Kurt Helin

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.

Make that at least three games Dirk Nowitzki is going sit out to rest Achilles

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Tuesday, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said the team was going to be cautious with the sore Achilles of 38-year-old Dirk Nowitzki and he wasn’t going to play Wednesday against the Spurs the back-to-back in Charlotte Thursday.

Now you can rule out Nowitzki playing Saturday against Chicago, either.

Nowitzki has played in just two of the Mavericks’ 16 games this season, most due to resting the Achilles but a couple due to illness. Without him, the Mavericks are off to their worst start in more than 20 years (3-13) with the third worst offense and the third worst net rating in the league.

Mark Cuban said Dallas is not going to tank for a pick this season, which means when they can get Nowitzki back on the court they will. But at this point, how much do they need to try to tank to end up with a good pick?

Report: Pelicans could get Tyreke Evans back by Friday

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Since Jrue Holiday returned to the Pelicans lineup — bringing a stabilizing force to set up the offense plus another much-needed playmaker besides Anthony Davis — New Orleans has won five-of-seven games. Despite their horrid 0-8 start you wonder if this team could climb back into the playoff race in the West.

What will happen when they add another playmaker to the mix?

That could happen Friday with Tyreke Evans, according to the announcing crew of the team during the win over the Lakers Tuesday. Here is what Pelicans sideline reporter Jennifer Hale wrote a couple weeks ago.

Evans’ minute limit could work out — he should be the sixth man on this team anyway. He’s an old-school volume scorer who creates shots mostly for himself, so put Evans out there with the second unit, throw him the ball and say “go to work.” He can score some buckets, keep things close, and let the big guns get some rest.

Evans is going to be motivated this season, it’s a contract year for him. Health issues will limit the size of the offers that come in, but if he bounces back with a good rest of the season, it will be interesting to see what offers come in.

Watch Giannis Antetokounmpo drop 34 on Cavaliers (almost all at the rim)

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If you want to know what a lay-up line looks line in an NBA game, watch the video above.

Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo tied his career high of 34 points to lead the Bucks to the upset of the Cavaliers on Tuesday, and he did it getting to the bucket at will — 15 of his 19 shots were at the rim (he made 15 of them). Credit him for attacking, but there is a book on how to defend Antetokounmpo and it starts by making him a jump shooter. Instead, the Cavaliers gave him a path to the rim and he made them pay. Check out this shot chart.

Giannis shotcart

Sixers send Nerlens Noel to D-League for rehab assignment

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This is how to use the D-League.

Nerlens Noel has missed the start of the season in Philadelphia rehabbing his left knee, and now that he is close to returning he is going to get his first run with the Sixers’ D-League affiliate in Delaware before coming up to the big club, according to a report from Marc Spears of ESPN. His co-worker Marc Stein added this.

The Sixers confirmed the move later on Wednesday.

This kind of rehab assignment is common in baseball and makes sense here. The challenge for coach Brett Brown is going to be getting enough run for Noel in a crowded frontcourt rotation in Philly with Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, and Ersan Ilyasova. Why not at least get Noel right with the Deleware 87ers then send him up to the big club when it’s time.

Brown needs to get Noel some run to showcase him — the Sixers are looking to trade someone from their frontcourt and Noel wants to be the guy out the door. That likely happens before the February trade deadline.