THE FIRE that was burning in the eyes of 76ers coach Brett Brown in the early afternoon Thursday was very similar to the look he has when roaming the sideline late in games. Though he was standing on the court at the Sixers' practice facility at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Brown wasn't overseeing offensive sets or implementing defensive strategies. He was talking about the sudden resignation of the man who hired him. He was relaying the disappointment he felt. He seemed, well, a little bit pissed.
Who could blame him? In a rambling, 13-page letter to the ownership group sent out on Wednesday, Hinkie said he was ending his tenure as president and general manager, stating, in part, that "given all the changes to our organization, I no longer have the confidence that I can make good decisions on behalf of investors in the Sixers. So I should step down. And I have."
Hinkie hired Brown and put him in the front line of the firing squad that is the NBA, with limited bullets, no protection and a promise that things would be better if the head coach could just survive in the meantime. Hinkie didn't have to look opposing coaches in the eyes during blowout losses. He didn't have to endure his starting point guard questioning his teaching lessons during a 50-point loss, as Michael Carter-Williams did in Dallas in November 2014. Hinkie didn't have to try and contend with a revolving door of players, many of whom never belonged and haven't gotten back into, an NBA uniform. He didn't answer the litany of questions put forward as the team threatened multiple losing-streak records multiple times over the past three seasons. And Hinkie watched, without offering a hint of assistance, as Brown walked passed him in the hallways of Madison Square Garden to meet with the media and talk about the two-game suspension levied by the organization on rookie Jahlil Okafor after a few troubling, off-court episodes.
For those reasons, and some more during the pair's time together, Brown has a right to be upset with Hinkie. Actually, he has reason to be downright furious.
The coach masked any sort of angry feelings he may have toward Hinkie by relentlessly using the word disappointed. But it seemed to be more than that.
Maybe Brown is forward-thinking. It appears that Bryan Colangelo, son of chairman of basketball operations Jerry Colangelo, will be named the new general manager in the coming days. Perhaps the younger Colangelo will look to put his footprint on this franchise, and that usually starts with a coaching change. Maybe that has Brown's Irish up.
Or perhaps Brown is upset that one of the few people who have been stuck in the mud with him through a 47-195 record the past three years has bailed.
"Today is an unfortunate day," Brown said. "I think Sam's abilities and what Sam has done since he's been here, although challenged all over the country, it's disappointing for him not to be a part of what will happen over the next few months. I come here this morning more with that flavor of appreciation and gratitude for the efforts and time that he's put in.
"I say disappointed, selfishly that I'm disappointed. I tell him that. I want him to see this through with us. He deserves, he's earned the right to see this through. The fact that he's not going to go over (to Camden) and see a practice facility or see Joel Embiid play on a court or Dario Saric come over, see our young guys grow, that disappoints me from a human standpoint as much as a professional standpoint. I know he's taking his hits all over the place, but he hired me. I was his partner. The very large majority of things we did, we did together. We'll move on."
Hinkie has certainly left the franchise in good hands, with plenty of money to spend and numerous high draft picks not only for the upcoming draft, but for a few years after that. Most of the expectations for the future ride on the humongous shoulders of Embiid. Brown wouldn't mind seeing a few worthy veteran free agents brought in to help the winning start next year, to go with what certainly will still be a painfully young roster. All of those things are possible because of the work of Hinkie. That cannot be understated or forgotten.
Without Hinkie, Brown certainly will feel an air of freshness. All this losing has become unimaginably stale. New ideas, new conversations and a sort of clean slate have to be something Brown will look forward to. But there just seemed to be an edge about the affable coach on Thursday.
Is there a feeling of betrayal? Maybe. Hurt? No doubt.
"If the path and the plan were to rebuild and to put the club into a position where we have, I hate using the word assets, we have pieces that can leapfrog us forward in a very dramatic way," Brown reasoned. "The additional year, probably this third year, as we'll look back to talk about it, that caught some of us off guard in regards to the longevity as to how long does a rebuild take? I think Joel and Dario Saric's draft year, where it has effectively ended up a redshirt year, has caught us off guard a little. Where we are now at, for Sam not to be a part of what's going on moving forward, that's unfortunate.
"He obviously felt like this was something he didn't want to be a part of. He didn't want to be a part of the collaborative effort with the people that we are talking to moving forward. I respect it. I'll miss not seeing this through with him. It truly doesn't diminish my disappointment of not seeing this through with him."