Five Reasons to Like the Sixers Hire of Sam Hinkie

Five Reasons to Like the Sixers Hire of Sam Hinkie

GM's usually aren't particularly sexy hires for basketball franchises--most casual NBA fans can't name more than a handful of incumbent GMs across the league anyway, and new guys usually don't have much of a resume to point to, unless they've already been fired elsewhere. Still, if any fanbase was going to be excited about a new GM, it should probably Sixers fans after the Liberty Ballers nabbed ex-Rockets assistant Sam Hinkie, an analytics-minded exec from the Houston Rockets, who should finally put an end to the Sixers' ambiguous front-office hierarchy  and give the team a strong guiding hand for the years to come.

That said, I'm not gonna pretend like I had any clue who this guy was this time last week. But after learning a little about the guy, and seeing his introductory presser, it seems like Sixer fans have decent reason to think this guy is gonna be good news for a team that could really, really use some. Here's some reasons why:

1. The Rockets did some pretty cool things with him on board. On paper, Houston's run over the last decade with him on board was not a particularly impressive one--they won just one playoff series, and missed the playoffs altogether two of the last three years. But Houston was also arguably the league's unluckiest team over that span, fielding two top-ten-caliber players in Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady who were both constantly beset by injuries, seemingly never healthy at the same time for an extended playoff run. In the meantime, they were always at least competitive, never resorting to outright tanking in order to rebuild their franchise, and appear to be back on the ascent again after acquiring All-Star guard James Harden in the off-season and making pushing top-seeded Oklahoma City to six games in the playoffs.

Also, Hinkie was involved in Houston with the drafting and signing of numerous players undervalued by the league over the years, including excellent second-round picks like Chandler Parsons, Carl Landry and Chase Budinger, free-agent steals like Omer Asik and Patrick Beverley, and shrewd trade acquisitions like Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic. Despite never contending for a championship, the Rockets have deserved league-wide renown as being one of the Smart Teams, and though GM Darryl Morey gets most of the credit for that, Hinkie also played a part as the second-in-command.

2. He's not afraid of numbers. Nobody hates the phrase "analytically minded" as much as analytically minded guys, and for good reason--analytics guys get a reputation for being insular, small-picture-oriented and ultimately clueless to what really goes on on the court, but really they're just not averse to seeking out and then using some deeper data to make decisions that really need to be as informed as humanly possible. Hinkie talked about that in his press conference, stressing his desire to collect knowledge from as many different sources as possible, blanching some at the "analytics" references but stressing a need for information.

That alone doesn't make you a smart guy, but when compared to the stubborn "I know because I know" mentality of Doug Collins (who once actually said he would "blow [his] brains out" if he had to focus on analytics, before pointing to his head and his gut as his analytics), it seems a little more open-minded, at the least.

3. He's in it for the long haul. "Just beating the average by a bit in a team of 30 competitors will serve only to disappoint all of us in the long run," Hinkie said in the opening statement of his presser. Sixer fans know this to be truer than anyone, as beating the average by a bit has basically been their cap since the 2001 finals run, and for a long time, that seemed to be good enough for the organization, so it's good to hear that that's not the case with Hinkie. He seemed reticent to actually use the word or even the idea of tanking, but he also didn't seem scared by the idea of being bad to get good if that's what the best path to championship-level success is. Bad news for Spencer Hawes, good news for the Sixer faithful.

4. He has no attachment--sentimental, vengeful or otherwise--to Andrew Bynum. Perhaps the most enlightening part of Hinkie's Q&A was when he responded to questions about Andrew Bynum by saying rather matter-of-factly that aside from the fact that the Sixers have early negotiating rights with him and (hopefully) a shitload of information about his medical condition, he viewed Bynum as no different than any other free agent the Sixers might pursue this off-season. I don't know if that makes him more or less likely to aggressively pursue Bynum--frankly, I doubt even Hinkie himself knows that yet--but it means that whatever his decision is, it won't be an emotional or personal one, which in itself is a very good thing.

5. He's the guy now--and there's just one of him. Regardless of how he does from here, it's exciting to have one singular voice at the top of the front-office food chain again--and since he's the unequivocal choice of majority owner Josh Harris, he should have a fairly long leash to work with. Compared with the last few years of front-office clutter, where nobody seemed to know who was really in charge (Rod Thorn? Tony DiLeo? Doug Collins? Will Smith?) and nobody seemed to have a firm idea of what direction the team was going in, it should be a lot easier for the Sixers to devise and execute a coherent long-term plan with a single guy with his finger on the button. Hopefully he leads the team in a positive direction, but really, nearly any direction is good for us at this point as long as it's consistent and logical.

