Sam Hinkie can’t yet put a pin in the exact place on the map, but he does know where he’s going.
You might not like the speed. You might even turn your nose up at the route this season or the blighted scenery that will make up the rest of the schedule.
But you’ll have to admit it’s different — and in the long run preferable — to the hamster wheel that’s taken the 76ers nowhere fast for more than a decade.
That the first-year general manager chose to unload Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen for a pocketful of beans and expiring contracts was simply a continuation of the plan he’s been trying to execute from his first day on the job.
You can’t build something new and lasting on old ground if all you do is switch out the furniture and slap on a fresh coat of paint. That’s really all the Sixers had been doing since back in the days when Allen Iverson and Larry Brown were driving each other crazy all the way to the NBA Finals.
Over the past several years, all the Sixers could hang their jerseys on was a first-round upset of the Bulls in the 2012 that was only accomplished because Derrick Rose had crumpled in a heap.
What’s been needed for quite some time has been for somebody to come in and blow the whole thing up and start from scratch, disregarding all of the old ways and the ingrained local Philly network.
Hinkie has no problem being that guy.
When he finished at the trade deadline, Hinkie’s swapping had produced six second-round draft picks, five new players, a bundle of expiring contracts and $30 million in salary cap room for the summer.
It’s amazing how much fuss there was over letting go three members of a team with a 15-41 record. It’s mind-boggling that even a few folks might have been confused by Hinkie’s actions.
“I think all three of them are playing at a career-best level,” Hinkie told reporters at a news conference on Friday. “Sometimes it’s about the timing of the league. Some of those guys belong in a place. Evan is in Indiana. Indiana is going to be playing in at least May if not June, and this is a time for him to be there. And some of the things we took back are set for the future, or a second in this year’s draft or something else. Those are things that are more appropriate for where we are.
“We’re trying to acquire things that will help us move forward, and the net result of what happened is we picked up six additional second-round picks. Sometimes it’s the players you select, sometimes it’s the players you can trade for in using them, sometimes it’s the combining them to move other places to do other things.”
Of course, Hinkie already got the ball rolling last summer when he made the stunning deal that sent All-Star Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for Nerlens Noel, who has not yet played, and then used the No. 11 pick in the draft to pluck Michael Carter-Williams, who appears to be an elite point guard for the next decade.
The Sixers have the potential for a pick in the top three of this year’s draft and another in the top 12, coming from New Orleans, along with all the second-round picks.
“I think it’ll make our phone ring, for one,” Hinkie said. “And I think it’ll give us choices.”
Sure, it might require covering your eyes if you happen to be forced into the Wells Fargo Center anytime between now and April, and you might not like the NBA system that almost demands a stripping of all assets as the quickest and most prudent way to start over. But it is the system, and in the end, the idea is to work within it. Hinkie’s old boss Daryl Morey and former team owner Leslie Alexander in Houston chose not to hit rock bottom, yet over the past 17 seasons the Rockets have only one playoff series win while constantly reshuffling their deck. Now the Rockets have Dwight Howard and James Harden, but was it worth nearly two decades of tap dancing in mediocrity? The path by Hinkie could and should be shorter to rebirth.
“You often don’t know, so you don’t know how it might play out, and you don’t know what might be available,” Hinkie said. “Lots of things come across the transom, lots of things you look at. It’s part of what we try to do, to have a lot of interesting opportunities to look at. It’s important.
“I think many years will come and go where you’ll have lots of opportunities and you’ll say no to all of them, and it will look like nothing happened because nothing actually transpired. This year, enough things came along that were interesting. I would say that some of the picks — people sort of lump picks together, ‘Aw, it’s just a second’ — some of the picks are quite interesting, some of the picks are quite high and could be even higher. That has real value.
“I think as we get close to the draft, the talent evaluators all start to downplay expectations, ‘Oh, it’s not quite as good as we thought.’ It looks quite strong. All the best teams have been built around great players. Great players. And we’re going to be particularly focused on that for a while in finding great players who can lead us forward.”
Someway, somehow. Which is better than continuing to run in circles.