June 27, 2016

Let’s be clear: The only thing Sam Hinkie was good at was losing

A misguided fan thought it was clever to hold up a sign at the Sixers’ draft party last week that proclaimed: “Sam Hinkie Died For Your Sins.” Indeed, in the land of the stupid, the former GM has become a godlike presence hovering over the team as it rebuilds.

What these clueless cultists aren’t clear-headed enough to understand is that Hinkie was good at one thing only, and that was losing basketball games. During his three-year tanking process, the Sixers were 47-199. As football legend Bill Parcells often said, you are what your record says you are.

Make no mistake. Above all, Hinkie was a loser.

It was inevitable, from the moment when Hinkie bade goodbye with a typically absurd 13-page letter of resignation, that he would become a martyr to his legion of zealots. No one accumulated assets like Sam Hinkie, they argue. Look at the bounty of young players and draft picks he left behind. Blah, blah, blah.

The truth is, he was a bad drafter and an abysmal team-builder. New GM Bryan Colangelo found out how bad when he tried to trade Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel for draft picks comparable to the respective No. 3 and 6 selections Hinkie used to acquire the players. No deal.

Okafor is such a liability on defense that Boston balked at the notion of handing over their No. 3 pick for him this year, and Noel was deemed insufficient return in a package with Robert Covington and two later first-round picks.

How does that harsh reality coincide with this growing outcry to deify Hinkie? After three years of gruesome failure on the court, Hinkie whiffed on many, if not all, of his first-rounders. The only player who can redeem the ex-GM is Joel Embiid, and – after two years on the sidelines – he is going to have to play a game first.

Embiid was the No. 3 pick in Hinkie’s second draft, and his twice-broken foot must face the rigors of an 82-game NBA schedule. Good luck with that.

Sam Hinkie was not an innovator; he was a con man. The best example is his infatuation with acquiring second-round picks. In all, he collected 10 during his three-year tenure. So far, none has made a significant contribution. He said they could be used as trade chips. That hasn’t happened, either.

The cultists love to talk about Hinkie’s process, but they ignore what he gave up and what he got in return. Under his reign, Hinkie traded Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and his own first-rounder, Michael Carter-Williams, for an array of nonentities like Arsalan Kazemi and Furkan Aldemir and a handful of draft picks.

Fortunately, he is not around to squander the top selections still remaining for the Sixers – the Lakers’ No. 1 next year (unless they finish in the top three in the lottery) and Sacramento's in 2019. Based on his past record, he would have swapped them for future picks anyway.

Hinkie will be a false hero to many irrational fans in Philadelphia as time goes on. To these wackos, he will be responsible for the inevitable rise of a 10-win team to, maybe, 30 next season, and perhaps the playoffs the following year. They will ignore the fact that, after three years of tanking, there is nowhere to go but up.

Sam Hinkie did not die for your sins, Philadelphia. They were his own sins, and his demise here was a mercy killing.

***

To the shock of no one, the Sixers picked Ben Simmons with the No. 1 selection in the NBA draft last week, risking the future of the franchise on a 19-year-old Australian player with undeniable athletic gifts but also some worrisome qualities.

Based on a busy week for the surprisingly engaging young man, I would like to revise my bleak outlook for the new face of our basketball team. I stand by my deep concerns about his ability to shoot, but it appears that his character issues were overstated – especially by me.

The basic perception after a disappointing freshman year at LSU is that Simmons stopped giving full effort as the season unraveled, refusing to play defense, objecting to a berth in the NIT and turning down an invitation to play for his national Olympic team. Apparently, Simmons had good reason for these missteps.

After speaking with him last Friday, I came away convinced that his priorities all along have been aligned with those of the Sixers. He denies quitting in the latter stages of the season – I’m not sure about that – but he doesn’t shy away from the notion that his entire focus has been on turning pro.

He has put on 20 pounds of muscle since the end of his only college season – working out with LeBron James, no less. He also deftly handled all media assignments last week, even appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. He is clearly not the shrinking violet we were told he had been at LSU.

In fact, if the kid plays half as good a game as he talks, the Sixers might be all right, after all. He is open to occupying any position on the court – including serving as a 6-10 point guard, if necessary – and he does carry an aura, an unmistakable charisma, that suggests he will not be the bust I have been predicting.

Am I backing off my outright claim that Simmons will not be a star? No, I’m not. But let’s just say that after a week of watching him closely, I really hope that I’m wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

***

In this extremely rare (we hope) draft season, three of our losing franchises had either the first or second picks in their respective sports. So, who made the best decision? There clearly is a winner.

First, the Eagles traded up to the No. 2 pick for North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz, a bright 23-year-old with a big arm. Then the Phillies claimed Mickey Moniak, an 18-year-old outfielder with speed, a solid bat and an old-fashioned love of the game. And finally, the Sixers grabbed 19-year-old Ben Simmons. (See above.)

I added their ages here because therein lies the answer to which team prevailed in the intra-city competition. The Eagles are the winners because they took someone with significant experience, a track record that extends beyond high school (Moniak) or one year of college (Simmons).

Yes, Wentz never faced the best competition while competing in FCS (1-AA), but he did play all four years of his college eligibility (42 games) and performed especially well in the playoffs. At 23, he is hardly a finished product, but at least he didn’t just get back from his prom. He is a man.

Simmons, who finishes second in this mock derby, is the only player among the three expected to contribute immediately to his pro team, but his disappointing finish at LSU suggests, at the very least, a major learning curve in the NBA. The good news is, he showed a maturity beyond his years in his media debut as a pro last week.

Moniak is an engaging kid – I have had a chance to speak to all three top prospects on my WIP radio show – but he is still just that, a kid. By its very nature, baseball drafting is precarious, and the Phillies made it more so by laying a huge bet on such a young player.

I would have chosen the best college player with the No. 1 baseball pick – probably lefty starter A.J. Puk of the University of Florida – and I would have traded down for either Buddy Hield or Kris Dunn, two young players who were far more tested in college than Simmons was.

Drafting young players is hard enough; the Sixers and Phillies added to the uncertainty by takings athletes still in their teens. Of course, I should repeat what I wrote here last week. No one ever really knows.

And finally ...

     • The big hero at the NBA draft last week was Jay Wright, the Villanova coach who somehow won a national championship with not a single player who was chosen. John Calipari of Kentucky had three. Jim Boeheim of Syracuse had two. Wright had none. When we look back on 2016, Wright’s season will rank among the best coaching jobs of all time.

     • The anti-climactic NHL draft went off without a hitch one day after the NBA extravaganza, with Flyers GM Ron Hextall claiming seven forwards. Let’s hope a couple of them can become what the team needs most: scorers. Hextall said he was very happy with the way things came out. Just one question: Has a GM ever said he wasn’t happy after a draft?

     • At the risk of piling on here, I must point out that Mark Sanchez – one of the dumbest quarterbacks in Eagles history when under pressure in the pocket – is not much smarter when it comes to money. He admitted last week he was bilked out of more than $7 million in a Ponzi scheme. In other words, he is a butt-fumbler off the field, too.

     • This brutal stretch by the Phillies is much worse to bear because they played so well for most of the first two months of the season. If you need someone to blame – I always do – don’t look at manager Pete Mackanin or the dysfunctional roster. Blame the front office for doing and saying nothing. The bosses owe fans some input, don’t they? Isn’t it their job?

     • The Phillies have a batting average of .213 at Citizens Bank Park this season, the lowest in the recorded history of Major League Baseball. That’s well over 100 years. By the way, good seats are still available.