“The Appointment in Samarra,” as told by W. Somerset Maugham.
The speaker is Death:
There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
John O’Hara, one of Pennsylvania’s most important writers, used the story above as the inspiration for his seminal novel, Appointment in Samarra. A tale of self-destruction written as if the events were inevitable, random and contradictory though they seem to the reader, Samarra was controversial when it was published, and it remains so to this day. In the novel, disparate events conspire to weave a narrative, but the story that emerges is not necessarily the story that one would assume given knowledge of the preceding events. The novel is a horror story, in many respects. Our decisions doom us all, if only because we all have our own appointments in Samarra.
Which brings us to the Philadelphia 76ers and the last dying breath of the Process.
Sam Hinkie resigned from the 76ers on April 6, 2016.
He was shamed out, basically: Adam Silver forced the 76ers ownership to hire a “traditional” NBA man to oversee Hinkie. It was obvious and it was pathetic. Since Silver’s obsequious, passive-aggressive exiling of Hinkie and his Process from the NBA, more teams than ever are following Hinkie’s example and are tanking all the way, bottoming out HARD, in order to maximize their draft chances and clear salary. The NBA is Hinkie now. But, he was forced out the door so that the Sixers could replace him with nepotism: an NBA lifer’s son who promptly torpedoed the team, whose wife secretly spread shit about the team’s best players, and who was, in due course, fired. Hooray, Adam Silver!
Since Hinkie, ahem, “left,” the 76ers have gone through some changes. Here’s an incomplete list of them. You tell me: are the Sixers better off without their architect?
4/6/16 - Hinkie resigns after being publicly humiliated by 76ers ownership and the NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver. Three years later, Hinkie’s Process is standard operating procedure in the NBA.
6/23/16 - The 76ers draft Ben Simmons #1 overall. Hinkie’s vision of pairing stars with each other is achieved: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are full-on studs and Hinkie’s the man who brought them to Philadelphia. The 76ers, who are in a transition period in the front office since their GM abruptly had to leave for some reason, also draft Timother Luwawu with the 24th overall pick and Furkan Korkmaz with the 26th overall pick. They could have drafted Pascal Siakam at 27, Dejounte Murray at 29, or Malcolm Goddamn Brogdan at 36. OR, they could have traded one or two of their THREE FIRST ROUND PICKS. Instead, they drafted guys who will never amount to anything. Easy to draft Ben Simmons, so the Philly brain trust, such as it is, gets no credit for that. They completely whiff with their other two first round picks. One assumes that Hinkie would have traded at least one of them. Oh well.
7/13/16 - They sign Jerryd Bayless to a multi-year contract. No one, anywhere, knows why.
7/15/16 - They sign Dario Saric to a multi-year contract. Good signing.
11/1/16 - The 76ers trade Jerami Grant to Oklahoma City for Ersan Ilyasova and a 2020 1st round pick. They later traded Ilyasova, before resigning him, and then traded him again. Meanwhile, Jerami Grant looks good in OKC this year.
2/22/17 - Ilyasova is traded to Atlanta for Tiago Splitter. I know, gamechanger.
2/23/17 - Nerlens Noel is traded to Dallas for Andrew Bogut, who is then waived.
6/19/17 - Philadelphia trades two 1st round picks to Boston to move up two spots in the draft, so they can draft Markelle Fultz #1 overall. They literally could have drafted any other player and done a better job. Fultz is a disaster, and costs a lot. They wasted those draft picks. Just flushed up right down the toilet. Arguably worse than drafting Anthony Bennett #1 overall. They missed out on drafting too many people to list here, but it’s literally the entire rest of the draft class. Hinkie would not have made that trade. Maybe he still would have drafted Fultz at #3 if the trade didn’t occur, but at least Philly would still have that first round pick.
7/8/17 - Sixers sign JJ Redick. Good signing.
11/17/17 - The Sixers sign Robert Covington to a great multi-year deal. Good signing.
12/7/17 - The 76ers trade Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas for Trevor Booker. Who cares.
2/12/18 - The Sixers sign Marco Belinelli after he’s bought out. Good signing.
2/28/18 - The Sixers sign Ersan Ilyasova (again) after he’s bought out. Good signing. They also waive Trevor Booker, lol. The Sixers eventually get crushed in the playoffs because no one can shoot except JJ Redick.
6/21/18 - The 76ers draft hometown player Mikal Bridges, whose mother works for the 76ers, #10 overall. They then trade him, on draft night, after talking about how cool it is to be drafted by the Sixers, to Phoenix for Zhaire Smith (16th overall pick) and a 2021 1st round pick. They miss out on drafting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Miles Bridges, and Zhaire Smith ends up having some terrible health issues and has been out for the entire season. Another 1st round pick, out for another season. The Sixers draft Landry Shamet #26 overall. Fine.
7/20/18 - The Sixers trade Richaun Holmes, who has been pretty effing nice for the Suns this season, for $1 million. Straight up cash.
11/12/18 - Philly trades Dario Šarić, Bob Covington AND Jerryd Bayless (who was somehow still on the team) to the TimberBulls for Jimmy Butler.
2/5/18 - Philly trades Landry Shamet and two 1st round picks to the LA Clippers for Tobias Harris and his BFF Boban. They somehow don’t receive back Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, or Lou Williams.
2/7/19 - The Sixers, at long last, trade Fultz. The Orlando Magic, a team that exists so that other teams can use them to resolve their own mistakes, accepted Fultz and paid the price of a protected OKC 1st round draft pick in 2020 and a player, Jonathan Simmons, who doesn’t really matter. The draft pick is just saving face: odds are it devolves into two second round picks. The #1 overall pick two years ago was just traded for an empty hope. Just like the servant in Samarra.
So, while the post-Hinkie 76ers have made some good signings, and some possibly good trades, they’re still basically a failure because of what could have happened with those draft picks. The Sixers squandered their future on Markelle Fultz, when everyone in the world could have told you it wasn’t worth it. While the rest of the NBA adopts Sam Hinkie’s Process, the Sixers themselves are now down multiple draft picks across multiple years, and have no depth, at all. The Sixers have a point forward who can’t shoot, a shooting guard who can’t defend, a strong two-way wing who’s sabotaged two different teams and will want a max deal this offseason, a good young wing who can score but isn’t as good a defender or passer as Covington and will ALSO want a max deal this offseason, and their All World Center who doesn’t like the team’s spacing and doesn’t want to shoot so many threes.
The Sixers are probably counting on signing some players who get bought out after the trade deadline. Carmelo Anthony, maybe? Wayne Ellington? Deandre Jordan? But, it doesn’t seem like there’s an actual point guard available in the buy-out market, and the 76ers desperately need someone who can distribute and guard the position. You don’t want Jimmy Butler to have to guard Kyrie Irving because then Butler can’t guard Jayson Tatum, y’know? I can’t believe they didn’t get PatBev back in that deal. Unreal.
Luck is the residue of good planning. None of this seems that well planned out. So, Sixers fans: are you feeling lucky? Or, are you heading for a false haven somewhere far out in the desert, hoping that Death won’t find you?