Could Sam Hinkie make a return to the NBA next season?

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In a nation divided, one of the topics around sports which highlights that separation is Sam Hinkie. While there may be no person in sports more comfortable living in a world that is shades of gray, reactions to the former Philadelphia 76er GM were black and white: Either he was the smartest and most patient guy in the room who put the Sixers on the track to contention (Joel Embiid, the pick that became Ben Simmons); or he went too far with his plan, disrespected the game, and ruined the culture of a sports team (plus forgot this is supposed to be entertainment).

Right now, Hinkie is living near Stanford in Palo Alto, California, and soaking up that environment. The brilliant Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated spent time with him and found a man comfortable in a tech world where innovation is encouraged and failure is seen more as a learning opportunity than a character definition. If you read one thing today, it should be that piece (which is in the SI magazine, too).

Could Hinkie return to the NBA? He’s on a non-compete clause until next summer, but yes, he very well may.

To date, Hinkie says he’s been approached by a couple of teams, informally, but he won’t know the market until the end of the season, when his noncompete is up. That is, if he goes back to basketball. When I first saw him in October, he seemed unsure. He needed to evaluate. Find a focus. “I’m working 30 hours or so a week, and if I’m being honest I’d rather it was 50,” he said.

As time went by, though, he began to circle back. By early November he seemed more certain. “I think the world probably assumes that I’m recharging and unplugging, and there’s a little of that,” he said one evening. “This will get me in trouble if I say it, but I think I’m mostly sharpening the sword to come back.”

Of course, Hinkie’s vision is more complex than that, because he’s a guy comfortable with complexity. He’s going to be focused on personal growth, artificial intelligence, and more. He’s not defined by basketball.

So if Hinkie is willing to come back to the NBA, will another team bring him in? Most likely.

“(Rockets GM Daryl) Morey says he’d hire Hinkie back as an assistant “in a second,” but that, “I don’t think he’d be interested. He’s destined for bigger things.” Adds Morey: “My advice is to go long on Sam Hinkie. He’s a growth stock.”

A half dozen other GMs and execs—an admittedly unscientific survey—voiced largely similar sentiments. Some pointed out that while fans and media get hung up on the narrative, people in the league move on much more quickly. “Sam’s respected, and that’s the biggest thing for sure,” says one GM. Another points out that just by having confidence in his ideas, Hinkie is appealing to owners. Because, for one, how many people can do the job of NBA GM? And within that subset how many of those actually have a plan? (See the last 10 years in Sacramento.) In Philly, Hinkie became known as a cutthroat negotiator, sometimes to his detriment. But at least one rival GM thought his rep was earned partly because Hinkie’s combination of certainty and patience was intimidating. He knew what he wanted and was willing to wait for it. This is not the norm in pro sports, where, as one exec says, “To be honest, most of us are just plowing through.”

When Hinkie does return, don’t expect The Process Part II. The Sixers were a below average and declining team when Hinkie took over, he knew he needed superstars to win, and he set out to get those via the draft (because, while not perfect it was the best way, Philly was not a free agent destination). He certainly made mistakes, but the biggest of those was letting other people — particularly his detractors inside and outside the league — control the narrative. By the way, Hinkie hates narratives. As if that’s a shock.

If Hinkie lands in a place with a cornerstone star or the ability to attract one without tanking, he likely goes that route. What he and every NBA GM understands is that at any given time there are about 10 guys on the planet you can win a title with as a cornerstone. If you don’t have a LeBron James/Stephen Curry or the like, you need to get at least one. Then surround him with other stars who compliment the style. In Philly, Hinkie went after the stars aggressively through the draft. In five years we can discuss how it worked out (or might have, depending on what the Colangelos do with the team).

Of course, that’s the simplistic explanation of a complex situation, one filled with nuance. You know, the kind of space Hinkie is more comfortable than just about any other owner or GM you can name.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.

Another wing down? Celtics’ Marcus Smart likely out vs. Sixers

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The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.

Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.

As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.

If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.