Top 10 lessons we can learn from former Philadelphia 76ers exec Sam Hinkie’s exit letter

Sam Hinkie might be a little down today, but not for long.

Sam Hinkie might be a little down today, but not for long.

When ESPN reported the departure of Philadelphia 76ers head of basketball operations Sam Hinkie and included a link to a supposedly confidential 13-page letter of explanation to the owners of the team, I was giddy.

Either the letter would be a scorched earth rebuke of the safety-first moves the owners have made to marginalize Hinkie’s power over the franchise, or he would pull back the curtain and reveal the method behind the madness.

I was a little disappointed it contained a very sober example of the latter because who doesn’t love to read an angry screed written with emotions raw from perceived abuse?

When I finished reading it, I thought two things – smart and bold guy in over his head at an organization unready to pay the price for success, and whomever the 76ers hires to run things is going to reap the harvest of a championship contender from the seeds planted by Hinkie.

Here are the 10 lessons we can learn from Hinkie’s letter (read it for yourself by clicking HERE:

10 – Hinkie is going to be the GM or president of basketball ops of a championship team – or give a franchise a great chance at it.  The letter is smart on many levels, but it succeeds best as a convincing if unending explanation of bold methodology.  Some owner is going to hire Hinkie, give him the keys to his team, and relax.  Hinkie will use the lessons learned in Philadelphia to succeed where he failed with the 76ers.

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9 – Developing a championship philosophy still requires a little good fortune to blossom.  Look at the San Antonio Spurs.  Is there a better run team in sports?  Under architect/coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have won five NBA Championships.  If David Robinson doesn’t break his foot during the 96-97 season, the Spurs would never have been in a position to draft Tim Duncan.  With Duncan and a healthy roster, the Spurs went from 17 to 56 wins.  How about the New England Patriots being smart/lucky enough to draft Tom Brady in the sixth round?  Smart always needs luck.

8 – Knowing what you are doing is never enough.  There is no doubt after reading Hinkie’s letter that he chose to embark upon a unique path on behalf of his employer – one that might take many years to bear fruit depending upon the strength of NBA drafts and the luck of the ping pong balls used to determine the order.  You need an owner who is not just easily convinced you are right, but a staunch advocate in your methodology if you are to last long enough to prove you are right.

7 – Sports = business.  You don’t need to be a sports fan to glean lessons from Hinkie’s letter.  Swap the basketball verbiage for that of pharmaceuticals, insurance, or media, and you have a great piece of communication.  Watch sports, and you can extrapolate many lessons about business.

6 – Never take your owner’s trust for granted.  If upper management or an owner claims to understand completely the plant-now/reap-later tactics being used to win three-to-five years later, keep fortifying your position.  Continue to inform, extoll, explain, cajole, and involve the owner in every part of the process.  There will be people in the organization (likely in sales) who alibi their performance based upon product failure.  That narrative must be assumed and combated regularly.  The alternative is a new employer.

5 – If current evidence shows failure, explain clearly the long-term goals inside and outside the organization.  The 76ers suck.  They are one of the worst teams in the history of the NBA.  If Hinkie left without explanation, people (some uninformed NBA owners among them) would judge him based upon current results.  By writing and releasing the letter, Hinkie not only explains his operations manual but also rightfully claims credit in advance for future growth of his former team.

4 – Shred your first emotional letter, and send the prudent one.  I’m not sure Hinkie wrote the typical pissed off missive before crafting this 13-page explanation of management that will undoubtedly earn him another GM gig.  If you are angry DO NOT press send.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Hinkie leaked the letter himself as  an addendum to the resume’ he will send to the 29 other NBA franchises.  It was easy to see what Hinkie was up to in Philly, but what philosophies the man behind the plan subscribed to was never fully explained outside the 76ers franchise.  Now we know.

3 – Always follow a really smart forward-thinking manager.  If you assume a position previously held by a dolt as a manager in business or sports, you are going to have problems because of the shortsighted focus and spackling holes in which he or she likely indulged to cause and cover poor performance.  Follow a smart leader, and you will be set for 18-24 months.  That kind of cushion to learn the environment and develop your own set of longterm plans is a great luxury.

2 – Ownership impatience is rarely rewarded.  When an owner empowers a manager to put together a three or five-year plan, never take him at his word – ever.  Always employ a parallel track that will show growth in the short-term to control the immediate narrative because the owner needs a story to tell peers and friends as the long game takes root.  This is Hinkie’s third season running the 76ers, and his current roster is 10-68.  Owners can only answer the derision that comes with owning a failure by pointing five years down the road for so long.

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1 – The 76ers are going to win big.  There are no sure things in the NBA Draft, minus the once per generation obvious magic of a LeBron James or Michael Jordan, so gathering draft picks is a game similar to craps.  The more numbers you have covered, the more likely you are to hit big.  Unlike craps though, all you need is to cash on one or two bets in order to win championships.  The 76ers have banked an outrageous bounty of picks in the next several drafts, and are in such a cap friendly place that plugging holes via free agency should be a simple process.

Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-6p, and writes about Indiana sports at

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