Sam Hinkie And The Philadelphia 76ers: Searching For The Next Allen Iverson

Basketball, The Rev — By on February 27, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Six

On Saturday night, the Philadelphia 76ers will retire Allen Iverson’s No. 3 jersey, raising it to the rafters in front of most likely one of the largest crowds the Sixers have seen or will see all season long. For many fans, it will be the highlight of the year … or at least the biggest highlight since leading Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Carter-Williams burst onto the scene in Game 1 by toppling the reigning NBA champions in historic fashion.

That’s because the Sixers are in the midst of a spectacularly terrible season on the court, sitting with the second worst record in the NBA — 15-43 — and currently on a 12-game losing streak following last night’s loss to the now 18-42 Orlando Magic.

Tuesday, after the 76ers got blown out by the NBA’s bottom-dwellers, the Milwaukee Bucks, the great Tom Ziller asked a simple question: “Has Sam Hinkie made the Sixers too awful?

Ziller goes into many reasons why he asks this question, and one of the arguments he brings up is that “the losing further alienates an already standoffish Philadelphia fanbase.” He says perhaps all this blatant tanking will only make Philadelphia more apathetic to professional basketball, given all the local high school and college talent that can satiate the vast Philadelphia basketball thirst.

These are all good points, and yet I can’t help but disagree with the motives behind those that pose this question. Here’s why: The Philadelphia 76ers are searching for the next Allen Iverson, not searching for short-term good will … and they need the next Allen Iverson. In today’s NBA, the only way to do that is either through free agency/trade or by bottoming out and striking gold in the lottery.

Ziller is right. Philadelphia does have a standoffish attitude toward the Sixers. No matter what anyone says, the City of Brotherly Love is an Eagles town that also happens to be a tremendous hockey market. The Eagles and Flyers always sell out and always are at the forefront of the sports chatter in town. In recent years, the Phillies have helped transform Philadelphia into a baseball town, but only after a new stadium and an unprecedented run that included five straight NL East titles, two World Series trips and one World Series title — easily the most successful stretch in franchise history. Prior to that, Veterans Stadium was a veritable wasteland in the summer months, and Citizen Bank Park has been getting sparser and sparser the past two frustratingly poor seasons.

And much like the Phillies, the Sixers fit in the Philadelphia landscape the same way. They were the toast of the town in the late ’70s and early ’80s, competing for and finally winning a championship in 1983 — led by the star power of Julius Erving and Moses Malone.

The Sixers remained relevant through the ’80s when Charles Barkley arrived — another Hall of Famer with tremendous star power. Then, when the Sixers kept losing and Charles was shipped to Phoenix, the team had no discernible stars and no wins to draw fans.

Thus they didn’t. People weren’t schlepping down to the arena to watch Dana Barros, Clarence Weatherspoon, Jeff Malone and Shawn Bradley get their brains beat in. The basketball fans in this city simply put their fandom elsewhere — namely the collegiate and high school ranks, as Ziller points out.

That is, until Allen Iverson arrived. From day one, he captured Philadelphia’s attention, and quickly — with the arrival of Larry Brown as coach — the Sixers became a force with Iverson — a star and another future Hall of Famer — at the forefront. Before long, the Sixers were the toast of the town, with Iverson ruling the roost and the Sixers climbing their way up to elite status in the Eastern Conference.

By the 2000-01 season, you couldn’t go anywhere in the Philadelphia region without seeing Sixers flags on cars and Sixers paraphernalia everywhere. That wasn’t because George Lynch, Aaron McKie, Tyrone Hill, Theo Ratliff/Dikembe Mutombo and Eric Snow played great defense, and it wasn’t because Larry Brown was a brilliant, Hall of Fame coach. It was because Allen Iverson had the city in the palm of his hands. The Sixers had a true superstar, and if nothing else, Philadelphia lionizes — and eventually tears down — its superstars as much as any other place in the country.

But ever since the wins began to fade and Iverson left for more mountainous pastures, the Sixers have descended back to irrelevance. Sure, they had some good players, namely Andre Iguodala, and some teams that fought hard — but they weren’t good and they had no stars.

That’s led to where the Sixers are now, and it’s why Sam Hinkie is doing what he’s been doing. The new Philadelphia GM is opening up cap space, acquiring assets and looking to make his move. In Houston, with Hinkie on board under Daryl Morey, it eventually panned out, landing the Rockets James Harden and Dwight Howard — exactly the type of star power the Sixers need to once again capture the basketball fans of Philadelphia and fill those seats.

He’s following the same blueprint that potted two superstars in Houston and the same theory that has given the Sixers their hold on Philadelphia over the years. And while there’s no guarantee it will work out, it’s a sound plan based on sound principles. Hinkie is searching for the next Allen Iverson (or two … or three) to make the Sixers players once again. Maybe that will be through the lottery picks the team is slated for. Maybe it’ll come through trades and/or free agency down the road. Maybe it will come through a combination of both. And maybe the search won’t pan out the way both fans and the organization hope.

