Hinkie: Sixers' challenges 'not for the faint of heart'


Hinkie: Sixers' challenges 'not for the faint of heart'

When the press conference began, only two men sat down in front of the Sixers' backdrop to face the media. They hadn’t said anything yet, which was fine, because the scene said plenty.

Two men. Not a parade of countless owners crowding onto the platform to soak in the spotlight. Not the team’s ever-growing roster of consultants. Two men. That was it. Majority owner Joshua Harris was seated next to his newest hire -- Sam Hinkie, the man who was officially announced as the organization’s president and general manager on Tuesday at PCOM.

Harris reportedly took the lead in finding someone to replace former president Rod Thorn (now a consultant for the team) and former general manager Tony DiLeo (now a nice but unemployed man). Hinkie was his hire. That’s the main power structure these days. Harris and Hinkie and whomever they bring in to coach the team.

That’s the next undertaking for the franchise -- finding a head coach. It is a big task, but it is one of many. Because while the Sixers now have someone to lead the front office -- someone respected for his deep knowledge of advanced analytics and salary cap nuance -- the organization still has many chores ahead.

“The challenge in front of us is not for the faint of heart,” Hinkie admitted. “It humbles me, in fact. But it also invigorates me to get to work.”

“Humbles” was an interesting word. “Frightens” might have been a better choice, but it was his first day on the job. Perhaps the terror will set in a little later.

If the Sixers are a home improvement project, Hinkie and his basketball construction staff can either tear the entire structure down to the foundation and rebuild, or they can keep what they like and renovate everything else. There is no right or guaranteed approach.

As Hinkie said, it’s a “hard league” and there aren’t any “silver bullets where you do one thing and it makes it really easy overnight.” By most accounts, he is a smart man, but he isn’t a wizard who can say a spell and undo the copious mistakes that were made before he was pried away from the Houston Rockets.

So, about those challenges. Care to outline them?

“The situation that the franchise is in right now after a well-documented big trade that didn’t end in a way that people are comfortable with,” Hinkie said. “And so now you really have to face yourself in the mirror everyday and look at the reality of what’s here and the reality of what can be.”

Again, it was his first day. He’s probably still looking for the coffee machine and someone to go to lunch with, so we’ll help him out. What’s here: Not much. What can be: That’s a much tougher topic.

The Sixers need a head coach. They have limited assets in terms of players who can be valuable to them on the court or in trades. The draft is approaching (Hinkie leaves for the pre-draft camp in Chicago on Wednesday). And they’ll have to get creative with the salary cap if they want to free up money for free agency this offseason or next.

All of that falls under Hinkie’s purview. So does the Andrew Bynum decision, which might be the toughest of all. Again, tear down the whole thing and start over or try to renovate and hope for the best? Maybe you think the Sixers’ decision should be obvious one way or the other, but if Hinkie sees things that way he wasn’t letting on. Not on Tuesday.

Hinkie was asked about Bynum and whether the trade is officially over as far as the organization is concerned. The question had an obvious undertone: Is the franchise finished with Bynum? Hinkie paused for a while before answering. For five long seconds, actually.

“I don’t think there’s anything else to be said about the trade except the way people think about it in hindsight,” Hinkie said. “If your question is about Andrew in particular, which I suspect it is, which is fine, I suspect this makes me boring, I think of Andrew like the thousands of other young men walking around the world that are unrestricted free agents that have the potential to play NBA basketball. And he is one of those. And I am duty-bound to consider them, to look at them, all of them.”

You can read and re-read that quote and here’s what you’ll come away with: Not much. There are a lot of words in that response but not much information. If Hinkie knows what he wants to do about Bynum -- or a head coach or Evan Turner or Thaddeus Young or Jrue Holiday or in free agency or the upcoming draft -- he’s keeping it to himself, at least for now.

“I started my career out of college in the business world in using data to help people make complicated decisions,” Hinkie said. “It turns out it helps. It helps a lot.”

He’d better hope so.

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

The Sixers officially get back to work Wednesday night in their regular-season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder (see game notes).

Before tip-off, CSNPhilly.com Sixers insider Jessica Camerato and CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick run the Give and Go to break down some burning questions surrounding the team.

What is the one stat that will most define the Sixers' season?


The Sixers want to build a defensive identity and understandably so — they ranked last in the league in rebounds with a minus-518 differential and were outscored by 10.2 points per game, also last in the NBA. That being said, I am looking at turnovers this season. Last season, the Sixers were prone to throwing away points with errors. They ranked 29th (second to the Suns) with 16.6 turnovers per game. The team is down two ball handlers in Jerryd Bayless and Ben Simmons (both injured), which heightens the challenge. In order for the Sixers to get into any type of rhythm and build an offensive flow, they have to actually maintain possession.

It's got to be defense.

Brett Brown is banking on Joel Embiid being the centerpiece to the team's defense, and he better be for the head coach's sake. Embiid also better get some help from the guys around him on that end of the floor or it will be another year-long parade of bad rotations, easy buckets at the rim and wide-open jumpers. In Brown's three years as Sixers head coach, the team has ranked 29th, 20th and 30th in opponents' points per game. That has to change if the Sixers want to take the next step in their rebuild.

With an abundance of big men and Simmons eventually taking the court as the team's main facilitator, the Sixers need players that can shoot. Last season, they took the eighth-most three-point attempts in the NBA while finishing 24th in three-point percentage. That second number has to go up if the Sixers ever want to create floor space.

Who will be the Sixers' MVP?


