Picture a bank vault. Yes, this is a column about the 76ers and their reticent general manager, Sam Hinkie, and Thursday's NBA draft. But first, please be patient, and just picture a bank vault.
Behind that giant, circular door - four feet thick, made of steel, equipped with a complex dial lock - are untold amounts of treasure and wealth. Now, imagine there are two burglars, each of whom wants to break into the vault.
The first thief is an affable, diligent fellow, as far as felons go, and his plan to enter the vault is simple. He spends hours each day banging his head against that steel door, believing with all his heart that he will break it down. Every night, he visits the lair of the crime boss who employs him, saying, Trust me, no one is working harder at opening that vault than I am. The boss appreciates that the burglar is providing these updates and doing his best to steal that treasure, and every morning, the burglar returns to the vault to concuss himself again.
The second thief also works for the crime boss, but he is more circumspect. He never provides any updates on his progress. In fact, he vanishes for several weeks. No one hears from him. No one knows what he's doing.
One day at last, he returns from his mysterious hiatus. He tells the boss that he's been learning everything he can about cracking bank-vault doors. Then, he begins tinkering with the lock.
OK, two questions:
Which burglar is more likely to make off with the loot?
Do you think the crime boss cares anymore about those updates?
Sam Hinkie is taking heat. He may not realize it, because he doesn't pay much attention to what is written or said about him around here, but he is. We're closing in on Thursday's NBA draft, and the Sixers have the No. 3 pick and the No. 10 pick and a chance to quicken the pace of their rebuilding process, and Hinkie isn't talking. He's not granting any on-the-record interviews. The Sixers have announced that he won't be available to the media on draft night, that he won't speak until Friday. He's become the J.D. Salinger of GMs.
On talk radio and social media, even among some of the Sixers' beat reporters, Hinkie's silence is regarded as outrageous, a nose-thumbing at reporters and fans desperate for insight and information. Why can't he spare a little time to talk to the public? Why can't he make it a little easier on those of us who cover the team? Doesn't he want the Sixers to be relevant? Doesn't he know he's not in Houston anymore?
Hinkie certainly would make our jobs easier by speaking more, and maybe he'd build up some goodwill by being more open and accommodating (and, every once in a while, by making sure Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine's campus-security forces don't get overzealous).
But these courtesies are secondary to his obligation to devote himself to compiling a championship-caliber roster of players. Ultimately, that's the standard by which everyone in the market, including Sixers ownership, will evaluate him and his tenure - or should, anyway. And if Hinkie considers spouting clichés during a dog-and-pony-show radio spot to be a waste of his time, or if he worries that being too forthcoming during an interview would put him at a disadvantage (vis-a-vis other teams) heading into the draft, people will just have to find a way to survive.
Either way, it's irrelevant to whether he and the Sixers will pick the right players and/or make the right trades Thursday night.
Here's the thing about covering and following pro sports: We often judge players, coaches, and executives - both their personal character and their ability to do their jobs - by how and how frequently they speak to the media. Is he approachable? Does he get it? Good. Then he must be a good guy.
But being insightful or glib or approachable doesn't necessarily correlate to excellence or integrity or proficiency. (For conclusive evidence, see ROSE, PETE.) Hinkie could spend hours each day giving interviews, holding news conferences, kissing babies, grabbing a Wiz wit at Pat's, immersing himself in the local customs and traditions and lingo, becoming one of us, and the Sixers will never become relevant again unless he manages to undo more than a decade's worth of bad basketball decisions.
Yes, fans want to feel like they're along for the ride. They want to feel a connection to their team. But more than anything, they want that treasure behind that bank-vault door, and they'll accept Hinkie's belief that there's more for him to lose than gain by speaking publicly before the draft - as long as it means he eventually cracks a lock that has remained unopened since 1983.
Come Friday, though, that had better be one serious update.