How the 76ers unraveled Sam Hinkie, turned the franchise over to the Colangelos

The Vertical
Yahoo Sports

Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie began to believe that this burgeoning front-office arrangement would never work for him, that chairman Jerry Colangelo had persuaded ownership to marginalize Hinkie’s influence and strip his authority.

Over weeks, Hinkie had considered the possibility of his future and finally decided to resign on Wednesday. He often explained himself to ownership in letters and reports, especially because that’s how it liked to be informed of his plans of action.

Sam Hinkie, center, tried to make things work with Jerry Colangelo. (AP)
Sam Hinkie, center, tried to make things work with Jerry Colangelo. (AP)
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So, Hinkie emailed his resignation letter in the afternoon to Sixers ownership, including 12 majority and minority owners, and Jerry Colangelo. He expected ownership to respond to him and work toward a joint public announcement on Thursday, sources said. Within two hours of sending the email, the letter had been leaked – Jerry Colangelo was Hinkie’s strong suspicion, sources said – to a media outlet.

Hinkie was mortified to see his words in the public arena, never expecting that a private correspondence to his superiors would become public and turn into something of a mocked manifesto. He wanted to tell his staff of his decision on late Wednesday or Thursday morning, once he talked with ownership about how his departure would be made public.

Hinkie never had the chance. The news was out, and Hinkie had lost control of his departure. His staff learned of his resignation in the news.

From the moment Colangelo arrived on the job in December, Hinkie was doomed – no matter how hard Hinkie tried to work with Colangelo, no matter how hard he tried to accept and implement his advice. Around Hinkie, people were surprised at how optimistic he had been about finding a way to coexist with Colangelo, about working together. Others were far more cynical about how this would end – and turned out to be right.

In the end, Colangelo wanted two things: to turn Hinkie into a glorified director of analytics; or run him out completely, sources said. In several parts of the Sixers’ ownership group that wasn’t well-received. Even today, Hinkie still holds strong support with several members of the Sixers’ ownership group. They believed his plan could have harvested results this summer, sources said, and that he should’ve been afforded more time on this grand experiment.

Ownership resisted on completely abandoning Hinkie, sources said. It kept finding ways to make this work long term with Colangelo and Hinkie. Colangelo signed a deal – three years in length, sources said – to oversee the franchise from afar in Phoenix. From the start, Colangelo felt that Hinkie didn’t have the necessary people skills to run an NBA organization, that he was too buried in numbers and pie graphs and PowerPoint presentations. Jerry Colangelo constantly lamented the absence of what he termed “real basketball people” in the organization. Colangelo has strong respect for Hinkie’s No. 2 man, Brandon Williams, who played in the NBA, and even signed off on Williams’ promotion to chief of staff.

Jerry Colangelo, left, with 76ers co-managing owner Josh Harris. (AP)
Jerry Colangelo, left, with 76ers co-managing owner Josh Harris. (AP)

For several weeks and months, Sixers ownership, Colangelo and Hinkie discussed different scenarios of front-office partnerships, sources said. Colangelo had convinced ownership that it needed a more basketball-savvy executive with better interpersonal skills to join Hinkie; or even simply to overtake him.

Within the past month, ownership had Hinkie meet with former Atlanta and Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry to discuss him joining Hinkie in the front office, sources said. Owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer indeed wanted Hinkie to share power with a new basketball executive, but people they canvassed for advice warned them that scenario would never work. Nevertheless, they had given Colangelo authority to make changes to basketball operations, and Colangelo was pushing for change.

Recently, Sixers ownership insisted that Colangelo had been, in the word they were using, “recused” from the hiring process of the new basketball executive. Colangelo let ownership and president Scott O’Neil conduct interviews and meetings – and stayed out of it, sources said.

Hinkie was dubious of the process, sources said, and believed that Jerry planned to find a way to turn the power over to his son, Bryan Colangelo. Make no mistake: Jerry wanted Bryan, but would’ve accepted Ferry had ownership recommended his hiring, sources said. The Sixers offered Ferry the general manager job in 2012 before he accepted Atlanta’s offer.

What’s unfair to Bryan Colangelo is this: He’s no charity case, but the cries of nepotism are unavoidable. He’s been NBA Executive of the Year twice, constructing playoff teams in Phoenix and Toronto. Every NBA executive has hits and misses, but Bryan Colangelo has had significant successes – there’s no denying it.

If Jerry Colangelo forever wanted to hire his son, Bryan was beyond reluctant to accept a job there, sources said. From the moment the Sixers hired Jerry, Bryan kept pursuing available NBA opportunities. He believed he had a great chance to get the Brooklyn Nets’ job, but was crestfallen when Sean Marks was chosen over him. Colangelo fought his way through the nepotism charges with the Suns, where he was ultimately responsible for signing Steve Nash, drafting Amar’e Stoudemire and assembling the cast of coach Mike D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds or Less contender. In Toronto, Bryan Colangelo’s body of work looked stronger with distance: drafting and re-signing DeMar DeRozan; trading for Kyle Lowry; and hiring Dwane Casey as coach.

Bryan Colangelo initially did not want the 76ers job. (NBAE/Getty Images)
Bryan Colangelo initially did not want the 76ers job. (NBAE/Getty Images)

If Bryan Colangelo had a brash disposition that could turn people off, people have seen him humbled. Even rival executives who don’t consider him a friend have great respect for Bryan’s ability to evaluate talent, make deals and a run an organization. He’s a worker, and the profession respects workers. Truth be told, Colangelo never wanted the 76ers job. Never. He wanted no part of his father’s shadow again or the cries that he needed his father to give him a GM job.

Yet 76ers ownership, including O’Neil, convinced Bryan Colangelo that it believed he was the best candidate on the market. This will be a tough sell to the public, yes, because everyone knows that Jerry wanted to see Bryan hired. Ownership and O’Neil insist that Bryan Colangelo was the best candidate to turn the Sixers’ two potential lottery picks and salary-cap space into a playoff team sooner than later.

Bryan Colangelo would’ve preferred a Nets job that had far fewer assets, a less-clear path to winning. Only, the Nets didn’t hire him. The 76ers wanted him, and Bryan Colangelo is trying to finalize contract terms with O’Neil and ownership Thursday, sources said. It won’t be long until Colangelo is reshaping the front office, with Washington Wizards executive Marc Eversley expected to eventually join him in Philadelphia, sources said.

“The Process” is over in Philadelphia, a brash and bold new-age experiment overrun by the NBA’s first family of front offices. In the end, there’s just one judge: winning. This franchise has endured great pain, but there are possibilities awaiting it with high draft picks, young talent and the uncertainty of Joel Embiid’s foot. No one in modern NBA history has learned to use power like Jerry Colangelo, and he’s done it again. That’s just how it goes in the NBA, that’s just the system.

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