Welcome aboard, Sam. You've got a super-unenviable task ahead of you in making this crappy, depressing team great again, but we have way more faith in your ability to do it than anybody else the Sixers have trotted out to supposedly steer the franchise back in a positive direction in a long, long time.

End to End: Analyzing Bradyen Schenn's contract

End to End: Analyzing Bradyen Schenn's contract

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

Is Brayden Schenn's contract a good deal for the Flyers?

Dougherty
It's understandable why some portion of Flyers fans have responded to Schenn's contract extension with caution; the $5.125 million is a bit high for what he's done consistently. But we live in a salary cap world in which the cap is not rising at the rate we would like.

We have to consider that when analyzing contracts. As Sportsnet's Colton Praill eloquently opined about bridge contracts back on July 13, we've seen teams get burnt by bad contracts. Look at the Chicago Blackhawks, who have had to move players to fit under the cap.

Part of surviving the cap world is making smart bets on players, and that requires breaking down what they have done already but more importantly, what you believe they'll do in the future. And Ron Hextall has done a decent job of that in his tenure as GM.

A perfect example of that is Sean Couturier's contract. It was a higher cap hit than his offensive production warranted at the time, but a deal we would look back on as a steal.

Now, Schenn's development is nearly complete. It's a different situation, but the same idea. If Schenn is a 26-goal, 59-point player, his $5.125 million AAV is fair.

If there's another level we haven't seen from the 24-year-old, then this is a totally different conversation in a few years.

In the end, the Flyers are betting on Schenn being the player he was from Jan. 1, 2016, through the end of the season, and living in the cap world, it's a smart play.

Hall
The Flyers were going to re-sign Brayden Schenn, through an arbitrator or not.

And when it was all said and done, no matter if the average annual value was slightly lower or higher than the $5.125 million of Schenn’s new four-year contract, the Flyers were still going to be handcuffed by the cap.

So the Flyers avoided what can be a messy arbitration process by finding a happy medium with a strategic deal that behooves the Flyers long term, as Ron Hextall explained.

Now they have longer team control over Schenn, who could have signed for fewer years, upped his game and ballooned his payday as an unrestricted free agent.

Like Hextall said, top-six forwards entering their prime "are hard to find."

Yeah, the Flyers probably overpaid just a bit, but that’s the NHL market — it’s far from perfect.

Paone
There’s a reason these kinds of things are categorized as negotiations. There’s give and take involved. In the case of Brayden Schenn’s contract, there was probably a little more give than Ron Hextall and the Flyers would have liked. The numbers reported over the weekend tell us the Flyers didn’t necessarily want to go over the $5 million per year threshold with Schenn, even though the 24-year-old forward is coming off a career year of 26 goals and 33 assists.

But just because the Flyers went over their projected budget by going a smidge over $5 million doesn’t mean this is a terrible deal for the team. Not by any means. By now, you’ve probably read or heard Hextall use the term “market deal” when describing this contract. And that’s accurate because that’s the way the NHL is going these days. Yes, Schenn has had inconsistency issues over his first five seasons in Philadelphia. But young scorers don’t grow on trees. You have to pay to keep the ones you have. New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, the New York Rangers’ Chris Kreider and St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz are just a few examples. Schenn is just the latest. There will be more young scorers out there, flaws be damned, who will get paid sooner rather than later.

Sure, Schenn picked a great time last year — a contract year — to have a career season. And that pushed the Flyers to reward him. Now, it’s up to him to reward the Flyers’ faith.

Phillies to host Grateful Dead Tribute Night in August with sweet tie-dye T-shirt giveaway

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Phillies to host Grateful Dead Tribute Night in August with sweet tie-dye T-shirt giveaway

The 2016 Philadelphia Phillies season has felt a bit like they're just going down the road feeling bad and when they're at home, Citizens Bank Park has felt a bit like a brokedown palace, so it's fitting they're hosting a Grateful Dead Tribute Night in August.

Not sure what kind of antics are planned for the night but I'm hopping it includes a skit where the Phanatic dances on top of the dugout with his new best friend Lucifer. 

Grateful Dead night at CBP will take place on Tuesday, August 2nd when the Phils host the San Francisco Giants.

"The first 1,500 fans who purchase tickets through this promotion will receive a coupon for an exclusive Phillies Grateful Dead T-shirt giveaway," says the Phillies website. "In addition, $4 from each ticket sold for this event will benefit the Rex Foundation."

The Phillies have struggled heading into the July trade deadline, but hopefully help is on the way in the form of young prospects like Jake Thompson and J.P. Crawford.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils look to continue mastery of Giancarlo Stanton

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils look to continue mastery of Giancarlo Stanton

Phillies (46-55) at Marlins (53-46)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

Another impressive start by Jeremy Hellickson and some timely late offense led the Phillies to a series-opening win in Miami Monday. Now they go for the quick series win, which would be their first in four tries since the All-Star break.

