by Zach d’Arbeloff
Let’s take a journey back to a more innocent time. It was June 2013. President Obama had just started his second term. The Miami Heat won their second NBA Championship thanks to a miraculous shot by Ray Allen. The Boston Bruins lost an excruciating Stanley Cup Finals. Despicable Me 2 was released. Lorde had just dropped “Royals.” People found out who Edward Snowden was. Game of Thrones ended a shocking third season en route to Emmys Galore. CAN YOU GUYS EVEN BELIEVE THE RED WEDDING??!!
Alex Jones addressed the annual Bilderberg Conference in England, delivered a searing rant on CNN, and burst onto the national stage.
The NBA season as a whole was fairly unremarkable, as the Miami Heat were heavy favorites to repeat and breezed to 66 wins. The Knicks, led by MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony, won 54 games en route to the 2nd seed in the East. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had their last hurrah in Boston. The George Karl (before we all knew he was racist)-led Nuggets won 57 games led by budding young point guard Ty Lawson.
The 76ers limped through a disappointing season, thanks to a failed swing at walking corpse Andrew Bynum (who sustained a career ending knee injury bowling, a feat previously thought impossible), cleaned house for the second time in three years, and hired Sam Hinkie.
There’s a moral to this story: that was a long time ago.
The Process started as a fringe cult movement. Sam Hinkie was a financial guy who was coming in to focus on asset management and rebuilding from the ground up. He made one particularly bold move: no team had ever decided to openly lose before. Upon his hiring, Hinkie announced plans to do just that. Lose, get draft picks, don’t waste money, accumulate assets.
The strategy wasn’t revolutionary at all. All you have to do to understand that “top 5 players = championships” is to look at the history of NBA champions and all you have to do to understand “drafting high is the best way to get top 5 players” is look at the rosters of the teams on the history of NBA champions.
There are two strategies: draft well or make trades and sign free agents. Usually, it is a combination of the two. Basketball is a pretty simple sport: the best talent wins.
There’s a false narrative that Sam Hinkie was a brilliant genius who concocted a bulletproof strategy for team building. What he actually did was take the oldest idea in the NBA strategy book and accidentally give it a name that became marketable. “The Process” was something people could latch on to. Even though every NBA dynasty had built mostly through the draft, Hinkie changed one important thing: he didn’t pretend that he was trying to win.
Hinkie’s biggest mistake was also what made him the perfect fringe conspiracy cult leader, the Alex Jones of the NBA (or, if you want to read the greatest thread in Twitter history, my friend Sam Sheehan’s “The No-Tax”). Teams had been purposely losing to get better draft picks for decades. It is an obvious strategy.
What Hinkie did differently was make a PR choice that made him a villain within the NBA and a hero to fans. He stuck the middle finger up at David Stern (a bold move that deserves praise) and every other team in a league that shares revenue and went about losing with castoff vets and obscure second round picks. And, eventually, he got himself fired.
Hinkie does kind of sound like a badass Robin Hood, but so does Alex Jones if you ignore the fact that he is a human meatball who screams lies for a living. Taking on the establishment and sticking it to the man is all well and good, but if done incorrectly, you’re stuck on a hill where you’re claiming that the water vapor produced by internal combustion is mysterious “chemtrails” spread by the government to mind control the people.
Just so people don’t think that Sam Hinkie stole my wife or killed my entire family, let’s take a step back and qualify this argument. He was a pretty good GM. He won a lot of trades. Like, a LOT of trades. It got to a point where I don’t understand why anyone traded with him. There’s no doubt that he put the 76ers in a fantastic position for the next GM to step in and take it the rest of the way. I do not actually hate Sam Hinkie as much as I hate Alex Jones.
Hinkie gets credit for drafting Joel Embiid, who was injured so it was more risky but was also the exact thing the Process was looking for because the risk of drafting a top-5 player is getting good too quickly, like the mid-00s Cavaliers, who never got the secondary and tertiary players to surround LeBron James. I personally thought that Embiid was the best player in the draft, and in a nice ironic twist, that it was a conspiracy because David Stern knew LeBron was going back to Cleveland and he wanted LeBron and Embiid to own everyone for half a decade as his parting gift to the NBA (that he got injured and fell to No. 3 doesn’t seem like particularly revolutionary drafting to me).
He also whiffed on Jahlil Okafor, ruined Nerlens Noel, and drafted Michael Carter-Williams instead of Giannis Antetokounmpo, which you can claim as revisionist history if you ignore that Hinkie was a GM who was purposely trying to lose games and could give a barely-legal seven foot tall point guard as much run as he needed. Giannis would have been a better ambassador for the Process than Embiid.
