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June 29, 2016

Sam Hinkie (sort of) speaks out: 5 key takeaways

Former Sixers GM profiled in ESPN The Magazine

Sixers NBA

It's been nearly three months since Sam Hinkie, martyr for the hope Sixers fans currently possess, resigned as general manager of the team amid an apparent league-wide coup.

Hinkie has been, in typical Hinkie fashion, silent; he turned down an opportunity to appear on SportsRadio 94WIP on draft night (and really, who can blame him, considering how one of the station's hosts treats him).

On Wednesday, we heard from Hinkie for the first time in months. Well, sort of. Hinkie had allowed ESPN The Magazine writer Jordan Brenner to join him on some scouting trips — just weeks before he quit.

There's a lot to take in, from Hinkie reportedly "plowing" his way through a chalupa, to him visiting La Colombe in Fishtown, to the republication of a fake Abraham Lincoln quote. If nothing else, though, here are five key takeaways:

1. He wasn't afraid of getting fired

...if Hinkie knew he was on his way out in March, he had an odd way of showing it. His words from those interviews now read as blindly prophetic, like those of a man pondering his own death without knowing that it was imminent.

"So many of my friends will tell me, 'Don't do that. Don't try that. It's going to end poorly. They'll run you out,'" Hinkie would later say. "And that's the reason to do it, because fear has been the motivating factor for way too many people for way too long. There's a huge agency problem in the whole business, particularly in my role: Keep the job."

2. Agents and GMs didn't like him because he was good at his job

Adds one Western Conference executive: "Sam's a hard-nosed negotiator, which is intimidating to some people. There's a bit of 'what's behind the curtain?' with Sam. People don't know what his factors are. It's not as straightforward as 'I like that guy.'"

Agents had their own concerns. Hinkie became known for drafting players in the second round and signing them to four-year partially guaranteed contracts. Without any leverage, agents were forced to accept those team-friendly terms, but they didn't have to like it.

Those decisions had consequences: Agents and rival GMs were happy to turn Hinkie into the embodiment of every negative stereotype of the analytics movement.

3. Adam Silver may have had a bigger hand in pushing him out

... interviews with more than a dozen league sources -- including GMs, other executives and agents -- suggest that the commissioner's involvement in that regime change may have been greater than he has let on.

Some sources claim Philly's ownership group had grown impatient with Hinkie's lack of a clear timetable to be competitive and had been worn down by constant criticism. Others suggest Silver pressured the 76ers into making a change.

The league has never hidden its distaste for tanking, and sources around the NBA say Silver grew more irritated after the Sixers lost their first 18 games last fall and Okafor was involved in multiple off-court incidents. Ultimately, those sources say, it is likely that a combination of all those factors led to Jerry Colangelo's hiring.

4. 'Gross incompetence is acceptable; strategic gaming of a flawed system is not'

Now consider this: The Lakers won 17 games this season, and their prized rookie, D'Angelo Russell, secretly filmed a conversation in which he asked teammate Nick Young about being with women other than his then-fiancée, Iggy Azalea. Yet no one blamed that incident on the organization's culture the way Okafor's troubles were linked to The Process.

Consider too: The Kings haven't finished with a .500 record since 2005-06 and just hired their sixth coach in five years. In neither case did the NBA force a regime change.

By stepping in and facilitating the Jerry Colangelo move in Philadelphia, then, Silver sent a message: Gross incompetence is acceptable; strategic gaming of a flawed system is not.

5. The Process scared Silver

So it was, league sources say, that the glorification of The Process (by those who actually thought it would work) scared the commissioner, perhaps even more than the condemnation. Silver has made no secret of his desire to reform the lottery, a system in place for 32 years. And it's doubtful that 17 owners would have voted to reduce the odds that the worst team got the top pick, as they did in 2014, had there not been sound logic behind the Sixers' plan (23 votes were required to pass the measure).

You can read the whole piece here.