Sam Hinkie makes a big splash

Silent Sam Hinkie made an awful lot of noise Thursday night.

The 76ers' rookie general manager set the team on a brand-new course with some troublingly familiar landmarks. Give him that much: A year after the franchise-shattering Andrew Bynum debacle, it takes a certain amount of confidence to trade away the team's only all-star for an injured big man.

This time, the all-star is 23-year-old guard Jrue Holiday, arguably the one player universally liked by Sixers fans. The big man is 19-year-old Nerlens Noel, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament midway through his lone college season at Kentucky.

Incredible as it sounds, given the dreadful 2012-13 season, the Sixers will start the 2013-14 season waiting for Noel's surgically repaired left knee to heal.

There is a vast difference between Bynum's chronic and mysterious ailments - not to mention his bizarre decision to go bowling with one bad knee and come home with two - and an ACL tear like Noel's. The risk/reward calculation is completely different.

But you're still talking about a big man with a bad knee. And it is more than a little troubling that five teams passed on Noel, a player many projected to be taken first or second. The Sixers ignored similar red flags when they traded Andre Iguodala and a lot more for Bynum last summer.

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Sixers owner Joshua Harris said the team wouldn't hesitate to remain aggressive and take risks in the wake of the Bynum ordeal. But it's still a bit surprising that the team would take such a similar risk so soon.

Noel is not nearly the finished product that Bynum was last summer. He is NBA-ready as a defensive player but is very rough on the offensive end. With his slight frame - 206 pounds stretched along 6 feet, 11 inches - Noel is going to get pushed around in the paint until he fills out a bit.

Hinkie's actual first draft pick was overshadowed by the headline-grabbing trade, but it offered an interesting glimpse into how the GM thinks. Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams is already close friends with Noel. The two played on the same AAU team in their native Massachusetts.

Just like that, the chemistry of the team is different. Or, more accurately, a team without chemistry suddenly has some complementary elements.

Fans and media have been puzzled by Hinkie's delay in hiring a head coach. Here's one theory: Maybe he found interest in the job lukewarm and thought it would heat up after a radical makeover of the roster. A coach may be more intrigued by building with Noel, Carter-Williams, and newly created cap flexibility than trying to make chicken salad from the barnyard leavings of the 2012-13 roster.

On top of that, if reports about the trade with New Orleans are correct, the Sixers could have two shots at Andrew Wiggins, who has already been anointed the best player in the 2014 draft. And rest assured, with no Holiday and with Noel sidelined until December, the Sixers are going to be in the lottery again next year.

But a plan is emerging, and the Sixers' situation may look more attractive to a prospective coach than it did Thursday afternoon.

This remains a theory because Hinkie declined to explain his moves until well after deadline. At least he's consistent.

As annoying as Hinkie's prolonged silence was to many fans and media, it was always going to come down to the moves he made. If the Sixers begin to win, Hinkie's awkward first two months will be long forgotten.

Ultimately, Hinkie has made things harder on himself. Sure, it takes a lot of work to evaluate the wreckage of a roster and plot a way to rebuild it. But further alienating fans hungry for hope after the Bynum episode served no purpose. All Hinkie created was a cloud of skepticism. He may have to ask these same fans to be patient with him. It couldn't hurt to create some good will with them first.

When it finally came time to take action, Hinkie was certainly bold. He ignored the history, calculated the risks against the potential rewards, and made a franchise-altering trade.

There's a saying about what happens to those who ignore the lessons of history. Hinkie's tenure here now rides on history not repeating itself.

 


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com.