Hinkie was just good enough to get you to buy in. The false idol of the Process wooed the media by being open and forthcoming while at the same time ensuring his own doom. When you tell everyone you are going to lose on purpose for “the long game,” even if you brainwash your fans with a fancy proper noun, the players who you sign or trade for and release with no warning, the agents who want their players to get paid so they make money, and the other owners who you share revenue with are not gonna be psyched. Actually, they will get very mad and conspire to force you out and hire one of the league office’s chums instead.
It’s fair to point out that Hinkie never got to execute the final stage of his plan, but it’s also fair to point out that he had pissed the rest of the NBA off so much that the league had to get involved. He came from a financial background and treated the real humans in the NBA like stocks or bonds or whatever financial people deal in. Not humans. Maybe there was a corner to turn where he was less of a jackass, or where he learned his lesson (like Daryl Morey). That he didn’t get there is his own fault.
The point of basketball (and all sports) is twofold: to keep up the facade of trying to win even when sometimes you obviously aren’t just so that the fragile make believe importance of sports doesn’t come crashing down, and to make money. That’s it! And, while the Sixers appear to be set for the long term, under Sam Hinkie, they excitedly threw away both those assumptions. There is a reason Sam Hinkie got fired.
Process Truthing revolves around two assumptions: the first is that Hinkie was a bold pioneer of losing. The second is that because they have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they are now destined to win multiple championships.
Let’s take a spin around the league. The Timberwolves made the playoffs for the first time, thanks in large part to having two No. 1 picks on their roster. Our current dynasty, the Warriors, are built on two lottery picks that they drafted (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson). The 2010s “Heatles” had LeBron and Chris Bosh but only got them because they drafted Dwyane Wade. The Lakers of the 00s are never the Lakers if they don’t convince the Hornets to give up Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac.
Of course, the kings of NBA stability are no exception either; the Spurs lucked into Tim Duncan because David Robinson got injured, so they shut everything down and were an absolute embarrassment for a year. They were gifted Tim Duncan for their troubles (and every Celtics fan who just read this sentence swore). What happened? David Robinson came back, and together he and Duncan kickstarted one of the most impressive dynasties in sports history.
In 2021, if the Suns are in the NBA Finals led by Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, Dragan Bender, and Josh Jackson, are we going to orgasm over their team building process? When their owner came out and said “we’re planning to be good in 2020,” did anyone fawn over his comments like they fawn over Sam Hinkie?
Sports come down to luck. The Sixers are very lucky that Embiid had a back and foot injury that dropped him to 3 instead of Jabari “paper ACL” Parker. They are very lucky that they won the Ben Simmons lottery and that he is not currently on the Lakers or Celtics. Hinkie’s entire plan was “give us the most chances to get lucky,” and a few of the times that he did, he completely whiffed on an opportunity.
Even then: the Sixers haven’t won anything yet. What if Embiid suffers more chronic injuries? What if Markelle Fultz turns out to be a zero? What if the Process becomes more about What If? All those fans taking a victory lap based on a 52 win season and a march through a decimated Eastern Conference are cheering fool’s gold. The Process was defined on winning championships, in Hinkie’s own words: being a title competitor for a decade. It’s going to be awhile before we can evaluate the success of that.
It’s ironic that the most openly “RINGZ CULTURE” team building process ever has already been deemed a great success before it won any rings.
Last week Alex Jones had a visceral breakdown on TV (after the bombing of Syria) as he came to grips with the fact that the President he stanned so hard for was actually a nut job sociopath who didn’t mean any of what he promised. The dude literally cried about it. Donald Trump’s election was a moment he had spent his whole career building towards. It was the culmination of his fire, his blatant lies, and his conspiracy-theory addled brain willing an outsider into the White House. Drain the swamp! Rid the White House of Goblins! This new, somber Alex Jones was a stark change from the victorious shouting he had been doing since November 2016.
The big question, as InfoWars Twitter becomes more mainstream and the national NBA media have all rushed to suck at the teat of Hinkie, is whether or not we will see this turn ourselves within the Process Truthers. What happens if the Sixers suffer bad injury luck, like the Celtics did this year? What happens if they swing and miss on complementary free agents and struggle to ever get farther than an Eastern Conference Finals? At what point do we question the validity of the success of the Process in the context of the rings culture it was born out of?
These are, of course, unanswerable as this is written. With all of Philadelphia acting like the Sixers just won the NBA Finals because they made the playoffs, someone has to piss in their punch bowl. The overreaction is out of control.
At some point, the Process will have to face its own existential questions. Let’s save the joyous celebration until we know the answers.