GALLOWAY, N.J. - Sam Hinkie would not make a very good Philadelphia sports fan. For the 76ers general manager, there are no highs, no lows. His sights are still set on the future, and he's confident he and his staff will get where they want to be at some point.
If Hinkie witnessed a terrific Eagles preseason in which the offense destroyed opponents, Super Bowl thoughts wouldn't even enter his mind. He'd be the wait-and-see type, which so many around here aren't.
Reactionary, Hinkie is not. The process of improving the team is moving forward, and whether he's starting to get a little antsy or still seeing it as a multiyear progression, you just can't tell. He certainly won't.
He did give some hints yesterday, however, at the team's training-camp site at the Stockton University. Unlike his players, he didn't anoint this as a season to make the playoffs. He did seem confident the roster is further along than in the past couple of seasons, more so that the process is way ahead from when he came here.
"It feels night and day, compared to 24 months ago when we were at St. Joe's," Hinkie said, recalling his first training camp. "Everything about the kinds of things that we can control behind the scenes feels different. I think the quality of our staff and the way that they can impact our young players and the way they can impact our culture can help try to put an additional level of professionalism and an additional level of evidence-based decision-making and to try to build real habits into our guys. Those sorts of things, I feel like our machine behind the scenes runs in a way that it just didn't before."
The biggest setback to the process probably came this summer when it was discovered that Joel Embiid would need another surgery, and miss another season, because of his problematic navicular bone in his right foot. When asked whether having drafted Jahlil Okafor helped smooth that rough patch and reinforced the process, Hinkie stayed the course of not wavering.
"We felt incredibly fortunate on draft night. Incredibly fortunate," he said. "Not because of Joe (who was presumed healthy at the time), but because of Jah and the fact that he would be there. College basketball, all the talent seems to be coalescing in just a few spots. A couple of years ago, I spent a lot of time in Lawrence, Kan. Last year, I spent a lot of time in Durham, N.C. If you would have told me back in December (that they were going to get Okafor), I would have seen my kids a lot more in the spring.
"Not much surprises me about (Okafor), but the thing that does is that, for such a high pick and someone who has been the best player of his cohorts since he was 12 or 13, he's really team-oriented. He's really into his teammates, he's really into what the group is doing. He's not on any island, not doing his own thing. He's concerned with the guys and being one of the guys. And he likes that."
For Hinkie, talk about the team still doesn't involve such things as wins and losses and that lofty goal of making the playoffs, which many of the youngsters talked about Tuesday. It still revolves around the development side of things, of making marginal players NBA keepers and turning keepers into starters.
He said the team tried to make a bigger play in free agency this summer, but players mostly decided to stay put. His description suggests that the process is moving forward, perhaps seemingly at a snail's pace. But Hinkie is not offering any sort of timetable.
"I think we're on the same path, in that we have to be focused on our players and how to make each and every one of them better," Hinkie said. "I think our systems are increasingly improving - the way we play defense, I think we're going to be a reasonably high-paced team. We've added shooting to our team in a way that we haven't had in the last few years. But I think it still has to be about our guys and our players. We talk a lot about that."
Richaun Holmes has a bad foot that caused him to skip yesterday's practice and will probably force him out at least for today . . . Sam Hinkie expressed his pleasure in the job coach Brett Brown has done and said any talk of an extension will come later . . . Brown said Carl Landry (wrist) might not return to the court for another five or six weeks . . . Managing owner Josh Harris will speak to the media today.