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February 27, 2017

Sam Hinkie was a much better liar than Bryan Colangelo has turned out to be

OK, I’ll admit it. I miss Sam Hinkie.

That’s right. One of the loudest critics of the ex-GM during his insufferable three years in Philadelphia has become, in a perverse way, a fan. At least Hinkie created an air of mystery about him, a sense that he had some new ideas on how to rebuild the Sixers.

His replacement, Bryan Colangelo, is a snake-oil salesman, stopping by every so often to pitch his latest line of baloney. As the old joke goes, you can always tell when Colangelo is lying. His lips move.

The embattled GM held a news conference on Friday morning after his trade of Nerlens Noel – and failure to deal Jahlil Okafor – to reveal that Ben Simmons will not play basketball at all in his rookie season, the victim of the slowest-healing foot injury in sports medicine history.

Originally, Simmons was expected to miss a couple of months with the foot fracture, but how can we be sure of anything the Sixers tell us these days? Maybe there was never really any chance that the No. 1 pick would play this season. Maybe the Sixers just wanted as many fans as possible to buy tickets in anticipation of his debut.

After all, that’s exactly what they did with their top attraction, Joel Embiid, over the past month, isn’t it? Suffering through the slowest-healing knee bruise in sports medicine history – notice a trend here? – Embiid outed his own organization last week when he said the team was not truthful by saying his status was “day to day”.

“I was told that I was going to miss two to three weeks,” he said, “so I wasn’t happy with the way it was handled.”

Now, why would the Sixers deceive the fans? If there’s a better reason than trying to sell tickets under false pretenses, I’d love to hear it. Of course, by now only the most naïve fans believe anything this organization tells them.

Remember, the Sixers were fined $3 million for lying to the Pelicans about the medical condition of Jrue Holiday before they traded him to New Orleans. And don’t forget the “clean” scan that Colangelo reported on Simmons one month ago. As it turned out, that scan wasn’t clean, nor was the one last week.

If you aren’t convinced yet, consider the most alarming development last week. Lost in Embiid’s outing of the franchise was a comment coach Brett Brown made after his star center told the truth about the knee contusion. Apparently, Brown was just as oblivious to the nature of Embiid’s injury as the fans were.

“I only give you the information I get,” he said.

In other words, Colangelo didn’t even bother to tell the coach his best player would be out two to three weeks. The GM even lied to his own coach.

Wow.

Colangelo tried to spin himself out this tangled web of deceit with a new approach last Friday. He looked sincerely into the camera and admitted his mistake. He said he couldn’t remember how two to three weeks became “day to day,” but he should have handled it differently.

“There’s never, ever been any effort to deceive fans,” he insisted.

The local media should have burst out in laughter after that whopper. Fans are being asked to believe that the Embiid misinformation, and the Simmons misinformation, and all the other deceptions since Joshua Harris bought the team five years ago are just a coincidence, even though the team profited from the lies.

That’s why, as we approach the first anniversary of Hinkie’s departure, I suddenly feel a pang of sadness that he’s gone. Hinkie was so obscure in the way he spoke, so indecipherable, that I could never be sure whether he was telling the truth or not. Has anyone figured out yet what he was saying in that 13-page resignation letter?

On the other hand, I know exactly what Colangelo is saying, and it’s an insult to the intelligence of anyone who has ever loved the Sixers.

Come back, Sam Hinkie.

Compared to Bryan Colangelo, you’re Abe Lincoln.

***

The Eagles have made their first mistake of the off-season, and – sad to say – it’s probably not their last. The decision to keep Jason Peters on the roster at his exorbitant $11.2 million salary is the kind of status-quo thinking the Birds cannot afford right now.

With only around $15 million under the salary cap, Howie Roseman needs to find some room to maneuver in the free-agent market over the next few weeks. Peters, a 35-year-old left tackle in serious decline after a terrific career, was the GM’s best place to find a lot of extra money.

Entering his 14th season, Peters is slower in pass protection, a liability in the run game and has developed a perplexing habit of jumping off-sides. His Pro-Bowl selection last season was based solely on reputation. He wasn’t even the best offensive lineman on his own team; Lane Johnson passed him two seasons ago.

