Sam Hinkie

76ers replace risk-taking front office with risk-taking front office


Confession: I liked the Andrew Bynum trade for the 76ers.

They were a middling team capable of making the playoffs but without the proven ability to win a series unless the opponent’s top player was injured. Their roster had limited flexibility, and two starters, Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala, were aging.

The 76ers didn’t necessarily need to make a high-risk, high-reward move, but that was certainly a defensible plan, and that’s what they did. Obviously, it didn’t work, and the previous front office, including President of Basketball Operations Rod Thorn, was pushed out.

Thorn, in an interview with David Aldridge of (emphasis mine):

Me: So, what went wrong in Philly?

RT: We went for the stars when we went after Bynum. And it didn’t work out. And we gave up a ton of assets. Not only players, but we lost Iguodala, who was a terrific player. We lost (Nic) Vucevic, who was the second-best rebounder in the NBA. We lost (Maurice) Harkless, who has a chance to be a very good player, and we lost a future first, probably. Not for sure. But (Orlando) has the right for three years, if the first is not in the Lottery, they have the right to take it for three years. Now, chances are, it won’t be in the Lottery, and then we’ll have to give them two seconds. But we had accumulated assets. We made a major move, and it didn’t work out. Bynum never played a minute for us. And now he signs with Cleveland, and we gave up four major assets. That’s tough to overcome. And obviously the ownership was upset about the way the season went for us, and they got other people. It’s (not) a personal thing. They treated me great. I don’t have any problem with them at all. They wanted me to stay in an advisory position. But whether it’s pride or whether it’s ego or whatever, I just don’t like the way it ended. I’ve been in the league 50 years. I’ve done some pretty good things; some other things, not so good. But I’ve done some pretty good things. And I’d like to end it up on the right note. And that’s what it is for me more than anything…knock on wood, I’m relatively healthy, and I think I can help them in some ways. I’m looking forward to it.

In that same article, Aldridge also spoke with new 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie – an extremely revelatory look into Hinkie’s thinking, considering how little he’d shared with the media prior – and this quote stood out. Hinkie, via Aldridge: 

“From the first time I met the owners, they were very clear about where they wanted, and the kind of organization they wanted to build, and the kind of team they’d be proud of, and the kind of team they wouldn’t,” Hinkie said. “I’ve only thought about getting to there. It’s just a league that doesn’t reward treading water. And so sometimes you have to take some risks, and sometimes some risks are smarter to take for some teams, and less smart for other teams.”

This seems hypocritical of the 76ers owners, but it’s not. They trust Hinkie, not Thorn.

And that makes sense.

I liked the Bynum trade. I loved the Jrue Holiday trade. Nerlens Noel, if healthy, was by far the best prospect in the draft. In the meantime, his injury will help the 76ers secure a top 2014 pick, and the Pelican’s first rounder could be high, too.

That’s a great risk on Hinkie’s part – as long as his bosses trust him.

51 Questions: Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

Michael Malone
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

One incident sums up how bad things had gotten in Denver under the Brian Shaw regime — breaking a fourth-quarter huddle in the final game of February, Nuggets players chanted “1-2-3-six weeks!”

The players didn’t like the coach, some of them didn’t like each other, and with six weeks and 24 games left in the season they had checked out. The young players (and some of the veterans) partied so much Shaw canceled shootarounds because guys couldn’t roll in for them in the morning. Shaw had lost the team long before when he’d tried to fit square pegs into the triangle holes of his offense, and it spiraled out of control from there. The culture in Denver was broken.

Mike Malone was brought in to repair that culture.

The Jeff Van Gundy disciple has shown he can do that before. Malone was starting to build something in Sacramento (they started last season 9-6 before DeMarcus Cousins got sick), where he was asked to repair a franchise culture that by the end of the Maloof era was something akin to the Lord of the Flies. Malone also turned out to be the one coach who had gotten through to Cousins. Even with his defensive mindset and Cousins in the paint, Malone had the Kings playing at the eighth-fastest pace in the league in pace, but the Kings’ owner wanted to play faster (and maybe didn’t want to miss out on the chance to hire George Karl), so Malone got sacked.

