Despite finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers are gone from the NBA Playoffs. They lost a Game 7 on their home court to a team that was (a) in the lottery each of the last three years and (b) wasn’t even in position for a play-in tournament berth as recently as the start of play on March 12. As is the case in the instant-analysis age, the blame assignment has been flying since it became apparent the Atlanta Hawks were going to close out the Sixers. However, pinning any of that blame on Sam Hinkie, the man who started the much-hyped “Process,” is out of bounds.
Doc Rivers? He’s served some time in the crosshairs. Ben Simmons? Wow. The guy has spent just about every moment since the final buzzer as a virtual piñata. Some have brought up Daryl Morey, the general manager, for less than a year. And, of course, Tobias Harris’ name has been brought up. But, in a rush to blame someone, just about everyone has been named.
There’s a lot of blame to go around, and we’ll certainly dig into that, but the situation deserves a look back.
The Philadelphia 76ers were in neutral
The Philadelphia 76ers last played in the NBA Finals in 2001. Afterward, however, the franchise found itself in the worst position possible in the NBA. The 76ers were just good enough to contend for a playoff spot. But they weren’t good enough to compete for anything more than that.
From 2002–13, Philadelphia made the playoffs six times and missed the postseason party in five seasons.
They were bad enough to ride the treadmill between first-round exits and lottery seasons with no real chance of landing a top-of-the-draft talent. It’s the NBA version of purgatory. So after the 2013–14 season, the Sixers cleaned house. Tony DiLeo was out as the top man in the front office. Coach Doug Collins got the ax. In their stead, in came a first-time GM named Sam Hinkie, and he arrived with a new sort of plan.
Cue ‘The Process’ and start up the blame game
Sam Hinkie began what he dubbed “The Process,” a systematic approach to stockpiling draft picks, trading away any serviceable veteran they could to get them, and losing — a lot. The first year, the Philadelphia 76ers won 19 games. The following two seasons brought 18 and 10 victories, respectively. Philadelphia drafted third overall in both 2014 and 2015. They used those picks for a center, Joel Embiid, and oddly enough, another center in Jahlil Okafor. Hinkie had also traded for a rookie center in 2013, Nerlens Noel.
Some have assigned the blame for the Game 7 loss to the Hawks in 2021 to Hinkie. The problem is that the organization hasn’t employed him since April 2016. As far as decision-making authority, that was gone before Christmas in 2015.
So Hinkie was responsible for trading Jrue Holiday for the draft rights to Noel, drafting Embiid, and selecting Okafor. That’s it. Drafting Ben Simmons No. 1 in 2016? That was Bryan Colangelo. And that disastrous Markelle Fultz pick in 2017? Colangelo made that pick as well. So blame Hinkie if you must, but he hasn’t made a single personnel call for the franchise in more than five years.
Sam Hinkie built the foundation, but the damaged house isn’t his fault
Of the myriad of players Sam Hinkie brought to the Philadelphia 76ers from May 2013 until his removal, for all intents and purposes, in December 2015, only Embiid remains. Not fixing Simmons’ jumper happened after Hinkie left town. Demolishing Fultz’s jump shot also happened after the fact. Deciding Jayson Tatum wasn’t the best player in the 2017 draft? That also can’t be pinned on Hinkie.
The truth of the so-called Process (with a capital “p”) is that it was never as great as the Cult of Hinkie wanted to believe. Neither was it as bad as the detractors made it out to be. That’s the nature of things. A very loud few take extreme positions. The reality somewhere in the middle wonders what all the commotion is.
Hinkie whiffed on the Noel deal. He swung and missed enormously with the Okafor draft pick. But neither of those guys has been around for a while now. Colangelo built some of this roster in between changing burner phones. Elton Brand decided Harris was a better max contract candidate than Jimmy Butler (just sayin’) and brought in Rivers, the only guy in NBA history to coach three teams that gagged up 3–1 playoff leads.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the Philadelphia 76ers. But Sam Hinkie is too far removed to share much of it at all.
Historical data courtesy of Basketball Reference.