There's one passage in Sam Hinkie's incredible resignation letter that explains the problem with Sam Hinkie. The entire missive -- all 7,000 words and 13 pages of it -- is a tremendous critique of a Philadelphia 76ers ownership decision to slice up Hinkie's power to make basketball decisions. Even its format (that of an investor letter) is a flaming troll job against Hinkie's high-finance overlords. If you enjoy watching people give their bosses the middle finger on their way out the door, this is good reading.
But, unfortunately, it's also one long opportunity for Hinkie to show his bosses -- and us -- exactly why this had to end this way. This is the passage that explains the problem with Hinkie (Bold is mine):
There has been much criticism of our approach. There will be more. A competitive league like the NBA necessitates a zig while our competitors comfortably zag. We often chose not to defend ourselves against much of the criticism, largely in an effort to stay true to the ideal of having the longest view in the room. To attempt to convince others that our actions are just will serve to paint us in a different light among some of our competitors as progressives worth emulating, versus adversaries worthy of their disdain. Call me old-fashioned, but sometimes the optimal place for your light is hiding directly under a bushel.
Hinkie is arguing that the Sixers did not and should not have defended their tactics because if they had, other GMs would have seen the light and copied Philly. "Sometimes the optimal place for your light is hiding directly under a bushel." Yes, if only you don't tout your plan to tank for a few years and rebuild through the draft, no one will know what you're doing. Right.
Everyone knows the draft is important. Teams have actually tanked before, though not to this extreme. Some teams have even used cap space as leverage to pick up assets. Franchises have been following versions of this philosophy for at least a decade. Hinkie just turned it up to 11. He took a pretty common recipe, ratcheted up the amount of a couple ingredients and slapped his own name on it.
It appears Hinkie believes himself to be the smartest man in the NBA. And maybe he is. He can namedrop Atul Gawande (Sam finds time to read The New Yorker!) and Amos Tversky. He suggests his young billionaire bosses have coffee with Tim Urban, an explainer cartoonist who Hinkie claims is the next great polymath. (The dude at The Oatmeal weeps.) He thinks the only reason other NBA teams aren't doing what the Sixers are doing is because they don't realize what a smart strategy this is. I hope Sam Presti doesn't choke on his coffee when he reads that.
Even a compliment to a rival comes back as proof of Hinkie's genius. After explaining why missing out on the Joel Anthony trade that netted Boston two second-round picks was a legitimate tragedy, Hinkie credits Danny Ainge's skill.
Danny Ainge finalized that deal (and several other better ones) and received one first-place vote for Executive of the Year that season: mine.
Only Hinkie recognized Ainge's genius! Except, well, two other GMs put Ainge No. 2 on their ballot, and two GMs put Ainge No. 3. So at least four other GMs recognized Ainge's brilliance but decided to give the top nod to R.C. Buford (who won the award), Ryan McDonough, Neil Olshey or Masai Ujiri.
The thing is that Hinkie is smart! He has executed his vision. Well, the first part of his vision, anyway. He demolished the house flawlessly and he's been persistent in hording the assets needed to get the materials. He has a blueprint. But he hasn't actually bought the materials yet, or the ones he has purchased -- Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid -- have been defective in some way. Those failures have meant that instead of seeing a foundation being poured and a frame being built, we're still looking at rubble.
The Hinkie Plan revolved around winning the draft. Three Junes in and he has two Ls and a Meh. You can't put all of your eggs in one basket, drop that basket repeatedly and except to continue to be given eggs ... especially when it appears you have to regularly Sam-splain your genius to your bosses. (Sam Amick reports the letter is indicative of Hinkie's style of internal communication.)
It's not clear whether Hinkie intended for his letter to make it out into the wild. You can actually see both Hinkie and Hinkie's former bosses thinking the letter proves their own cases! To Hinkie, this is a manifesto of what genius he brought to the Sixers, an ode to the much improved position he leaves the franchise. That's accurate. To the Sixers' partners, this is a self-serving case study in overwhelming ego and a sloppy attempt to wrap abject failure in B-school platitudes. Also accurate.
So, the bosses hired a co-project manager -- one with a history of building houses very differently, and one related to Hinkie's new boss. One that will probably have more power than Sam going forward and a bigger bullhorn. He might even use it too, given the need to soothe a ravaged fanbase.
In the end, Hinkie is what you make of him. It's clear what he made of himself, at least. Here's to hoping he finds some self-awareness in his freedom.
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