Lost amid all the Phoenix-related insanity was Stan Van Gundy doing his thing and picking up Reggie Jackson for the basketball equivalent of loose change, the Blazers adding someone to their bench who is actually good, and of course, Sam Hinkie picking up a couple more assets.
It’s Hinkie, and his alleged master plan, that are the subject of an excellent piece from Pablo Torre in ESPN The Magazine. Here’s how it starts:
It’s a snowy January afternoon in New York City, and Sam Hinkie and I are having a two-hour lunch inside an upscale, dimly lit restaurant on Park Avenue. This is no small concession: Hinkie, the hypercompetitive general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, has a hyperactive brain that runs cost-benefit analysis as relentlessly as a normal human breathes oxygen. To label the 37-year-old press-shy would be woefully inadequate. By Hinkie’s math, talking on the record, about pretty much anything, unfailingly grades out as a cost.
“Sam views everything said in public as information given away for free,” one ex-colleague of his later explains. Or as Rockets GM Daryl Morey, Hinkie’s previous boss, tells me, “In terms of personality, we’re extremely different — for better and for worse.”
It was Morey who co-founded and presides over the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, an annual social event designed around the sharing of quantitative insight. Morey jousts media criticism, scraps with Charles Barkley on Twitter and urges questions on Reddit. By contrast, his protégé has spoken on the record precisely once since this season began. “They want us to be the same,” Morey says, “but Sam is strategic in everything.” And ever since Philadelphia’s owners entrusted Hinkie with his very first front office, in May 2013, his mind has worked to obscure even the barest hint of competitive advantage for his team.
If you buy into the belief that sports teams are best run “like a business,” then Hinkie’s incessant cost-benefit analyses probably seem like a breath of fresh air; finally, someone who can bring basketball out of the dark ages!
Of course, it’s just as easy to point out that basketball is not a game played with heuristic probability moves, but by ten people on a hardwood floor, and that to actually garner enough revenue to make running the Sixers “like a business” profitable, Hinkie has to present an appealing product to the very human people filling (or not filling) the seats in his team’s arena every night.
And if you’re of the second school of thought, you’d probably be quick to point out that if you click through to that Torre piece (which, again, you should, because it is excellent), you’ll see a picture of three players, labeled the Sixers’ “franchise cornerstones,” two second-year players and one rookie. Before that article actually hits newsstands, one of those three players has been traded.
That player, Michael Carter-Williams, was the lone success story of the first season of the Hinkie Era. This season’s pleasant surprise was K.J. McDaniels, a rookie wing who has quickly earned a reputation for tenacious defense.
McDaniels was also traded Thursday.
It’s days like Thursday that prompt pieces like this one, from Deadspin’s Albert Burneko, decrying Hinkie as a “ridiculous moron.”
One startling scene serves as the crux of ESPN writer Pablo Torre’s very good magazine feature about the braintrust of the Philadelphia 76ers. In it, the general manager of a rival Eastern Conference team calls together a motley assembly of coaches, scouts, media relations experts, retired spies, and straight-up nefarious criminal underworld figures in a dim corner of an anonymous downtown parking garage. The mood is grim and desperate.
“We must learn how they do it,” he whispers, referring to the 76ers, winners of 31 of their last 135 games. “We must unlock their secrets. Stop at nothing. We must crack their code or perish.” He hands out thick manila envelopes filled with grainy black-and-white surveillance photos, clandestine recording devices, and pistol flash suppressors; then, crushable cyanide suicide capsules stashed safely in their false molars, he and his operatives commence their operation. Their professional survival and the fate of the NBA hinge on its outcome.
This sinister gathering never appears in the actual text of Torre’s article, because it has never happened in real life. By all indications, though, it’s pretty much playing on a loop in the movie theater inside Sam Hinkie’s skull. Philadelphia’s general manager and president of basketball operations is a man so convinced that he’s fighting—and winning—a shadow war against the rest of the NBA that he won’t even talk to Pablo Torre about how he got his job lest his hungry competitors find in the anecdote some exploitable opening. (“Oh man, lemme tell you Pablo, I was so nervous, I tripped over my shoelace and almost crushed my enchanted, Milton Friedman-shaped keychain fob, which glows green whenever I’m in the presence of an available second-round draft slot.”) The movie theater is huge and empty and this paranoid, masturbatory fantasy is the only thing echoing around in it. Sam Hinkie is a moron and a fraud.
All that said, and whether you’re pro- or anti-Hinkie, it appears that the Sixers plan to give JaVale McGee actual playing time, which we can all agree is going to at least provide a season’s worth of Shaqtin’ A Fool clips in just the remainder of the season.
It’s another busy day in the NBA, so let’s get to the latest news from around the league:
SANDERS, BUCKS REACH AGREEMENT ON BUYOUT
Honestly, you’ve just got to hope Larry Sanders can get whatever nebulous personal issues he’s been dealing with under control. If he can do that and come back to basketball, great, but dealing with whatever issues he’s having has to come first.
Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders has finalized a buyout agreement on the remaining three-plus years of his contract, clearing the way for him to leave the NBA and work on the personal issues that derailed his career, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
As part of the buyout, Sanders will leave with approximately half of the $44 million extension he signed in 2014, a league source told Yahoo Sports.
Sanders has had repeated violations of the NBA’s anti-drug policy and hasn’t shown an inclination to immediately return to the league. Sanders could become a reclamation project for an NBA team next season, but his desire to play and ability to meet league requirements needs improving.