Let's take a closer look at Tuesday's matchup:

1. One donut shy of a dozen
The Phillies' 4-0 win last night was their 11th shutout victory of the season, the most in baseball. The Mets and Dodgers are tied for second with nine.

The Phils' pitching staff was obviously at its best in April, when it set the MLB record for strikeouts per nine innings in the month at 10.4. The Phillies had five shutouts in April, two in May, two in June and now two in July. 

And it's not like the Phils have just taken advantage of bad teams here, shutting out the Braves or Padres repeatedly. They've shut out the Nationals twice, the Mets, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Pirates, Marlins and Diamondbacks. All of those teams except Arizona (which has a good offense) is above .500 and in the playoff hunt.

It's been written here many times that the most important short-term decision the Phillies made this past offseason was to raise the floor of the starting rotation. They've done it, and more importantly they've done it with youth. The Phillies' mediocre, veteran-laden 2015 staff had just seven shutouts all season.

2. Walk this way
Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp both had productive nights Monday in their returns to the starting lineup. Franco went 1 for 2 with a double and three walks, scoring the Phillies' first and ultimately game-winning run in the eighth. Rupp went 0 for 2 but also walked three times and saw 26 pitches.

How rare is it for two Phillies to walk three times in the same game? It hadn't happened since Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz did it on April 5, 2010 at Nationals Park in Roy Halladay's Phillies debut.

Franco and Rupp may have been the two most unlikely Phillies to walk three times. Franco is an aggressive swinger, and Rupp walked just three times in the season's first two months. Rupp had just 11 in 248 plate appearances this season before Monday.

The Phillies averted disaster with two of their productive, young hitters after Franco was hit by a pitch on the wrist (again) in Pittsburgh and Rupp was hit on the helmet. 

3. Eickhoff's turn
Two of Jerad Eickhoff's last three starts have seen him start strong and fall apart in the middle innings. He allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits over five innings against the Marlins last week after beginning the game with three scoreless innings.

Right before the All-Star break, Eickhoff was cruising at Coors Field with four shutout innings before the umpire's strike zone shrunk and Eickhoff's control disappeared. He allowed two runs in the fifth and six in the sixth.

In between those two outings was a well-pitched game in which Eickhoff allowed two runs in six innings to the Mets for yet another quality start.

So even though the results lately have been ugly for Eickhoff, even though his ERA has risen from 3.30 to 3.98 in the span of three weeks, he hasn't been all that bad. He just needs to avoid that one big inning.

Eickhoff, who is 6-11 with a 3.98 ERA in 20 starts this season, is 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA against the Marlins this season. He pitched six shutout innings against them in their lone meeting last year.

Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich have caused the most problems for him, going a combined 6 for 15 with three doubles and two homers.

4. Time to hit Koehler
The Phillies have had three looks at mediocre Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42) this season and failed to hit him all three times. 

On May 7, Koehler allowed one run on two hits over seven innings with eight strikeouts in a game the Phillies eventually won. 

On May 18, he allowed two runs to them in seven innings and induced 16 groundballs.

And then last week, matched up against Eickhoff, Koehler again gave up just two hits, this time over eight innings. He allowed two homers but only one of the Phils' three runs was earned.

It's hard to explain why, all the sudden, the Phils have stopped hitting the 6-foot-3 righty. Last season, a worse Phillies team scored 15 runs against him in 21 innings. 

The Phillies are familiar with Koehler's repertoire, which includes a fastball in the 93 to 95 mph range, a curveball, slider and changeup. In the first two meetings this season he threw them a ton of fastballs, 115 in all. But last week he threw just 38 fastballs among 110 pitches. He threw 34 curveballs in that game, by far the most he's thrown this season. Don't be surprised to see a similar game plan tonight given how well it worked last week.

Current Phillies have hit just .201 against Koehler with three homers (Ryan Howard, Cody Asche, Freddy Galvis) in 144 at-bats.

5. Marlins notes
• Ichiro has gone 0 for 4 as a pinch-hitter in the Marlins' last four games. He's sitting on 2,996 career hits, meaning he could get his historic 3,000th against the Phillies this week with a big game or two. It would require the Marlins to sit one of Ozuna, Yelich or Giancarlo Stanton, though.

• Stanton this season against the Phillies: 3 for 33 (.091), one extra-base hit (a homer), two RBIs, 14 strikeouts. 

Against everyone else, Stanton has hit .257/.350/.524 with 20 home runs and 53 RBIs. If you remove the Phillies from the equation, Stanton's OPS this season would be 52 points higher, .874 instead of .822.