On the Beat: Brown, Players Appreciative of Hinkie, See Promise Ahead
PHILADELPHIA - In the time that had passed since they both joined the 76ers during the 2013 off-season, Brett Brown and Sam Hinkie formed a tight, close partnership.
Brown, hired three months after Hinkie’s arrival in the Delaware Valley, coached the players that Hinkie assigned to the team’s 15-man roster. The two communicated constantly. They communicated extensively, often long after games were over. They communicated always with the purpose and common goal of moving the franchise forward in a successful, sustainable way.
Wednesday evening, that partnership ended. Hinkie informed the organization of his choice to step down as President of Basketball Operations and General Manager, doing so about a month shy of the completion of his third full year with the team.
“I think on many levels, today is an unfortunate day,” said Brown on Thursday, giving his reaction to the development following the Sixers’ practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “It’s disappointing for him not to be a part of what will happen over the next few months. So I come here more with that flavor of appreciation and gratitude for the efforts and time that he has put in.”
The haul that Hinkie leaves behind is as substantial as it is promising. Through the NBA Draft itself or trades, the Sixers currently are in possession of four lottery selections from the past three years - Nerlens Noel (6th overall, 2013), Joel Embiid (3rd overall, 2014), Nik Stauskas (8th overall, 2014), and Jahlil Okafor (3rd overall, 2015). A fifth lottery acquisition, Dario Saric (10th overall, 2014), has shown signs of noteworthy progress amidst his second campaign with Turkish Basketball Super League affiliate Anadolu Efes, and is expected to be with the Sixers next year.
This June, thanks to transactions executed by Hinkie, the Sixers could hold as many as four first-round selections in the draft, two of which could land in the lottery segment.
Furthermore, Hinkie, along with Brown and the rest of the Sixers’ coaching staff, spearheaded the formation of a relentless player development program. The initiative has peeled back the potential of several second-round prospects, such as Isaiah Canaan, Jerami Grant, and Richaun Holmes, while also discovering free agents like Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, Hollis Thompson, and Ish Smith, all of whom have become regular contributors to the Sixers’ rotation.
“There is some legitimate talent there,” Brown said, referring to the Sixers’ youth. “You look at those three bigs, you’d have to admit there’s talent. I think that when you look at Covington and Jerami, you got to wonder where is their path. Nik Stauskas, you have to wonder where is their path, and so on. Not even talking about Saric or [four] first round draft picks. And so, I think it wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t say the remnants left from the Sam Hinkie era haven’t put the club as we see it in very good shape to move us forward.”
“I think that when we all step back, you look at the path, and the plan was to rebuild, and to put the club in a position where we have these pieces that can leapfrog us forward in a very dramatic way.”
Brown’s comments made clear the Sixers’ preference for Hinkie to remain with the team. He later added that Hinkie “earned the right to see this through.” With Hinkie’s position now vacant, the organization still intends to follow the vision he helped shape.
“We’re committed to the path that we said we were going to be on three years ago,” said Brown, noting that the “next few months are really important” for a franchise aiming to grow “intelligently and respectfully.”
“We’re committed to that, no matter who was going to be in charge this draft, next season.”
“At the end of the day, this isn’t about me, this isn’t about Sam. We’re trying to get this right for that program, and that is true. That is something that drives me.”
Brown’s optimism about the direction of the Sixers is rooted not only in their personnel possibilities, but also investments that management has allocated towards enhancing player training, wellness, and recovery. The Sixers are set to open their new Camden-based headquarters this fall.
“I think that when you look truly at the infrastructure behind our record, when you look at the acquisition of our sports science people, when you look at how we built our coaching staff and how we do business, what we’re about to move into, I feel like we’re bringing a system beneath our record that’s plug-and-play, from free agents, to veterans, to draft picks, to core players, that can understand our culture,” explained Brown. “We’ve been slowly, and progressively, and I think wisely building the foundation to bring over to plug players in. Veterans draft, picks, free agents, current players that we deemed keepers to jump into this in I think a more winning way.”
Thursday morning, Brown briefly addressed Hinkie’s departure with players. Then, the group moved on to another spirited, energized workout.
“Sam being my first GM in this league, and him being the one that selected me, when a lot of people didn’t believe in me, it definitely meant a lot to me,” said Nerlens Noel, whom Hinkie acquired via a swap with New Orleans the night of his first draft with the Sixers. “When I saw him, I always wanted to play at the best of my ability, to always please Sam. I always wanted to continue to make him proud.”
Hinkie frequently cited Robert Covington has one of the Sixers’ top finds on his watch. After tearing through the D-League and appearing in seven NBA games with Houston during the 2013-2014 season, Covington was scooped up by the Sixers as a free agent in November of 2014. In two years with the Sixers, the 25-year old wing man has averaged 12.8 points per game, and has teed off on 313 triples.
“He’s done a lot for this organization. I’m going to miss him because he gave a lot of guys opportunities to showcase their games, me being one myself,” Covington said on Thursday.
“The people that know Sam know this, he’s a good person,” said Brown. “Sam Hinkie is a good person. There wouldn’t be a malicious bone in his body, I think. He’s a kind man, he genuinely cares about his craft. I enjoy talking basketball with him. Late at night, almost after every home game, we were the last people to leave. Those will be my memories of Sam.”
For now, the Sixers are operating without a replacement for Hinkie, but Brown said the team is “in hunt of talent for the front office.” Hinkie was the 12th General Manager in the history of the Sixers.