Hinkie’s latest stroke of genius: a series of trade-deadline gambits that saw the Sixers reel in five second-round draft picks while giving the team some added flexibility heading into the offseason.
On Thursday, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Philadelphia had agreed to deal center Spencer Hawes to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Earl Clark, Henry Sims and a pair of second-rounders.
Hawes is one of the league’s better floor-spacing big men, but he checked out on the Sixers’ miserable season weeks ago. Even a committed Hawes isn’t a very formidable defender, so a clear lack of effort lately in Philadelphia made his work in coverage egregious.
Hinkie was back at it again just a few hours later, in what proved to be the biggest deal on an otherwise milquetoast afternoon: sending Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen to the Indiana Pacers for Danny Granger and Indy’s 2014 second-round pick, per Wojnarowski.
For the Sixers, the two deals share one crucial crux in common: They each jettisoned players whose contracts were set to expire at the end of the year, while getting more of the same in return.
In the case of Turner, Philly avoids having to reach beyond the team’s $8.7 qualifying offer to re-sign the versatile swingman.
Insofar as few expected the Sixers to match on any offer for Turner beyond the qualifying offer, the move didn’t move the needle much from a financial perspective—at least not yet.
As of today, Philly has $23.7 million in committed salaries heading into summer. That would put them close to $30 million below the CBA-sanctioned salary cap floor.
Yet, as SB Nation’s Mark Deeks explains in a column for Business Insider, that hardly matters when you’re in a position like the Sixers are:
The 'punishment' for missing the minimum salary threshold is merely that you get charged up to the amount of it anyway. That's it. The excess is divided up amongst the players on the roster at a percentage determined by the NBA Player's Association, and that's all that happens. That's not a punishment at all. That's not even really a penalty.
In fact, Deeks says, staying just below the floor actually has its advantages:
Indeed, it's the greatest trade asset in the league. Philly can use this to take on salary (and importantly, the assets) of other teams who want or need to trim it. They've already done this on a small scale four times.
Should Jason Richardson decline his $6.6 million player option, Philly could be even further under the salary floor, giving them more room to sign any number of upcoming free agents.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Richardson—who, at 33 years old, isn’t likely to find a better deal on the open market—goes ahead and exercises his option. What might Hinkie’s next move be?
Just like any true artist with a fresh canvass and palette, the answer is at once simple and exhilarating, particularly if you're a Sixers fan: Hinkie can do literally anything he wants.
Convince Granger to come back at a discount and help mentor a team on the rise? Hinkie can do that.
Trade Thaddeus Young for more picks or ascendant talent? He can do that, too.
Trade Young and a slew of picks for borderline superstar? Sure.
Use a few second-rounders and the first-rounder from the New Orleans Pelicans to move up in this year’s draft? Why not?
Use the team’s youth movement—led by Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel—as leverage to sign any one of the bevy of big-name free agents slated to hit the market this summer? Yep.
Less than a year into his new position, Hinkie has done more than enough to elicit the trust of head coach Brett Brown, who expressed as much during an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey earlier today:
‘We talk all the time,’ Sixers coach Brett Brown said of being informed of potential trade moves. ‘At the end of the day, I really do trust Sam Hinkie's judgment. I leave it to Sam.'
After eight years as Daryl Morey’s right-hand man with the Houston Rockets, Hinkie has wasted little time and spared few tricks in carving out a philosophy and approach all his own.
To the casual observer, the moves might look like little more than chaos for the sake of itself—the fanciful flailings of a general manager who might not look like he knows what he’s doing.
Little do they know how different a tune they’ll be singing in a year or two.
Tanking, like painting's modernist movement, is an art whose approach has been feared or frowned upon by many, for reasons both rational and not.
As the Sixers continue apace in their quest for youth and flexibility, Hinkie’s means and methods will be viewed by many as too cynical, too calculating to be applauded.
But a masterpiece is a masterpiece, even if takes years of pain and patience to pull off. And, like any masterpiece, the vision and creativity Hinkie exhibited in producing it might only be appreciated in hindsight.
At that point, the problem is never with the visionary, but the too-many imitators.