At his best, Sanders has proven to be a dominant defensive player and an emerging offensive threat. Sanders has been marginally productive since signing the extension. Nevertheless, suspensions and injuries have derailed his career over the past two seasons with the Bucks.
KENDRICK PERKINS BOUGHT OUT, HEADED TO CAVS
After completing a contract buyout with the Utah Jazz, center Kendrick Perkins plans to sign a free agent deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers, his agent Arn Tellem told Yahoo Sports on Saturday.
Perkins’ reps and the Jazz reached agreement on the buyout on Saturday afternoon, and Perkins can sign with the Cavaliers once he clears waivers on Monday at 5 p.m. EST.
Perkins strongly considered the Los Angeles Clippers, too.
For the Cavaliers, Perkins will be a backup center to Timofey Mozgov.
VAN GUNDY, JACKSON DISCUSS TRADE
First, the new Pistons point guard on an emotional day (yet again, from Woj at Yahoo!):
“You’re my point guard,” the president and coach of the Pistons said, and soon they hung up, and Reggie Jackson crumpled and started to sob. He couldn’t stop. He cried and cried and cried. And, now, 24 hours later, Jackson was on the phone with a reporter, and it was happening again.
Reggie Jackson was crying again, because life seldom connects such angst and triumph in such a compressed period of time. One day, he’s under siege in Oklahoma City. And the next, he was suddenly embraced in Auburn Hills. This had been so much to process, so fast, and Jackson was still coming to grips with it all Friday afternoon.
“I’ve always dreamed about this, and I was never sure it would happen,” Jackson told Yahoo Sports. “Stan believes in me, in the leader that I can be. He believes in the player that I can be, and I’ve always imagined having a coach like this, an opportunity like this, in the NBA.”
“I wasn’t always perfect, nor was the situation, but I became the brunt of the blame there,” Jackson said. “Everything bad that happened, I was the scapegoat. I’m taking all this blame, and I’m wondering: ‘How am I supposed to change it all here, make an impact, in eight minutes a game?’ Everybody is jumping down my neck, and it gets annoying when I’m supposed to have this great impact playing so little this season.
“All of a sudden, I’m the bad locker room guy. I’m the problem…”
Jackson was talking through the tears now, trying to make you understand why he felt so liberated, why he was so thrilled to climb aboard that flight to Detroit on Friday morning.
“The whole time, I was honest,” he said. “I wanted to start. And then, I became the problem in the locker room to people who have never been in our locker room. …I mean, come on.
“Coming here, this is such a weight off my shoulders, a new beginning. To come play with a new group of guys, to start to change this perception of me, I can’t wait to get to the arena tonight and meet them all.”
And there might not be a better situation in the NBA for Jackson to go to than the Pistons, who look to be on the rise behind Van Gundy and his rehabilitation of the careers of Brandon Jennings (before his season-ending injury), Jodie Meeks, and really, the Pistons in general.
For his part, SVG is pleased to have Reggie on board, writes Keith Langlois of NBA.com:
“Two things, more than anything, other than just his overall play,” Stan Van Gundy cited about what drew the Pistons to Jackson as a core piece to slot alongside Andre Drummond, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and – if it works out for both sides in free agency – Greg Monroe. “No. 1 is how he’s played when he’s had the chance to be a starter. He’s been outstanding. And how he’s played in big games, particularly in playoff games. This is a guy who’s been very good. I don’t think there was much question around the league as to this guy’s ability.”
If there were any questions in the aftermath of Thursday’s deal that sent Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin to Oklahoma City and also cost the Pistons second-round draft choices in 2017 and ’19 about the Pistons’ interest in Jackson beyond this season, Van Gundy buried them emphatically.
“We wouldn’t have made the move we did if we didn’t feel ready to make it a long-term commitment,” Van Gundy said Friday. “There’s no guarantees. He’s a (restricted free agent). We know we can keep him through next year no matter what he does, but we feel good about making a long-term commitment to him and hopefully he’ll feel real comfortable making a long-term commitment here and we’ll get it done.
“We’ve got a chance to put together a really solid young core and continue to develop them. You’ve got to have some patience, but I’m not all that patient, so hopefully it will come together sooner. But you do see a window there and it’s not a short window. It’s not a two- or three-year window.”
Van Gundy sees in Jackson a terrific pick-and-roll player who should flourish in that role when paired with Andre Drummond. Jackson’s primary pick-and-roll option in Oklahoma City was finding an open Kevin Durant, so there’ll be an adjustment period, but the center-point guard pick and roll is the staple of Van Gundy’s offense and he now has two young players – Jackson, 24, and Drummond, 21 – he hopes will be running it for as long as his five-year contract with the Pistons lasts and beyond.
RANDLE TO RETURN FOR SUMMER LEAGUE
But, according to his coach, he will be back in game action within a year from his injury, reports the Los Angeles Daily News’ Mark Medina:
A mark of the sign of the Lakers’ current demise that coach Byron Scott suddenly looked ahead to the team’s summer league squad in mid-February. But Scott revealed something far more notable than anything surrounding when the Lakers (13-41) host the Boston Celtics (20-32) at Staples Center. Scott said that Lakers rookie forward will “definitely” play on the Lakers’ 2015 Las Vegas Summer League team.
The Lakers’ summer league team will also feature rookie guard Jordan Clarkson and up to four rookies, including a possible top-five pick, a mid first-round pick and two possible second-round selections.
“I already told Julius and Jordan,’” Scott said, “you guys should dominate.”