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Innovation and Philadelphia sports franchises

Other Philadelphia GMs are innovative. Why can't Ruben Amaro Jr. be?

Another innovative Kelly signal.
Another innovative Kelly signal.
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Sam Hinkie isn't the most popular man in Philadelphia these days.  With his Sixers starting the season 0-16 and looking almost certain to be 0-17 after tonight's game against the Spurs, Hinkie's long-term plan for the team is testing the faith of a lot of fans.

Chip Kelly, on the other hand, is a very popular man in Philadelphia.  His Eagles are tied for the best record in the NFL and have a clear path to repeating as NFC East champs, something no team has done since the Eagles won the East four years in a row from 2001 to 2004.

The difference between the conditions of the two men's franchises is stark.  Nonetheless, as today's article in the Inquirer details, Hinkie has long admired Kelly and taken steps to incorporate his methods into how he approaches basketball.

Much of the article is actually an interview with Chris Finch, a Houston Rockets coach who had worked under Hinkie when Hinkie was in the Rockets' front office.  Finch details how Hinkie and others in the Rockets' front office were enamored with Kelly when he was the Oregon head coach, so much so that in 2009 they sent Finch and another Rockets' developmental league coach to Oregon to learn from Kelly.

Finch adopted much of what he saw from Kelly for the Rockets' developmental team's practices.  Warp-speed workouts, teaching off the court, blaring music, and more overall efficient practices were straight from the Kelly playbook.  The team eventually even adopted Kelly's mysterious play cards during games.  The result?  Two championships with the new systems in place.

According to the article, Hinkie was impressed:

Those results were all the confirmation that Hinkie needed to persuade him that, if he ever got the chance to be in charge of an NBA franchise, he would put the same measures into practice at basketball's highest level. So at their training camp this year at Stockton, the Sixers blasted rock and rap music and ran and ran and ran, and Hinkie has spoken with admiration of team-oriented wrinkles other franchises have considered, such as Sacramento's idea of playing four-on-five defense so one player can cherry-pick on offense.

Obviously, this hasn't translated to on-the-court success yet, but the point of the article is that Hinkie, like Kelly, is drawn to innovation.  As Finch explained toward the end of the article, "You can't be afraid to be embarrassed if you're going to try new things.  That's part of the reason we did it. What do we do that's really old school and not efficient anymore? What do we do just because it's always been done this way? Let's try to figure out a better way."

The article concludes by noting the common thread between Hinkie and Kelly: "[T]he audacity to reject the tired, the old, the stale. It's the most important trait they could share."

Which brings us to the Phillies and Ruben Amaro Jr.  If there's any franchise that is more wedded to "the tired, the old, the stale" and has less audacity to innovate, it's the Phillies.  If there's any GM who would be more averse to scouting another sport's thought-leader to learn what may possibly work for his team, it's Amaro.

It's hard to think of a single thing that the Phillies have been even close to innovators or market leaders about.  They've been squarely in the middle of the pack or much much worse with, to mention just a few, modern statistical analysis, defensive shifting, a new stadium, international scouting and signings, getting a mega TV deal, and realizing the value of draft picks.

To be fair to the Phils, middle of the pack suited them well for building a new stadium, if only because they did such a great job with CBP, still an amazing place to see a game.  But they were far behind much of their competition in this regard, giving up years of added revenue to other teams.  Same with the Comcast deal, which we all hope will be a good one even though it was signed years after most other big market teams had re-negotiated to infuse their franchises with cash.

Doing things as they've been done in the past.  Sticking with the old school.  Rehiring people just because they've been with the team before.  Having no idea what's efficient and what's not.

This is the hallmark of the Phillies, the epitome of a franchise allergic to innovation and forward-thinking.  The current vision in the Sixers and Eagles front offices only drives that point home even further.