Sixers' salary cap is Hinkie's biggest test


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.

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

MIAMI — It’s a cautious optimism to be sure — there can be no other type for the Sixers right now given their history of injuries — but you can tell the team is starting to get excited about Joel Embiid.

In Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat (see game story), Embiid scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The 7-0 center, who missed his first two NBA seasons because of foot surgeries, made 8 of 16 shots and 2 of 2 on free throws, adding a game-high nine rebounds.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a complete player — that’s what I do,” Embiid said. “I’m starting to get easy points.

“I just got better every game [in the preseason], defensively, offensively.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he is still learning how to best use Embiid.

Brown added that the rust is apparent in Embiid’s game. But …

“He is as self-taught as any player I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He grew up in Cameroon and hasn’t played a lot (because of injuries). But he studies, he looks at stuff. He pays attention. He’s instinctively curious.

“There’s a lot of stuff in his head that he thinks through. His mind is quicker than his feet. At times, his core, his balance and his decision-making are off because his mind is working faster than his body.”

Embiid scored most of his buckets on Friday at close range — a finger roll, a tip-in, a couple of put-back dunks, an alley-oop dunk and a fast-break layup. But he did make a 10-foot jumper and took — but missed — a three-point try.

“He does stuff in a game that makes you step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Brown said. “He will trail and hit a three. He will have a pound, pound drop-step, dunk.

“Like a traditional post, he will turn his face and make a bank shot. He has that up-and-under stuff.

“But he’s raw. His preseason has been highlighted by those few things that you notice, all under the umbrella of, ‘He really has a chance to be very, very good.’"

Brown was asked to summarize the Sixers' 2-5 preseason, and he called it a “completely erratic” exhibition season because of injuries.

“Jahlil [Okafor] hasn’t practiced,” Brown said. “Joel has been steady and incremental. I think we all see that Dario Saric has got a lot to offer. I think the pairing of Joel and Dario was solid.

“We’ve seen Jerami [Grant] have a really good preseason. Richaun Holmes has taken his opportunity to play big minutes. Those type of things come to my mind.”