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.

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 43 points and the Toronto Raptors rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 107-97 on Friday night.

DeRozan shot 15 of 28 from the floor as he surpassed his 42-point effort against the Houston Rockets on March 30, 2015, helping the Raptors overcome the absence of fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry. Lowry sat out with a right wrist injury.

Serge Ibaka, acquired by trade from the Orlando Magic last week, scored 15 points in his debut, while fellow newcomer P.J. Tucker, picked up from the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, had a game-high 10 rebounds and nine points in his first game for his new team.

Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points for Boston, which also got 19 points each from Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart (see full recap).

Westbrook triple-double lifts Thunder over Lakers
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook scored 17 points in his 28th triple-double of the season, and his new teammates fit in seamlessly as the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night.

Westbrook also had 18 rebounds and 17 assists for the 65th triple-double of his career.

It was the first game for new Thunder players Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, acquired Thursday in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. Gibson scored 12 points and McDermott added eight, even though they arrived Thursday night and weren't even available for shootaround on Friday.

Alex Abrines and Andre Roberson each set a career high with 19 points, and Steven Adams added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

D'Angelo Russell scored 29 for the Lakers (see full recap).

Pacers beat Grizzlies to snap six-game skid
INDIANAPOLIS -- CJ Miles made five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, Paul George had nine points and nine rebounds after remaining with Indiana following the trade deadline, and the Pacers snapped a six-game losing streak with a 102-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Monta Ellis finished with 16 points, Myles Turner scored 12, and Lavoy Allen, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young each added 10 for the Pacers.

The Pacers outscored the Grizzlies 64-42 across the middle two quarters and never relinquished their lead, leading by as many as 27 points in the second half. The Grizzlies finished the game shooting 41 percent from the floor (35 for 84).

Troy Daniels had 13 points for Memphis and Marc Gasol scored 12. Indiana outrebounded Memphis 50-39 and scored 29 points off 17 Grizzlies turnovers (see full recap).

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

BOX SCORE

For as much as the Sixers’ bigs are talked about, Richaun Holmes often is left out of the conversation. 

He’s not the centerpiece of the team like Joel Embiid nor was he heavily involved in trade talks like Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. He is the backup center who bides his time on the bench and quietly stays ready when he gets the nod.

And on Friday, he was the standout player in the Sixers’ 120-112 win over the Wizards (see Instant Replay)

“He’s been sort of the person that people forget about because of the logjam of five men,” Brett Brown said. “We all sort of think, ‘Well, he should just accept it because he’s behind Joel and Nerlens and Jahlil. Good ol’ Richaun. Go to the D-League and it’s OK.’ And that doesn’t work. He’s a pro, he’s competitive. He’s handled it. He’s really been a wonderful teammate.”

Holmes was bumped up in the rotation following the trade of Noel to the Mavs. He moved into the second-unit role while Okafor started in place of the injured Embiid. 

Holmes recorded his first double-double with 12 points (6 for 9 from the field) and 10 rebounds (three offensive). He also blocked a career-high five shots, tying Embiid for the most by a Sixer this season. The second-year big man put together this impressive performance in 26 minutes off the bench (see feature highlight).

“Just play hard,” Holmes said of his approach. “Just go out there, show what you’ve been working on, play hard every second you’re out there. That’s the motto I’ve got.”

Holmes is averaging 16.1 minutes and has appeared in just 32 of the Sixers’ 57 games. This season, he also spent time with the Delaware 87ers of the Development League to get playing time. Holmes embraced an opportunity similar to Friday’s a month ago when he scored 18 points in as many minutes against the Clippers. 

“I try to approach every game this season the same way, whether everybody was playing or people were hurt,” Holmes said. “Prepare like I’m going to play 30 minutes a game. I think having that mindset helped me to stay ready at all times and be aggressive when I had a chance.”

Brown did not rule out the possibility that Holmes could start at some point if he continues this production. The Sixers are limiting Okafor to 20 to 24 minutes per game, according to Brown. That, combined with Embiid’s injury, could lend itself to an increased role for Holmes. 

“I think in that environment, it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for Richaun to get a start from time to time,” Brown said. 

Even if he remains on the second unit, Holmes proved he can provide a spark off the bench. Dario Saric noted how Holmes’ impact on both ends of the floor bolsters the frontcourt in addition to a more offensively-minded Okafor (11 points, two rebounds). 

“I think he played unbelievably good in both ways,” Saric said. “Everybody knows he’s an elite guy finishing around the rim, and he stepped in Nerlens’ place, he replaced him unbelievably good. I hope he will get the same minutes for the next game because we have Jahlil, who is more like a post-up player, who likes more to score from the low-post block, and we for sure need some guy like Richaun who will play in both ways." 

Perhaps the person least surprised by Holmes' game was Holmes himself. It was the result he puts in long hours to produce.

“It’s all about the grind,” he said. “All about keep working, keep trying to move up, keep trying to get better every second and it’ll pay off.”