It’s been nearly three months since Sam Hinkie resigned, said his 13-page peace, and vanished into the abyss. Today, ESPN the Magazine published the first words we’ve heard from Hinkie since then, though they come from the past.
Jordan Brenner sat down with Hinkie twice during the NCAA tournament to talk to him about… whatever. But it turned into a postmortem retrospective on how he looked at players and how his influence affected the league. One passage especially foreshadowed what was to come:
“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.”
Sam didn’t look at things that way. He was the Ned Stark of the NBA. Full of honor and integrity and doing things “his way.” So blinded by those things he didn’t see the inevitable coming: Jerry Colangelo dropping the broadsword on his neck in front of his children. (In this scenario, Adam Silver is Cersei. Enjoy that image.)
But what was it that set him on this path? What was his “I’m gonna take the throne until Joffrey’s of age, and you can’t stop me” moment? As it turns out, it was our fault:
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).
This statement probably speaks more to those inside the NBA and front offices who thought The Process might work than your average Bob Analytics Dork, but the message is the same. The prospect of The Process working is what forced Silver’s hand, not lack of ticket sales for other teams or some idea of the “integrity of the game.” As Brenner writes, “it’s how he was undone that’s most telling of all and suggests how leagues are prone to respond when forced to face truths about themselves.”
Hinkie was dead set on exploiting the rules of the NBA for his team’s own gain, and Silver didn’t care for that. But it’s not because the Sixers were “bad” or a “losing culture.” Look at LA and Sacramento, as Brenner does:
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.
Sam Hinkie may never get another job in the NBA. And if he does, having made an enemy of the league’s commissioner is not a great jumping-off point. But if he does, and that’s a big if, he’s better off being just straight-up horrible at his job than thinking too far ahead. It worked for Billy King and kept him employed way past his sell by date. So just be bad at your job. Be Mitch Kupchak. Be Vlade Divac. You’ll at least be employed.