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

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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.

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

NEW YORK -- James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game (see full recap).

DeRozan leads Raptors past Knicks
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the Toronto Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the New York Knicks 116-101 on Sunday.

DeRozan also had five rebounds and five assists before coming out late in the third quarter.

The Raptors improved to 27-13, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter. They led by 38 points in the third in winning their third straight game overall and fifth in a row against the Knicks.

DeMarre Carroll added 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 18 points, Justin Holiday had 17, and Derrick Rose added 16. The Knicks are 2-10 in their last 12 to drop to 18-23 (see full recap).

Hawks stay hot by beating Bucks    
ATLANTA -- Kent Bazemore scored 24 points, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-98 on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and was a tough matchup in the paint for Milwaukee, which dropped 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Hawks in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Bucks have dropped three of five.

Dunleavy, in his second game since arriving in a trade last week with Cleveland, had his first 20-point performance since a first-round playoff game for Chicago on April 30, 2015.

Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in eight games in a breakout season (see full recap)

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz keep on scoring

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz keep on scoring

The Sixers' run of five wins in six games means they have only the fourth-worst record in the league, but that still means Philly is a top contender for a top pick. Add that to the Lakers' pick that will likely be heading to Philly this summer and the Sixers have a chance to be making two high lottery picks this June.

So let's take a look at how some of the players in the conversation for this June's draft are playing in college.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
Week by week, it seems like the obvious move to lead off with Ball. The freshman point guard is averaging 14.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.8 steals and even 0.9 blocks a game. He's shooting lights out (53 percent from the field and 43 percent from three) and has shown no signs of letting up.

This week was an example of the different forms his game can take. In a 104-89 win at Colorado on Thursday, Ball shot the ball just six times, but made three of those attempts (two from beyond the arc) and dished out eight assists. His 11 points were the fewest he had scored in nearly a month.

But then he had to take on the offensive burden against a pesky Utah squad. He still dished out eight assists, but he took 12 shots and efficiently made seven of them. He was 3 for 7 from three and also had six rebounds. Perhaps most impressive was his five steals, a career-high for the well-rounded guard. And better yet, his first 40-minute performance was key to an 83-82 win on the road.

Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington (6-4/195)
With each passing game, it looks more and more likely that Washington will not make the NCAA Tournament. Like with Ben Simmons last season, that means the player most tout as the No. 1 player, Fultz, will not get to participate in March Madness, a true shame. It'd be different if Fultz was underachieving like the Huskies as a whole, but that's simply not the case.

Take Saturday for instance. Washington lost to a middling Pac 12 squad (Stanford) and fell to 1-4 in conference. The team only scored 69 points and shot 38.5 percent from the field, 7 for 26 from three. Yet Fultz's stat line looks as if it had to come from the winning squad's top player. In 37 minutes, he scored 34 points, nearly half his team's total, on 12 for 23 shooting, four threes, 6 for 7 free throw shooting.

It's not like his non-shooting stats were any worse. He had seven boards, three assists, two steals and two blocks. His jumper is smooth (go to the 1:10 mark of the game highlights to see him hit from Curry range) and he can battle inside for boards. It's disappointing that he likely won't play meaningful postseason games this year, but he's a delight to watch regardless of the stakes.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
This is it from the Pac 12, I swear! But the West Coast has been arguably the best coast this year in terms of some of the best prospects (I didn't even put Ivan Rabb on here, but he's shown up with some big games as well). Markkanen's last two games made it imperative that the Finnish forward was included on this list.

Markkanen appears to be the ideal stretch four. Just a freshman, he has scored 50 points in 52 minutes over his last two games, two wins for the Wildcats, including 18 for 30 shooting combined in wins against Colorado last Saturday and Arizona State on Thursday. Even better, he's more than found his mark from three, making 8 of 11 from deep in those games and has gobbled up 14 rebounds as well. His 30 points against Arizona State were a career-high and another reason why he's a top-10 prospect.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
Not every prospect has had a great week. Tatum played admirably in a loss to No. 9 Florida State on Tuesday, scoring 21 points on 17 shots and made 3 of 6 from three. But the freshman wing was a large part of Duke's second straight loss in a road clash with Louisville on Saturday.

Dealing with foul trouble, he played just 31 minutes. He is counted on as a top scoring option for the Blue Devils, right there with the much-beleaguered Grayson Allen and sophomore Luke Kennard. However, he wasn't a threat offensively Saturday, going 3 for 11 and missing his only three. He redeemed himself somewhat with a 5 for 6 day at the free throw line, but it wasn't enough to bring Duke back in a 78-69 loss.

Josh Jackson, guard/forward, Kansas (6-8/203)
After Baylor lost to begin the week, Kansas seems all but assured to be the new No. 1 when the polls come out Monday. The freshman Jackson doesn't necessarily lead the Jayhawks — he has senior point guard Frank Mason III to rely on for that — but he is still a threat on both ends. His shooting is still a concern as he is just 25 percent from the three-point line and 57 percent from the free throw line, but he does everything else to make scouts excited about the freshman wing.

Facing Oklahoma State on Saturday, Jackson was one of three Jayhawks to score at least 20 (he finished with exactly that) and was at the free throw line more often than OSU as a team, shooting 17 free throws to the Cowboys' 14 attempts. A 6-foot-8 forward that plays every bit like a guard can often do that. He made just 10 of those freebies and was 5 for 13 from the field, but he had 11 rebounds and four steals, not to mention two blocks, making him a double threat, offensively and defensively. 

Quick Hits

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Twenty-four points on 8 for 14 shooting, 4 for 8 from three, one rebound, six assists, and one block in a 92-72 win over Auburn.

Jonathan Isaac, forward, Florida St. (6-11/205)
Seventeen points on 6 for 11 shooting, 2 for 5 from three, 12 rebounds, two assists, three steals and four fouls in a 96-83 loss to No. 11 North Carolina.

OG Anunoby, forward, Indiana (6-8/235)
Eleven points on 4 for 8 shooting, 0 for 2 from three, three rebounds, two assists, seven steals (!), and one block in a 76-57 win over Rutgers.

Jaron Blossomgame, forward, Clemson (6-7/214)
Twenty-two points on 10 for 14 shooting, six rebounds, two assists, one block and two turnovers in a 77-73 loss to No. 19 Virginia.