: Because of his unbelievable immaturity and selfishness, not to mention a rudimentary offensive game and proclivity for sparring with coaches, Howard will never win an NBA title. He’ll create excitement with his running and jumping and faux Superman antics — George Reeves had a better drop-step — but Howard doesn’t have what it takes to be a champion.)

With his draft day moves and silence during the free-agent period, Hinkie is following the Houston model. His numbers background makes him the perfect person to slice the budget and cut away the Sixers’ faraway entanglements. It will be a while before we know what he can do on the personnel side, but his movements so far have been right out of the Daryl Morey playbook. Morey, the Houston GM, positioned his team well and was able to gather in two of the more coveted NBA properties.

We in the media haven’t been too delighted that Hinkie has accomplished all of this from a fortified encampment that makes the recently completed White House super bunker look like a treehouse. He didn’t talk on the record with anybody in the days leading up to the draft, and his subsequent communications have been sporadic, too. But the press will get over it, and fans should be focusing on the fact that Hinkie has the Sixers well below the 2013–14 estimated salary cap figure of $58.5 million and nowhere near what will likely be $62.5 mil in ’14–15. In other words, if teams are stuck with pending free agents and don’t want to end up paying the luxury death tax of two bucks for every one over the threshold, the Sixers will be positioned perfectly to grab them. Further, by hoarding draft picks, the team will have lower-priced assets available that will be more palatable to desperate trading partners.

For all of this, the Sixers do not need a coach. The next season is going to be extremely bleak, and if you want to pray for somebody when you hit your knees every night before bed, do so for those poor souls who must sell tickets for the ’13–14 campaign. They may have a harder job than the person trying to get Paula Deen back on TV. What the Sixers need is someone absolutely committed to slicing and dicing the payroll and creating a salary-cap profile that would impress the most pliable gymnast. Right now, that’s Hinkie. No one can be sure what he’s going to do with all that available space, but he’s going to have it at his disposal. On the road to reinventing the Sixers, that’s the most important thing of all.



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