But it’s the only way the Sixers can reasonably get back to relevance. From Wilt Chamberlain to Dr. J to Moses to Charles and finally to Iverson, it’s the stars that put the butts in the seats and the apathy at bay. Sam Hinkie knows that. Sixers fans know that. Even the apathetic professional basketball fans of Philadelphia know that.

So no, Sam Hinkie hasn’t made the Sixers too awful. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sam Hinkie has actually made searching for the next Allen Iverson feel like an attainable goal, not a hopeless pipe dream.

Rev. P. Revere

Reverend Paul Revere, aka Joe Boland, is a sports blogger out of Philadelphia whose life revolves around sports 365 and a quarter days per year. Keep up with Rev at his own personal blog, The House That Glanville Built and on Twitter.

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  • J. Tinsley says:

    “EVERYTHING MUST GO….except you Thad and MCW. BUT EVERYTHING ELSE MUST GO!” – Sam Hinke

    I see what he’s doing and I like it. He’s basically clearing house and is going to build the semblance of a contender from the ground up. He’s already got young and established talent.

    The young being MCW and Nerlens Noel. The established being Thad Young. Other than that, the cupboard is pretty bare lol. Philly going to get a top 3 pick this year no doubt. After the Bynum trade, I’d say they’re probably going to luck around and get the top pick.

    Oh, and one more thing. One time for my guy Bubba Chuck!

    MCW, (insert wing player like Parker or Wiggins), Thad and Noel isn’t a bad young core to watch next season. It’s not a title contender, of course, but it’s a step in the right direction.

    • I agree completely. I love what he’s doing. And don’t forget, the Sixers also get another lottery pick from the Pelicans so long as it’s not in the Top 5, which looks likely. On top of that, they have picks they can package or whatever.

      Hinkie is going young and flexible … and prepping for his big splash. Hopefully one (or two) of those splashes are the picks in the upcoming draft that turn into stars. We shall see. All I know is I haven’t been this excited for the direction of the franchise since the A.I.-Larry Brown days.

  • Chris says:

    The Sixers were God-awful during the 95-96 season with a rookie of the year candidate (Jerry Stackhouse) and of course that draft netted AI and a polarizing player/personality for the next decade.

    18 years late, the Sixers are in the same position, but I don’t know if any of these guys have the personality that AI has, but I trust that Sam Hinkie will find the right fit for this franchise. As tough as it’s been to watch the Sixers this season (and I’ve been watching for over 25 years), it’s reassuring to know there’s a CONCRETE plan behind it all.

  • Dillon Friday says:

    Can the Sixers become a player in free agency? Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s something they’ve never really been. There’s something admirable about constructing a team from the ground up but it’s also a considerable gamble. Hinkie can sell his plan to ownership and it appears the fans. Can he sell it to players around the league?

    • If they get a star or 2 … I think they can. Philadelphia isn’t LA or Miami or New York … but it’s also a pretty good draw of a city. If they get the right player(s), someone will sign if the team is getting close and the money is there. I really believe that.

  • Esau Howard says:

    Great to see this post come to fruition. Good stuff as always Rev, and so so relevant.

    As for Dillon’s question, Sixers haven’t been relevant through Free Agency at any point in the last decade or so. The biggest was Elton Brand who had a major knee injury that same season, and was never close to the same player that he was in LA.

    With that said, it was pretty obvious to me that the Sixers would definitely be major players in Free Agency in 2014 and 2015. With MCW, and 2 lottery picks coming the future of the team is bright, youthful, and cheap. Hinkie has cleared out so much cap space moving forward that he has no choice but to spend money, or that defeats the whole purpose of getting all this space to begin with.

    LeBron and Melo definitely aren’t coming to Philly, but what about a Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward, Greg Monroe? Not to mention I wouldn’t be surprised about names like Pau Gasol, Luol Deng, Lance Stephenson or a Zach Randolph coming into play. Hinkie knows what he’s doing, and the association at least thinks he knows what he’s doing. Fun times in the not so distant future.

    Thad is the veteran presence there, and getting some reasonable stars while continuing to build is a great start for this new era.

  • Esau Howard says:

    Plus with all the cheap contracts that the Sixers have on the rookie scale, we’re pretty much keeping all these lottery guys locked in until further notice. It’ll be nice to see them develop with veteran players.

  • JAG says:

    There’s no nobility in winning 40-45 games and losing in the first round of the playoffs every year. Better to be really good or really bad.

    I’m conflicted. It’s not fair to charge full ticket prices to loyal fans who have to watch this foolishness. But I agree that sometimes you have to take a step back to take two forward, especially since the rules of the NBA and NFL encourage this.

    I have to support tanking, but I hope the fans who stick through this are taken care of with discounts and other benefits.

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