Thursday, April 07, 2016

Sam Hinkie's 13-page resignation letter - My thoughts

A few thoughts:

1) My dad liked to heat our farmhouse with a wood burning stove, so once every couple of years we would go to our 50 acres of woods and cut down trees (using a chainsaw, not an axe).  We would then cut the wood into 24 inch sections and put it all in an enormous pile by the barn.  By the summer of 1984, the pile was 14 feet high by 20 feet wide.  It was enormous.  I didn't have a real job in the summer of 1984, so my job was to keep the house for my mom (who worked) and split wood (and do other farm work) for my dad (who worked at the school as his real job).  He expected me to split wood every day.  So that summer I would split wood using a mall and wedges and also using an axe.  Some days one hour, some days up to three hours.  So, there are probably not many people who know more about using an axe than I do.

Hinkie makes this statement -- "Abraham Lincoln said, 'Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe."

Now, as someone who has swung an axe for 1-3 hours a day, the idea that I would spend 6 hours chopping down a tree struck me as shocking.  I know that people back in Lincoln's day were frigging tough, but swinging an axe for six hours to cut down one tree would ruin you physically and mentally.  (Most people pre-chainsaw used a crosscut saw to cut down trees, not an axe, but anyway...).  Since there were no Sequoia trees in Illinois or Kentucky (to my knowledge) I cannot imagine anyone ever taking 6 hours to cut down a tree.  You can chop down a 12 inch diameter tree in under 30 minutes.  And if my father gave me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I told him "I will sit on my ass and sharpen my axe for 4 hours first" he would kill me.

Plus, it takes like 10 minutes or less to sharpen an axe.  If you sharpened an axe for 4 hours, there would be no axe left.  (Imagine sharpening a knife for 4 hours or sharpening a pencil for 4 hours - it would be non-existent when you were done - you are doing more harm than good).

So, in light of this knowledge on wood chopping, I decided that Lincoln must have been joking.  The only way the comment makes any sense is if Lincoln was saying, by analogy, "give someone a loose deadline and they will sit around and not do much."   So I looked it up. 

Lincoln never said any such thing.  The quote was always an old saying about if you had 5 (or 10) MINUTES to cut down a tree you'd spend half that time sharpening the axe:  The quote was never attributed to Lincoln until the 1980s when the sort of business books that Hinkie loves to read started to need to explain why you should spend a lot of time preparing for what you are eventually going to do. 

This is not mere nitpicking.  What Hinkie is trying to say by using this quote is that he needed 5 years to turn around the Sixers, and he has spent 34 months trying to do so.  That is more than reasonable, since it might take 6 hours to chop down a tree and you need 4 hours to sharpen the axe.  But the actual source of the quote is that you have 5 or 10 MINUTES to cut down a tree.  That is very little time.  Sure you cannot just start swinging wildly with a dull axe, but that frigging tree has to come down in a few minutes, not six hours (or in Hinkie's case, 5 years).

Hinkie's situation is not akin to someone having 6 hours to cut down a tree.  His situation is more like someone being called in to unclog a drain or a toilet in someone's house.  Sure the plumber might say "we need to re-do the plumbing so this never happens again" but will the homeowner agree to wait 2-3-4 months with no working plumbing?   Doubtful.

2) His Buffett analogy baffles me.  According to this interview: Buffett had determined that by 1969 there were simply no good investments out there and he would rather give the people who trusted him their money back rather than try to invest it and lose it.

So, by analogy, Hinkie would be saying that the Sixers had no more deals to make.  The market sucks and all of the assets that the Sixers have gathered were the best they could do in the current market.  His job is done, he cannot do any more.

But that is really not what he says.  He makes analogies to collecting a ton of assets designed to acquire great veteran players (Boston getting Garnett, the Spurs waiting 5 years to get Aldridge).  So........if the Sixers have Embiid (who apparently is really lighting it up in practice gyms) and Okafor and 100 draft picks (plus Jerian Grant, my lord he loves Jerian Grant) [NOTE -- it is Jerami Grant, not Jerian Grant - my bad]  then aren't Hinkie's services needed most RIGHT NOW?  Surely in 34 months he has put together a sign-and-trade plan to get Kevin Durant or LeBron or some other great player.  Right?  Why not stay around to pull the trigger on that deal?

