By now just about every NBA fan is well aware that earlier this week, Sam Hinkie stepped down as the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Hinkie’s tenure in Philadelphia has been controversial from the start. He set out a long term path to take the 76ers from a middle of the pack team (Philadelphia had not won more than 45 regular season games since the 2002-03 season) to contention by tanking for a few seasons, acquiring assets and preserving cap flexibility, among other things. It’s not a new strategy. The term “tanking” existed long before any casual NBA fan even knew who Sam Hinkie was. What made Hinkie’s tenure different was the fact that the tanking was so blatant, so hard to ignore and the fact that he and his front office chose to not speak publicly about it. In doing so, Hinkie left a vacuum for everyone else to explain the strategy, its merits, its flaws, whether it was hurting the NBA, whether it was fair to 76ers fans and whether it should even be allowed.
Hinkie’s mistakes were self-inflicted and mostly made on non-basketball related matters, which, at least in part, led him down a path that resulted in his resignation. The result of that is Hinkie won’t be around to execute the final stages of his rebuild. Instead, Jerry and Bryan Colangelo will likely be the ones in power when the team becomes well-balanced between up-and-coming prospects, stabilizing veterans and an ongoing infusion of talent through the team’s hoard of assets, which were acquired by Hinkie over the last few years. When that happens, the prevailing view will likely be that Jerry and Bryan Colangelo were the ones that saved the 76ers from Hinkie and turned the team around — a view that, at least in part, will be misguided.
As Hinkie explained in his 13-page resignation letter (which is widely being called his “manifesto”), by citing to Jeff Bezos, the Founder and CEO of Amazon, success today is built on decisions made in years past. If and when the 76ers are back in contention a few years from now, it will be because of Hinkie’s work over the last few years.
To understand the impact of Hinkie’s tenure, it’s important to remember where the 76ers were as a team when he arrived. To prepare for the 2012-13 season, Hinkie’s predecessor, Tony DiLeo, made some curious moves: He traded for Dorell Wright, signed Nick Young, Kwame Brown and Royal Ivey and re-signed Spencer Hawes. He also agreed to a four-team trade that sent Nikola Vučević, Maurice Harkless and a future-first round pick to the Orlando Magic and Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets. In return, the 76ers received Jason Richardson and Andrew Bynum, who would never end up actually playing for Philadelphia because of ongoing injuries that ultimately derailed his career.
While the team had some nice, young players like Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young on the roster, there was no foundation for future contention. Enter Hinkie, who from the beginning operated under some guiding principles that, as mentioned above, are not unprecedented strategies. While his manifesto isn’t the lightest read, he did outline those principles succinctly on page eight:
Despite some missteps along the way, Hinkie remained true to those principles. Here is a quick rundown of some of Hinkie’s moves, which altogether have put the 76ers in an enviable position moving forward:
- Traded Jrue Holiday and the 42nd pick (Pierre Jackson) for Nerlens Noel and the Pelicans’ 2014 first-round pick. He also selected Michael Carter-Williams 11th that same night, hoping he could replace Holiday as the team’s lead guard.
- In less than a year, Hinkie had essentially cleared the team out of its rotation players that no longer fit the long term plan, clearing out the cap sheet while bringing in future assets.
- Selected Joel Embiid with the third overall pick and traded Elfrid Payton to the Orlando Magic for Dario Saric and a future second-round pick (a trade that can’t be accurately evaluated until Saric plays for Philadelphia). Then, in the second round, Hinkie snagged players like K.J. McDaniels and Jerami Grant.
- In the 2014 offseason, Hinkie traded Thaddeus Young for Alexey Shved, Luc Mbah a Moute and the Miami HEAT’s 2015 first-round pick.
- Signed Robert Covington in November, 2014.
- At the 2015 trade deadline, Hinkie traded Carter-Williams and McDaniels for JaVale McGee, Isaiah Canaan and three draft picks – most notably a protected 2015 first round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers.
- In the 2015 draft, Hinkie chose Jahlil Okafor with the third overall pick, controversially adding another center to his roster (while leaving Kristaps Porzingis on the board).
- He traded Arturas Gudaitis (47th pick) and Luka Mitrovic (60th pick) to the Sacramento Kings in exchange shooting guard Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson, Sacramento’s 2018 first-round pick and the right to swap firsts with Sacramento in both 2016 and 2017.
There are other moves made that are too numerous to include here, but these are just some of the more significant ones. In this list, we see that Hinkie clearly made a huge commitment towards investing in the draft, though there were certainly some missed opportunities over the last few drafts. He refrained from going out and overpaying mid-tier free agents with the cap space he had, which could have helped his team win some more games and relieve some of the mounting pressure he had created for himself. He made shrewd moves to capitalize on players’ value, such as when he moved Carter-Williams, who had won Rookie of the Year, but whose jumper was broken. He also continued to leverage his flexibility by taking on other team’s contractual liabilities in order to acquire future assets.
Hinkie didn’t take any shortcuts on his long term path to contention. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t make mistakes. His refusal to engage the public on his plan allowed others to dictate the conversation and the narrative. Rather than explaining why he believed it made sense to acquire redundant players, or players that wouldn’t play in Philadelphia for several seasons, he allowed the public to believe he was a cold accumulator of assets with no basketball sense. He reportedly alienated relationships around the league, including agents, which could have hurt him when it came time to start filling in the roster with veteran free agents. And, as we can see in the way he drafted his manifesto, his philosophical approach to just about all things, including basketball, can make it hard to relate to him on a personal level.
