Sam Hinkie is a divisive figure among those in and around the NBA. He’s a cult hero to some, the man who revolutionized team-building and brought The Process to Philadelphia. To others, he represents the worst of what the NBA has become, someone who relies wholly on numbers and eschews traditional practices and common courtesy when it comes to the human interaction portion of running a team.
Since leaving the Sixers in 2016, Hinkie has gone off of the NBA grid. He teaches classes at Stanford and works with various startups in the tech sector as an investor and advisor. However, the recent MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which is run by Hinkie’s former boss in Houston Daryl Morey, brought him back into the basketball world, at least briefly.
Hinkie appeared on panels and garnered a rockstar-like response from attendees who skew very much toward the pro-Hinkie camp. He also agreed to a rare interview, the first we’ve really seen from the former Sixers GM since he left Philly, speaking with John Gonzalez of The Ringer over the weekend and finally sharing a glimpse into his thoughts on his NBA tenure and what his plans are in the future.
Every time a GM job opens up or a GM gets on the hot seat because the team is struggling, there is a select group of that team’s fan base that immediately wonders if their franchise would hire Hinkie. His reputation has grown to be something of a tank assassin, the kind of GM that could come in, ruthlessly clean house, acquire assets and set the team up with a Sixers-like core. Whether he could or even would do that remains to be seen — Hinkie has only had one GM job and in that situation “The Process” led him to gutting the roster and collecting assets, but there’s no guarantee he would take the same approach in a different situation — but he’s not ruling anything out. From returning to the NBA to never being part of a team again, it’s all possible.
“I think there’s a misconception because of the way I talk sometimes,” Hinkie said. “I would be delighted in the right situation. I worked 11 years in the NBA, and eight of those I was not the top guy and loved it. Three of those, I was and loved that, too, in a different way. I think it’s more important to work with amazing people than it is your exact position.”
“I don’t know what the odds are,” he said about never going back to the league, “but they’re real.”
Hinkie seems far more concerned with the people surrounding him and the commitment from ownership and the rest of the front office to whatever he’d want to do than necessarily his role or the roster he was taking over. As he told Gonzalez in the piece, he’s looking for a challenge in his next venture, something truly hard like launching a startup, noting how in the grand scheme of business running an NBA team is pretty easy, simply due to the fact that you’re not going to ever worry about completely running out of money and shutting down.
It seems as though Hinkie is willing to dip his toe back in the waters of the NBA — he’s even consulted for some unnamed teams at times since leaving Philly — but whether he’ll dive fully in is a matter of what becomes available to him. As the Sixers continue to have success on the backs of the core group Hinkie assembled (or gave them the opportunity to assemble), it’s possible that more of those doors will open up for him.