Sixers' salary cap is Hinkie's biggest test

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Sixers' salary cap is Hinkie's biggest test

You’ve already read and heard plenty about advanced analytics and next-level metrics and the debate between the merits of traditional scouting and progressive number crunching. It’s interesting stuff, though it’s amusing how some skeptical old guard scribes write about it like new Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie is ushering in the rise of the machines.

"We're not talking about going into a backroom with a bunch of computers," Sixers owner Joshua Harris assured the doubters on Tuesday. "We're talking about adding to a traditional front office."

See that? Sixers season-ticket holders will not be enslaved by ENIAC’s offspring (at least not soon).

While the hot topic has been about Hinkie being more stat/numbers obsessed than the Count from "Sesame Street," Hinkie’s deep knowledge of analytics wasn’t the only reason he was hired. It might not even be the most important part of his résumé.

Hinkie is also regarded around the NBA as a salary cap specialist. If you want to know how good he is at his new gig, pay attention to what he and his lieutenants do (or don’t) on that front moving forward. Because while talent evaluation is hyper important, so is finding ways to pay for those you covet.

It’s not an easy task. The Sixers currently have about $46 million in salary cap commitments for next season (if they bid goodbye to Andrew Bynum, Nick Young and Dorell Wright). The cap is expected to be around $60 million next year. Subtract what the Sixers might have to pay their rookie first-round pick and the franchise is looking at somewhere around $11 million in available funds.

That’s a rough estimate. It’s important to note that the NBA has a soft -- and complicated -- cap. (You can learn more about it here if you’re the type who enjoys long, dense documents.) There are all sorts of ways the cap can be manipulated in order to free up more money. Provisions like the rookie exception, the mid-level exception, the stretch provision and other devices allow general managers to get creative if they choose –- though they might then run the risk of pushing against (or over) the luxury-tax threshold.

It’s complex but fascinating stuff. Which is why Hinkie’s comments on the cap were so intriguing.

“There is cap room that’s a possibility this year that you could use and you could use in a variety of ways,” Hinkie said at his introductory press conference. “Often, we think at this time of year, X-million of cap room, this player costs less than that, will you get that player or not? I warn you, I don’t often think exactly that straight forward a fashion. I think we’ll be curious about all the opportunities we can use cap room for. Can you trade into it and take a wonderful player back? Can you take several players into it to help the team? Can you take other assets to help the organization and as part of that you have to relinquish some of your cap room? Or could you hold and think about using that even during the season? I think every team, every year, that has cap room thinks about all those possibilities. We’ll do the same.”

Hinkie is fully aware that cap space –- whether you employ his “X-million” place holder or the aforementioned $11 million rough estimate –- is malleable. Make some moves here or there and the Sixers could find more money to spend. Or the team might go cheap and young in the upcoming season and roll that cap space over to the 2014 offseason, which figures to have a deep free-agent class.

There are so many different things Hinkie can do. He’s faced with the professional version of a choose-your-own-adventure novel -- only each of his decisions will, potentially, be worth millions.

“About the July 1 free agents, how to land one of those, you have to put yourself in position for that,” Hinkie continued. “So, step one is, you have to often create enough cap room to be able to afford them. Step two is you have to be able to maximize the things you can maximize to make it attractive. Players often want to play with other good players. They often want to play in cities where the fan base will support them if they win, where they really come out if they win. They often want to play for coaches that fit a particular style. I think all of those things play into it. And I think you have to think about those before you can even think about putting yourself to say, ‘We’re going to knock on the door with five other GMs or five other owners on July 1st and win this tournament.’”

The astute reader will understand what Hinkie was hinting at: That the Sixers have lots of work to do in order to make the team an attractive landing spot for prospective free agents. They need a coach. They need quality players. And they need cap room.

Pay attention to the maneuvers he and his staff make (or don’t) with regard to the cap. It will tell you a lot about Hinkie and the direction the franchise is plotting.

Sixers acquire, merge two leading eSport companies

Sixers acquire, merge two leading eSport companies

The Sixers on Monday acquired controlling stake in Team Dignitas and Team Apex, two eSport companies.

The companies will be combining under the Team Dignitas banner. The Sixers become the first North American sports franchise to acquire an eSports team and intend to manage the day-to-day operations of Team Dignitas.

"There is a tremendous opportunity to leverage the infrastructure, resources and experience of the Sixers organization to support these exciting teams as they continue to compete at the highest levels across multiple games," Sixers managing general partner Josh Harris said in a statement. "We see our entrance into eSports as a natural extension of our expanding interests in traditional sports and entertainment and are confident that our involvement will accelerate the already rapid pace of growth in eSports as a whole.”

Team Dignitas and Team Apex have created games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm and Smite.

5 lingering questions as Sixers training camp begins

5 lingering questions as Sixers training camp begins

Sixers training camp begins on Tuesday and there are plenty of questions as they enter a new chapter following a 10-win season and three tumultuous years of losing.

Here are five things to keep an eye on during camp as the Sixers prepare for the 2016-17 season.

How much will Joel Embiid play?
Embiid will begin the season under restrictions. What those parameters are remain to be determined. The Sixers will continue to proceed with caution for Embiid's NBA debut after two foot surgeries in as many years. It is unlikely he will play in back-to-backs to begin the season, and minutes will be allocated as the team assesses him during camp. The restrictions will create playing opportunities for other bigs in the meantime.

Who will start?
The Sixers have to set a starting five within an unbalanced roster. The team is loaded in the frontcourt and there are only so many positions to go around. Brett Brown said Jerryd Bayless would be the starting point guard if the season began today, and Gerald Henderson appears to be the lock at two-guard. Ben Simmons is the only certainty in the frontcourt, filling the four-spot. The Sixers will have to select a small forward and a center from the plethora of bigs. Expect the starting five to change throughout the season, especially as Embiid gets more games under his belt.

How will the team be different?
The improvement in the wins and losses column is a given. Now, the team is implementing changes off the court intended to have significant effects this season. They expect the new 125,000-square-foot training complex to provide a one-stop shop for all the players' daily needs. The facility was designed so players and staff could spend most of their time there and foster relationships with one another, focus on basketball and create an environment in which they know they can improve. There is also an emphasis on what Brown described as career-best fitness. The team is looking to play uptempo, and players will be pushed to amp up their health, strength and conditioning to compete within that system.

What will Simmons' role be?
Simmons has the unique versatility to be a point-forward. At 6-foot-10, he has the size of a frontcourt player as well as the ball handling skills and court vision of a point guard. There will be times when Simmons is tasked with running the floor. However, Brown has said point guard is the most challenging position and he does not want to throw Simmons into that right away. The Sixers bolstered their depth by adding Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez. Simmons will manage the floor at times, but it won't be his main responsibility.

How will the Noel situation play out?
There are too many bigs. That was the case last season with Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor and the issue still remains, only now Simmons, Embiid and Dario Saric are also in the mix. Noel expressed his uneasiness of the situation to the Philadelphia Inquirer (see story). There is a lingering logjam that has to be sorted out with a trade this season. Who is moved remains to be seen.

For more hot topics, check out the CSNPhilly.com Give and Go series.