Those failings ultimately cost Hinkie his job. But, in the aggregate, Hinkie’s failings did nothing to hurt the 76ers’ long term outlook. Sure, they lost a ton of games, set records for futility, suffered through constant ridicule, fostered an environment where a player like Okafor could be lured into a fight because he was being ridiculed for his team’s shortcomings and acquired players that ultimately might not fit together. But, he also hired Brett Brown, who has done a good job of developing his players and guiding his players through the torment of losing so frequently. He also made calculated moves that were well-reasoned. He won, or at least did well in just about every single trade he made with other teams. He didn’t cut corners and bite on free agents that didn’t fit the team’s long term plans for contention. The result of all of that is the Bryan and Jerry Colangelo have a mountain of cap space and assets to use in building this roster into a contender. How they do that is up to them, but if a player like Jimmy Butler is made available, the 76ers have better assets to make that deal happen than just about any other team in the league.
Aside from the Boston Celtics, it’s hard to argue that any team has the sort of flexibility or assets to leverage than the 76ers. Maybe that doesn’t seem like it’s worth the pain 76ers fans have endured over the past few seasons. However, it’s safe to argue that if Brooklyn Nets fans had a choice, they would trade the last few seasons of trying (and mostly failing) to be competitive by trading away future assets and taking on large contracts for the 76ers’ past few seasons and current circumstances.
All of this isn’t to say that Hinkie got a raw deal, or that he didn’t play a part in getting to the point where he felt inclined to resign. Again, Hinkie made multiple mistakes. Some were related to basketball decisions, more were related towards non-basketball matters. But, a few years from now when the 76ers are perhaps making a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs, or putting together one of the best overall rosters in the league, let’s not forget who laid the foundation for the team’s future success.
NBA Daily: Pelicans Might Be Better Off Without DeMarcus Cousins
Without DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis has excelled. It might not be a coincidence.
Forget Kawhi Leonard, the most interesting storyline of this NBA summer is going to be DeMarcus Cousins.
By now, if you’ve wondered whether the New Orleans Pelicans would be better off without the talented big man, you’re certainly not alone.
Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers.
On Saturday, the Pelicans pulled off an improbable sweep of the third-seeded Blazers in the first round of their best-of-seven playoff series. And while the immediate question that comes to mind is what to make of the Blazers, a similar question can be (and should be) asked of the Pelicans.
Without question, Cousins is one of the most gifted big men the NBA has sen in quite some time, but it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that Anthony Davis began to put forth superhuman efforts when Cousins was absent.
Ever heard the saying that too many cooks spoil the brew?
That may be pricisely the case here.
Sure, having good players at your disposal is a problem that most head coach in the league would sign up for, but it takes a special type of player to willingly cede touches and shots in the name of the best interests of the team.
We once had a similar conversation about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, mind you. Those that recognized that Westbrook’s ball dominance and inefficiency took opportunities away from Durant to be the best version of himself once believed that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have been wise to pitch Westbrook to New Orleans back when Chris Paul was still manning their perimeter.
For what it’s worth, with Cousins in the lineup, he averaged 18 shots per game. In the 48 games he played this season, the Pelicans were 27-21. With him in the lineup, Davis shot the ball 17.6 times per game and scored 26.5 points per contest.
In the 34 games the Pelicans played without Cousins, Davis’ shot attempts increased fairly significantly. He got 21.9 attempts per contest and similarly increased his scoring output to 30.2 points per game.
Aside from that, Cousins’ presence in the middle made it a tad more difficult for Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to have the pace and space they need to be most effective. With both Davis and Cousins, the Pelicans struggled to consistently string together wins. Without Cousins, they improbably became the first team in the Western Conference to advance to the second round.
That Cousins tore his achilles tendon and is just a few months from becoming an unrestricted free agent combine to make him the most interesting man in the NBA.
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With Chris Paul having decided that the grass was probably greener with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni than it was with Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin, the Clippers fulfilled his request to be trade to the Houston Rockets and re-signed Griffin to a five-year max. deal. In doing so, they both gave Griffin a stark reminder of what life in the NBA is like and provided a blueprint for teams to follow when they have a superstar player with whom they believe to have run their course.
The glass half full perspective might be that Davis has simply become a better, healthier, more effective player and that with Cousins, he would have another weapon that could help catapult the Pelicans ever further toward the top of the Western Conference. But the half-empty glass might yield another conclusion.
At the end of the day, although he still hasn’t appeared in a single playoff game, Cousins is regarded as a game-changing talent and is one of the few players available on the free agency market this summer that could justify an annual average salary of $30 million. In all likelihood, the Pelicans will re-sign him for a sum that approaches that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best move.
In the end, the Clippers traded Griffin for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a first round pick and a second round pick. All things considered, it was a great haul for the Clippers when you consider that, just a few months prior, they could have lost Griffin as a free agent and gotten nothing in return.
Remarkably, after seeing Griffin dealt to Detroit, in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on a collision course with the Golden State Warriors. Their health a constant concern, the team will have to deal with the pesky perimeter defense of Holiday and Rondo and versatility and two-way effectiveness of Davis.
Nobody gave New Orleans a chance against Portland, and for sure, not many people are going to believe in their ability to score an upset over the defending champions. But believe it or not, New Orleans has become a different team. And they’ve done so without Cousins.
Indeed, believe it or not, the Clippers gave us a blueprint for what a team should do when it has a superstar who might not be the best long-term fit for their program.
And if the Pelicans were wise, they’d be smart to follow it.
NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams
This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.
This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.
As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.
With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.
Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.
Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.
With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.
However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?
Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.
Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.
In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.
So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.
However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.
Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.
At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.
Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.
For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.
On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.
With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.
Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.
Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.
Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success
The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.
The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.
The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.
Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.
He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.
“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”
It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.
Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.
“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”
The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.
This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.
“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”
Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.
While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.
“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”
Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.
For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.
“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”
These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.
This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.
“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”