CHICAGO – Regardless of what one thinks of the job Sam Hinkie did in Philadelphia – dredging, dredging and dredging some more with his notorious “Process” that never advanced beyond a foundation pour – the 76ers’ former president and GM was working within the rules of the system.
To avoid getting stuck in the middle of the standings, Philadelphia under Hinkie opted to lose big – “tank” is the indelicate term for it these days – in order to improve his franchise’s draft-lottery odds and eventually get the bounce of accumulated young talent.
So when Jerry Colangelo, the longtime NBA owner and impresario turned consultant to the 76ers, met with reporters before the season finale at United Center Wednesday, the question was put to him: If a system encourages teams to win by losing, isn’t that a message to the league that the system needs an overhaul?
Colangelo deftly finessed his answer.
“I think historically in sports, not just basketball, teams have positioned themselves to draft people. To win certain games – call it strategy,” said Colangelo, who knew of such things dating back to 1969, when his Phoenix Suns were hopeful of drafting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – until losing a coin flip with Milwaukee.
“When a system is promoted somewhat like we had in Philadelphia, that existed [to a degree] that I don’t think will continue to exist going forward, it’s more about ‘Let’s do it in a systematic way, to use the assets, build a team.’ And there is a fundamental way to do that.”
Boil it down and it’s pretty clear: Tanks but no tanks. Those days are over in Philadephia.
In his first extended public comments since Hinkie’s resignation last week, Colangelo – brought in by ownership to oversee a rebuilding that struggled to find traction – disputed reports that he ran off Hinkie while embracing a reconfiguration of the front office that now is headed by his son, Bryan Colangelo.
“What happened here is, Sam had a plan,” the elder Colangelo said. “He accumulated a lot of assets. Many of those assets are in place. There’s also been draft picks over the last three years and judgment as to what that looks like, and what kind of return you get on those individuals.
“But the combination of what’s there in place, Sam should always be credited for accumulating those assets. There’s no doubt about that. But there’s a lot of work to put those assets to work.
“And then when you make selections, you’ve got to be right on the selections. And it’s pretty hard to have an open-ended situation because at some point you’ve got to win. So the attitude is, we want to win.”
In particular, Colangelo took exception to speculation that he had leaked Hinkie’s philosophical, 13-page resignation letter, a development that reportedly embarrassed Hinkie when his private thoughts about the team, the vaunted “process” and his decision to step down were made public. Colangelo said he received Hinkie’s letter on his phone at the same time as the team’s multiple owners and said “a national writer” claimed to have a copy within five minutes.
“Email. All the owners got it and I did,” Colangelo said, adding that he was home in Phoenix preparing for a speaking engagement. “So I started reading it to my wife. When I saw ‘resignation,’ that came out of the blue. Totally out of the blue.
“It took me a long time to read it. I didn’t quite understand all of it. Ya know I went to [the University of] Illinois… I put the phone down, went up and changed and went on my merry way.”
Of Hinkie’s decision to resign, Colangelo said: “His intelligence is off the charts. And the analytical part of it is off the charts. He’s a good man. He’s a good guy. But he felt that he was hired to do a job and he had a couple of roles as president and GM. And if that was going to change, then he just didn’t feel comfortable sticking with that. I respect that.”
Colangelo has maintained that he stepped back from Philadelphia’s hiring process even before his son’s name surfaced first to work alongside Hinkie, now to replace him. Bryan Colangelo has a cupboard far less bare than the one Hinkie inherited. Or any that Jerry Colangelo took over, as it turns out.
“It’s a great opportunity when you have assets,” the father said. “Look, everything I’ve ever done has been start-up. And when you usually start up a professional sports team, they don’t give you a lot of assets. You usually draft last in the Draft. The guys you get in expansion aren’t guys you would write home about. It takes a while to build a product. It takes a lot of time.”
Time was up on Hinkie’s approach, that’s all.
“Here’s where I am on all of this; I’m just kind of covering it because that’s what you wanted to hear,” Colangelo said. “But I’m done with it. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I think all that’s important is that we now have someone in place who I think is going to do a great job for the Philadelphia 76ers. He threw himself in immediately. And it’s exciting in terms of what lies ahead for all the right reasons. The draft picks, the free agency, the things that already have been put into motion.”