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.

NBA Notes: Cavs-Warriors III joins past championship trilogies

NBA Notes: Cavs-Warriors III joins past championship trilogies

It never happened between Magic Johnson's Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics. Same for Michael Jordan and Karl Malone or Jerry West and Bill Russell.

While there have been 14 rematches in NBA Finals history, this year's meeting between LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors will be the first trilogy in league history.

After the Warriors beat the Cavs for their first title in 40 years in 2015, Cleveland got revenge last season with a comeback from 3-1 down to give the city its first major championship since 1964. Now they meet for the rubber match starting June 1 in Oakland.

While this may be unprecedented in the NBA, it has happened once before in the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball with matchups that included some of those sports' biggest stars.

There was Babe Ruth vs. Frankie Frisch in the 1920s and then a pair of memorable three-peat matchups in the 1950s featuring Otto Graham against Bobby Layne in the NFL and Gordie Howe against Maurice Richard in the NHL.

Warriors: Durant once team’s 2nd choice
Truth be told, Golden State's former coach wasn't sure the Warriors needed Kevin Durant.

The Warriors were already small-ball sensations, capable of piling up the points with their daring drives and sizzling shooting. So rather than add another scorer, Don Nelson figured Golden State might be better off getting a dominant man in the middle to shore up the defense in the 2007 NBA draft.

Nelson thought the Warriors needed Greg Oden.

That was 10 years ago, leading up to the heavily hyped draft in which the Oden-Durant debate raged throughout basketball. And now, as Durant leads the league's most potent team into the NBA Finals while Oden is long gone from the NBA spotlight, it's easy to forget that a lot of people agreed with Nelson.

"I think everyone felt that there were two players there that were going to be prominent players, but one thing you can't count on is injuries," Warriors executive Jerry West said. "So Greg really never had a chance to have a career, where Kevin's obviously been more than advertised."

Celtics: Thomas unsure if he’ll need surgery
Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas wanted to keep playing in the Eastern Conference finals, but team doctors and officials convinced him he needed to shut down his season for his long-term health.

"They had multiple people come in and talk to me about what's more important," Thomas said Friday, a day after the Celtics were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers. "But I definitely wasn't trying to hear that at that point in time."

Thomas injured the hip in March and aggravated it in the second-round series against Washington. He played three halves against the Cavaliers before limping off the court in the middle of Game 2.

The Celtics lost that game by 44 points to fall behind 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, then announced the next day that Thomas was done for the season. Still, they beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland the next game before falling easily in Games 4 and 5.

"Eastern Conference finals, that's the biggest stage I've ever been on," Thomas said at the team's practice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts. "To not be able to go back out there in that second half and continue that series was painful. Like it hurt me."

Speaking for the first time since the end of his season, Thomas said he might need surgery but it's "not the No. 1 option right now." He will have to wait for more tests until the swelling goes down, he said (see full story).

Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

Sixers head coach Brett Brown is in Australia this week, where he has accused longtime friend and former Australian men's national team assistant coach Shane Heal of defrauding him of $750,000, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Brown invested $250,000 into each of three companies for which Heal was the sole director. Brown wasn't given a legal title regarding the companies and didn't know the specifics of how the money would be used.

"I assumed that the money was going to be used for what Shane told me it was going to be used for," Brown said. "Because it was a friend that I had for 25 years."

Heal was charged last year by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission following an investigation relating to alleged misconduct in 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to the AAP.

The sides return to court in Brisbane on July 20.

Heal played in the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1996-97 and was with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.