ESPN dropped a long explainer on the demise of former Philadelphia 76ers GM and marketer of "The Process" Sam Hinkie, and, as conversations surrounding a man who tanked more viciously and purposefully than any team in NBA history usually do, its spawned a lot of opinions.
ESPN takes an oddly warming view of Hinkie, painting the now former GM as an eccentric fellow whose radical plan to lose as many games as possible to collect a vineyard's worth of draft picks will pay off, just without him at the helm. Deadspin takes an alternate view, essentially calling bullshit on any sort of "plan" Hinkie purports to have had and placing the Sixers sudden potential to be a decent basketball team again more on the side of luck in the form of the NBA Draft Lottery than creative scheming.
As a Cavs fan, I've never had a dog in this fight. I've enjoyed observing Hinkie's tooling from afar and following a few diehard 76ers fans/members of the cult of "The Process" on Twitter to try and understand the dedicated following that Hinkie amassed over his tenure. I at least understand the logic behind Hinkie's basic philosophy, in that to win in the current NBA landscape, you need, at the very least, one superstar, and preferably more than that. To do that, your best shot is to lose a ton of games in the regular season to give yourself the best shot of picking 1-3 in the NBA Draft. Free agency is an option, too, but complexities like your team's cap space, location and roster make luring a superstar infinitely more difficult.
But the one problem I do see with The Process, something I witnessed in the dark days of P.L., or Post LeBron, comes from the residual effects of losing, night after night, season after season. In the three years that Kyrie Irving was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers before LeBron returned, the team's record was as follows:
There was marked improvement from year to year, sure, but after his first three seasons as a pro, Irving had lost a total of 152 basketball games and hadn't even sniffed the playoffs. Combine that with a coach (Byron Scott) who was rumored to spend more time on the golf course than he did at the office, and Irving was afloat in a pretty toxic environment, and the cracks showed.
He feuded with backcourt mate Dion Waiters, a quarrel that became so absurd that the two did a joint press conference to inform the Cleveland media that they were indeed friends. Irving's camp, and perhaps Irving himself, continually leaked rumors that Irving wanted out of Cleveland. But Irving's lowest moment came at the end of the 2013-2013 campaign, when he bolted to the locker room after the team's final home game, a loss, and refused to participate in the planned Fan Appreciation Night activities happening on court, in which Irving was supposed to sign his jersey and a pair of shoes and give them to a fan.
Things got even messier after the game when the Cavs attempted to claim Irving had left the court because of a bruised right heel. When Irving met with reporters and was asked about said injury, he responded with this:
When LeBron returned two seasons later, he was appalled at how lax and disjointed the Cavs culture was. Players and coaches alike would show up late to practice, guys were chowing down on chicken fingers as a pregame meal, etc. etc. Things were bad.
I often wonder where Irving's career would have gone had LeBron not arrived to teach the young point guard how to carry himself. Not only had Irving's field goal percentage declined each of his first three years with Cavs, from 47 percent as a rookie to 45 percent in year two and then bottoming out at 43 percent the season before LeBron arrived, but his attitude had plummeted too. And that's the real danger with what Hinkie was doing these past three seasons with heavily hyped draft prospects on his roster. Joel Embiid hasn't played a single game due to injuries, and you don't have to look far to find stories on his reluctance to rehab properly and penchant for reinjuring himself. Jahlil Okafor fought a dude in the middle of the street in Boston, then followed that up by getting pulled over for doing 108 mph over the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Would having some sort of veteran presence on the 76ers roster and fielding a competitive basketball team prevented any of those incidents? Maybe not. But to dismiss any impact those things would have on players that have only experienced winning their entire lives would be naive.
Time will tell whether or not Hinkie's experiment will prove fruitful. Until then, all I would say is tank at your own risk. It almost sucked up Kyrie Irving and spit him back out.