We know by now that 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie is a difficult man to embarrass. If the dreadful play of his team over the last three seasons hasn't accomplished it, then very little else, including a public depantsing delivered by owner Josh Harris, stands much of a chance.
Hinkie still believes in The Process, which makes at least one of him in the team's hierarchy. Harris had enough doubts that he hired a grown-up to act as hall monitor over the dubious plan, even though Jerry Colangelo will do his monitoring from the sunny climes of Phoenix with the help of Skype and associate head coach Mike D'Antoni, who will be his eyes and ears on the daily business of the franchise.
Where this eventually leaves Hinkie is anyone's guess. A longtime NBA executive told me that Harris will have to choose at some point between his general manager and Colangelo, a guy who will not respond well if his suggestions are treated as, well, suggestions.
"I was asked to take a look at the Philadelphia situation. I like challenges. I've always competed. This is kind of the ultimate challenge," Colangelo said in a television interview.
In other words, Colangelo says he thinks Hinkie has bungled things so badly that fixing the franchise is the NBA equivalent of the loaves and fishes. There is really no other way to interpret those words. Whether he actually believes them is another matter.
It could be that Colangelo looks at the Sixers and at the assets Hinkie has accumulated and sees that the team can easily become respectable with the fruits of next year's plentiful draft and some judicious trades and free-agent signings. If that's the case, Colangelo will be in position to accept both the credit and a wad of Harris' cash. Timing is everything, after all.
In that scenario, Hinkie would be remembered as the guy who tore the team apart, but needed veteran help to build it back up. That's a bitter pill, and would be somewhat unfair, but what are Hinkie's options right now? He could have quit when Harris told him he needed a babysitter, but the other owners around the league aren't clamoring to hire a GM to turn their team into a toxic waste dump for an unspecified period of time.
Hinkie opted to smile his Mona Lisa smile and say how excited he is to have Colangelo on board, which is much the same thing - minus the smile - that Brett Brown said about having D'Antoni embedded in his coaching staff. At least Brown got a contract extension out of it. Hinkie has to lie low and hope the plan works out quickly in order for him to even survive.
Colangelo didn't waste time getting behind the wheel. When the Sixers traded to reacquire Ish Smith, a legitimate point guard who will make the team better right away, that was not a Hinkie move. The fact that the trade came at the price of two second-round picks - those assets that Hinkie reflexively collects like lucky pennies - was almost too symbolic to be a coincidence. Second-round picks? You like those? Say goodbye to your second-round picks.
What is puzzling about this whole situation is that, having to do it again, Hinkie wouldn't have done anything differently since getting the job. He told Harris the plan. Harris bought in. Hinkie set about improving his future draft picks and acquiring assets, all for later use. The quality of the product on the floor during the interim mattered only in so much as it didn't interfere with the draft picks - and, boy, it hasn't. Hinkie has been Hinkie.
The question is what made Harris get cold feet and seek quicker improvement. Did he tire of being the outcast among his fellow owners? Is he frustrated as a tenant in someone else's building and intends to flip the team? Did commissioner Adam Silver tell him to cut the crap already?
"He came to the conclusion, once this season began, and he saw how his team was performing on the floor, that he needed to change his strategy. Other owners were not pressuring him at all," Silver said on ESPN radio. "Am I a fan of that strategy? No. That doesn't mean [it isn't] acceptable under league rules."
The owner's true motivation might not be known for a while. That the team stunk on ice shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. If Harris was really taken aback by it, he hasn't been paying attention. This is exactly what he signed on for when he hired Hinkie.
As for the general manager himself, it would be hard to imagine that he isn't just a little embarrassed by the addition of Colangelo. Sure, his team has lost four out of every five for a span of 200 games. Yes, his only two certifiable NBA players are incompatible on the court. Of course, his future draft picks, and rehabbing superstar, and stashed European are nothing more than promises that could also be broken.
All true, but The Process wasn't supposed to be pretty. It was supposed to end with the same guy calling the shots, however. That's no longer the case, and there's no telling what else will change between the ugly here and the ever-distant there.