Yes, I know. Johnson missed 10 games with his second drug suspension and is one more banned substance away from losing his career. That has been the best excuse offered for why the Eagles had no choice but to keep Peters. That’s ridiculous. It’s impossible to anticipate every variable in the NFL. It’s dumb to even to try.

With Peters’ salary gobbling up almost six percent of the cap space, Roseman will have to cut Connor Barwin, Mychal Kendricks, Ryan Mathews and maybe even Jason Kelce to pry loose the cash for free agents to upgrade the cornerback and wide receiver corps. Goodbye, veteran depth. Hello, trouble.

And then there’s the story everybody has ignored so far this off-season, the colossal blunder Roseman made when he signed Vinny Curry to an insane five-year, $46-million deal last winter. Curry, who had 2½ sacks last season, will dent the cap for $9 million this year.

In other words, the new, improved Howie Roseman is looking more and more like the old, inept Howie Roseman.

***

Pete Mackanin waited 35 years for a real chance to manage a big-league baseball team, and now he’s waiting again – this time for a sign of the respect he earned last season with the Phillies.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough for this baseball lifer to improve the team’s record by eight games in his first full season as a major-league skipper. It also wasn’t enough that he handled every question, every crisis, with dignity and honor.

For reasons that no one in the organization will explain, Mackanin is a lame duck right now, entering the final season of his contract. How much does he make? The amount has never been disclosed, but it’s safe to say it is, at most, $1 million, a pittance in a billion-dollar industry.

Mackanin has served in just about every job in the game, from player for nine years to minor league manager, to coach, to two interim-manager stints before getting the full-time job here last season. He is 65-years old, and his fate will be decided by a 36-year-old GM, Matt Klentak, whose resume is not nearly as extensive.

When I asked Mackanin on my WIP radio show last week how he felt about the snub, he was careful with his answer. He said he was focusing on the team right now, not his own baseball future.

I don’t believe him. Anyone who has waited so long for a chance in the major leagues wants a real opportunity, not the transition period between eras. Mackanin has proven he is not a human Band-Aid stuck between the legendary Charlie Manuel and whoever comes next. He deserves better than that.

If Klentak wants to be taken seriously, he needs to reward the people who have done their jobs well, not hedge his bet the way he’s doing right now.

Pete MacKanin needs a new contract. He has earned it.

And finally ...

     • Derek Boyko, the best sports PR guy Philadelphia has ever had, left the Eagles last week to join Buffalo as the Bills’ vice president of communications. The Birds already have a VP of communications, Anne Gordon, the media obstructionist who booted Inquirer beat reporter Jeff McLane out of the press box during the final game last season. Anybody who believes Gordon is a better choice for that job than Boyko is insane.

     • Donovan McNabb appeared on WIP last week to offer some new nuggets of wisdom. He suggested Jahlil Okafor is the most talented young player on the Sixers (Has he heard about Joel Embiid?), and he suggested Carson Wentz is no sure thing to repeat his success next season. But McNabb’s best moment was advising Terrell Owens to stop talking. OK, fine. But then isn’t it time for McNabb to take his own advice?

     • Is it just me, or have these outdoor NHL games already run their course? When the Flyers were practicing last Friday in 77-degree weather at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, it must have occurred to someone that the novelty is gone on this silly gimmick. The dull game the next night – a Flyers’ loss – did nothing to change that impression.

     • The two biggest blowhards in college basketball, John Calipari and Rick Pitino, proved last week that they’re a lot better at doling out criticism than taking it. On successive nights, both were told by fans that they, well, suck. Calipari walked away in the middle of a live interview, while Pitino had to be restrained from physically challenging his detractor. With role models like these two coaches, is it any wonder so many young players get into trouble?

• Vince Young, the forgotten quarterback who last played in the NFL five years ago with the Eagles, is trying to trademark “Make Vince Great Again” as he attempts an improbable comeback. After his equally stupid “Dream Team” branding of the 2011 Birds, it’s safe to say Young is no better at slogans these days than he is at football.