The towering 7-foot-2 presence is going to be the dominating force on both ends. Brown intends for Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense and the offense to go through Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, whose role is restricted (knee). Embiid has shown in a small sampling of preseason games he is capable of leading the team on all sides of the floor.

Of course the answer is Embiid, but let's go another route and say Brown.

The coach got an extension last season and also received a boost in roster talent. Now he just has to figure out how the pieces fit together. That didn't go so well with Okafor and Nerlens Noel a season ago, but playing those two together was essentially the only intriguing thing about the Sixers in 2015-16, which is why Brown stuck with the pairing. With better players to mix and match this time around, I believe Brown will figure out some solid options to have the squad in better position to compete on a nightly basis.

The easy pick is Embiid, but I'm going a little outside the box with Dario Saric.

The 22-year-old Croatian showed off the versatility of his game during the preseason. He's an old school player that excels in the team game. He's what's often referred to as a "glue guy." He has skill, but the skills he lacks he makes up for with grit and basketball savvy.

What is your season projection for the Sixers?

This season was supposed to be a bridge year, the start of rebuilding. That will be delayed until the team is healthy with key players like Simmons, Okafor and Noel back at 100 percent. In the meantime, the Sixers' outlook is better than last season’s 10-win total but less than earlier projections with Simmons in the lineup. Because of injuries, I am shifting their win projection to 19.

The injury bug, starting with No. 1 overall pick, Simmons, has certainly put a damper on the Sixers' projected win total. Las Vegas odds books originally set the mark at 27½, which seemed like a long shot even with a full roster. I say they show strides but fall just shy of doubling last season's win total and finish with 19.

This really depends on the return of Simmons. Simmons will make this team so much better on both ends of the floor. Bayless' absence early will hurt this team as well. And don't forget about all the minutes restrictions. The Sixers are going to struggle early on, but if Simmons returns in January, I think this team can double its win total from last season and win 20 games.

Sixers-Thunder 5 things: Season opener is here, let the fun begin

Sixers-Thunder 5 things: Season opener is here, let the fun begin

Finally, basketball is back.

The Sixers will look to put their miserable 2015-16 season behind them when they get the 2016-17 campaign underway with Wednesday's season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Wells Fargo Center (8 p.m./CSN, Pregame Live at 7).

It should be a fun ride. Let's take a look at the season-opening matchup:

1. Long time coming
If you thought you had a long wait for Wednesday's opener, just think how Joel Embiid and Dario Saric feel.

For Embiid, it will be especially gratifying to take the court for a regular-season game. After being selected No. 3 overall by the Sixers in 2014, the center has been forced to sit out two straight seasons because of a pair of surgeries on his troublesome right foot and endured countless hours of rehab.

Now healthy and fresh off averaging 11.4 points and 6.0 rebounds in 14.7 minutes during the preseason, Embiid is ready for his first meaningful game action in 970 days.

"I can't wait (for Wednesday's game)," Embiid said, per the Inquirer. "That's going to be my first official NBA game. I just went through the preseason. I thought I got better game by game. I'm looking to finally get that first game."

As for Saric, he spent the past two years playing for Anadolu Efes in Turkey after being the 12th overall selection in 2014 and traded to the Sixers. By joining the Sixers a year early, the Croatian, who averaged 10.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21.1 minutes during the preseason, passed on an opportunity to potentially earn more money.

Both Embiid and Saric have shown their committment to "Trust the Process" from the start, and now the rookies will finally get to prove their worth on the court for the Sixers.

2. Don't forget there is a D in Philadelphia
With Embiid, Saric, Jahlil Okafor, (maybe) Ben Simmons and some added outside shooting, offense shouldn't be an issue for the Sixers this season. However, the other end of floor remains a work in progress.

Head coach Brett Brown stressed Embiid's need to be the Sixers' anchor on defense throughout the preseason.

“He needs to be the crown jewel, the centerpiece to our defense,” Brown said of Embiid.

That was hard to do with the big man averaging just 14.7 minutes a game during the preseason. With Nerlens Noel sidelined because of knee surgery and a host of new faces trying to find chemistry together, it was more of the same defensive issues as the Sixers allowed 107.1 points per game during exhibition play.

Now, we get it, it's only preseason and a lot of the problems on defense have something to do with the roster's lack of talent in recent years. But it's still a continuing trend for the Sixers under Brown. In his three seasons at the helm, the Sixers have allowed averages of 107.6, 101.0 and 109.9 points per game.

Sure, Embiid can be the centerpiece on defense, but he can't be the only piece.

3. Watch out for Westbrook
Speaking of defense ... it will be tested right from the start by one of the NBA's best offensive players in OKC point guard Russell Westbrook.

With Kevin Durant's bitter departure to the Golden State Warriors, the Sixers and the rest of the league can expect a supremely focused Westbrook.

Just how focused? In 61 career games without Durant, Westbrook has averaged 28.0 points, 8.4 assists and 7.1 rebounds.

Those are MVP-type numbers. And you better believe Westbrook is out to prove he's capable of pulling in that hardware and much more without his former superstar teammate.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (ankle) is expected to play in the opener. Simmons (foot), Noel (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Alex Abrines (hip) is expected to play for the Thunder.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost 14 straight matchups to the Thunder.

• Westbrook, who had triple-doubles in both games against the Sixers last season, has averaged 22.0 points, 9.4 assists and 7.9 rebounds against them in his career.

• Brown is 1-2 in season openers as Sixers head coach.

• Nik Stauskas scored a career-high 23 points in the March 18 meeting between the two teams last season.

• The Thunder grabbed 65 and 68 rebounds in the two games against the Sixers a season ago.