If you look very closely, what he actually says is that he has to leave because of "management changes."  So this implies that he has so little power that he cannot do what he wants to do.  This is exactly the OPPOSITE of what Warren Buffett did -- Buffett had people lining up to give him money to invest, he could have invested it anyway he wanted.  Buffett, however, felt the market was so awful that the best decision was to do nothing - so he did nothing.   What Hinkie is really whining about is that the Sixers won't let him do what he wants.  That has nothing to do with what Warren Buffett did in 1969.

3) Hinkie makes some rather odd statements.  First, he mentions that in 2012-13 the Sixers had won a "disappointing" 34 games.  What Sixers fan today wouldn't be ecstatic if in the next 2 years they somehow managed to win 34 games in a season?

Second, he states how great the Sixers were on defense with a great veteran like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute anchoring the defense, but declined thereafter when using young players.  I don't recall there being any significant bidding war for Luc. If the Sixers wanted to retain him, I am sure they could have.  So why state that you used to be great at something with a guy you basically threw away for nothing? 

Third, he emphasizes that the Sixers' future is bright by stating that a website projects them in 3 years as the 12th best team in the NBA.  12th best - wow.  So it only took three years of the darkest ugliest basketball in the last 40 years to get to a point where the Sixers (in the future) may be the 12th best team!  (Hinkie suggests maybe 10th best).  Wow.  Awesome.  So you took over a team that had won a "disappointing 34 games" and now someone projects a 12th place future for you!  That is around 45 wins.

"Give me a team that won 34 games, give me three years where you are the league laughingstock and I will turn that into the possibility of 45 wins five years from now!"
Sign me up!

Back to my plumbing analogy - toilet needs unclogging, guy comes in, says, "I will make things worse for 3 months, and you will have to use an outhouse that I will place out by the road during that time, but in 5 months you will have a 25% better plumbing system. Not the best system, mind you, but pretty good."

Finally, his 'zero sum game" analysis is odd.  First, all teams do not have the same 82 games.  There are not 82 games "up for grabs" -- There are 30 teams and 82 games per team and one winner per game.  I would imagine that is 1,230 wins up for grabs, not 82.  (I am pretty sure that math is correct - if it were a two-team league each team would play 82 games and there would be 82 wins and 82 losses up for grabs).   What Hinkie's approach has proved is that you do not have to "take" wins necessarily, sometimes teams will tank and give you wins.  His entire letter implies that the Sixers intentionally lost games to gather better assets and have a steeper recovery.  Every team who played the Sixers had a better chance as a result of this strategy.

If what you need to do is "zig" while the other teams "comfortably zag" then why must we "respect tradition" as well?  I feel almost as if I am a 12 year old boy again listening to Joe Garagiola every week discuss that the number one key to pitching is (fill in different thing every week - a good fastball, changing speeds, location, being mentally tough, having a good breaking ball).  This is the sort of mental masturbation and CYA that people do who cannot explain what their philosophy is.  "I try to be a harsh grader, but fair" said one of my college professors.  "I will run you to exhaustion, but you will love showing up for practice" said a coach.  Both extremely terrible at their jobs, but both had read books stating that you need to be "_________ but the opposite of ________."   


I am not saying that The Process put in place by Hinkie may not work.  I mean, the Sixers have a good player in Okafor, an OK player in Noel and just a bevy of draft picks -- some of which may be very high picks in what is expected to be a very good draft.  Could they get Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray and all of a sudden become a playoff team?  Sure.  Hinkie may have done a good job.  Time will tell.

But when you are quitting because the boss prefers someone else, say, "Look, the boss prefers someone else, I am a figurehead, so I am moving on."  You can mention the good things you have done and say how you think the team has potential to be #1 in the East if they draft well.  No harm in that.  But the gibberish and self-contradictory crap that Hinkie tosses into 13 pages says to me that he is a very insecure person who wants everyone to know that he has met a lot of people and read a lot of books and needs people to believe that he is far, far smarter than anyone who criticizes him.  That does not earn him any points in my book, and I will always try to avoid such people, particularly where they accept at face value ridiculous quotes incorrectly attributed to Abe Lincoln.

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