The question becomes, is Malone alone going to turn things around in Denver and bring them back to relevance?

Not alone, and not just in one season, but he will get them on the right track.

The first step to show management was behind Malone was the trading of Ty Lawson. No doubt when focused Lawson is a quality point guard (as Houston likely benefits from this season), but he was part of the problem in the end in Denver, to the point of picking up two DUIs in six months (he checked into a rehab facility after the second one). He had mentally checked out and his example was an issue the Nuggets needed to change.

That turns the keys for the offense over to rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who impressed a lot of people at Summer League after bailing on SMU to play in China last season. But he’s still a rookie with a long way to go — as the 15 turnovers in his first two preseason games attest. Things that worked in China and Summer League don’t fly against an NBA defense.

With Mudiay at the point and a team that plays half its games at high altitude, Monroe wants to take advantage of that and get out and run. Expect the Nuggets to get back to their traditional up-tempo games, but with some things Malone loves to run (such as the Rick Adelman corner action).

But for Malone, all things — including good transition basketball — starts with defense. You have to get stops and steals to run well, and the Nuggets were 26th in the league in defensive rating last season (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). In the first two Nuggets preseason games, that was the Nuggets focus (with mixed results).

Malone’s challenge starts with getting Kenneth Faried to buy in and play as hard on defense as he does on offense — something Faried has never done. Faried has been a defensive minus since he entered the NBA and that becomes one of Malone’s first major projects (even if it’s just to boost Faried’s trade value). Faried, who clashed with Shaw over his role, has said he’s felt energized under Malone, now the coach just has to steer that energy to the defensive end of the court.

Malone will be searching for the right center to put next to Faried, and I expect that will mean a lot of Jusuf Nurkic (who is young and shows it at times). But also expect to see some small-ball lineups with Faried at the five. Something like Mudiay, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Faried. A lineup with some athleticism and shooting that could put up points, but would they get any stops? If Gary Harris slots in for Foye, does that help the defense (Harris is guy Nuggets fans may see more and more of as the season goes on).

The roster is a work in progress, and if you were to bet on the Nuggets doing one thing this season, it should be making trades. Things are going to change.

There are nice pieces on the Nuggets, but not enough of them and with some real questions about how it all fits together. This is not a playoff team this season, not in the West.

But it’s a team that Malone could have playing a lot better late in the season than at the beginning, once some of those questions start to be answered, and the young players gain experience. That should be the goal in Denver. Begin to change the culture, get buy-in on the system, get guys playing hard again rather than dreaming of Cancun vacations by February. Change can be incremental, but Malone will start the change.

Then in a couple of years, you’ve got the team you want.

Well, so long as the Nuggets ownership doesn’t get impatient and decide it needs to change directions again.

Another Pelicans center down: Omer Asik out three weeks

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
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The Pelicans will have to play Anthony Davis at center now.

With backup center Alexis Ajinca already sidelined, starting center Omer Asik suffered his own injury.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that center Omer Asik is expected to miss the next three weeks with a right calf strain. The injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice.

If that three-week timeline is firm, Asik would miss two regular season games – at Warriors and at Trail Blazers.

Davis figured to be the most natural fit at center in Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo scheme. What happens if the Pelicans excel with him there and then stumble once Asik and Ajinca return? Because New Orleans had Bird Rights for Asik and Ajinca, re-signing them made some sense. And once they’re re-signed, Gentry must find a role for them. But that could get harder if it becomes obvious the team is best with Davis at center.

As long as Asik and Ajinca are out, Kendrick Perkins probably moves into the rotation. Jeff Adrien could also see minutes at center. Suddenly, Adrien, on an unguaranteed contract, has a much better chance of making the regular-season roster. Ryan Anderson probably plays more at power forward, too, with Davis logging more time at center.