Actually, The Nets Don’t Sign Thomas Robinson: 76ers Make Odd, Late Waiver Claim

Thomas Robinson will NOT join the Brooklyn Nets.. for now. (AP)
Thomas Robinson will NOT join the Brooklyn Nets.. for now. (AP)

This is nuts. The Nets came to an agreement to a ten-day contract with free agent forward Thomas Robinson, under the impression that he’d clear waivers by Tuesday’s 5 P.M. deadline. But at the last second, Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie, known for his unique style of building as long-term as possible and gobbling up draft picks & young players like candy, swooped in and put a waiver claim on Robinson’s remaining salary, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

Much has been made of “The Hinkie way,” which basically amounts to finding as many low-cost assets as possible, cutting whatever you can that doesn’t have the potential for long-term greatness, and keep banging on the door until greatness is achieved. The team’s faced criticism for this approach to team-building, because it lacks a certain emotional element, viewing players as chips in a poker game rather than human beings with livelihoods at stake. It’s not entirely fair — they’re working within the rules to build the best long-term success that they can in a flawed system — but it’s the perception nonetheless.

That’s what makes taking Robinson out from under the Nets so strange. It’s not a cold, calculated move informed by a deep well of rational thinking. This is the human element. It’s petty. It’s ripping a player from where he publicly expressed he wanted to go and adding him to your pile of assets. They don’t have leverage to keep Robinson, nor the culture to convince him to stay. This sweeps the rug out from under a 23-year-old, likely annoys his agent (Bill Duffy, who represents 33 players, some of substantial talent), further fractures the relationship between Hinkie and other teams, and gives the 76ers two months at most of a player before he hits unrestricted free agency this summer. If you want to build long-term, adding him now gives you no benefit that you wouldn’t have later. It’s anti-Hinkie.

The only logical benefit for the 76ers is that by acquiring Robinson, they hit the “salary floor,” which technically saves them about $2.5 million in payments this season.[note]It’s complicated, but here’s how: any amount of salary a team is under the “salary floor” (90% of the cap) gets re-distributed to players. But that number’s only calculated at the end of the season, and in total salary, not the pro-rated amount. By signing Robinson and acquiring his cap number around $3.7 million, the 76ers go above the floor, but without having to pay the first four months of Robinson’s salary. So instead of re-distributing that extra money to their players, they don’t end up paying anything at all. Basically: the 76ers used a loophole to take a collective $2-3 million out of their players’ pockets. They must be ecstatic![/note] Technically, they could claim him and waive him tomorrow to achieve that goal[note]Though it should be noted that the Yahoo! Sports report indicates that the 76ers will give Robinson a legitimate look, and if they waive him after March 1, he’s ineligible to make a playoff roster.[/note]. That’s exploiting a loophole in the system, which again, there’s nothing technically wrong with. It’s just an awful lot of risk that you’re annoying a player, that player’s agent, and other teams, just to save a couple million on the least expensive roster in the league.

But even then: it’s petty. If they wanted him from the time he was released, there’s no reason to wait until right before the 5 P.M. deadline to make your interest in him known. They could have easily just swallowed his contract at the trade deadline, since the Nuggets were waiving him anyway. If they wanted him from the start, they could have made that interest known to Robinson’s representation. Heck, Robinson didn’t even know. He thought he was a Net, in a tweet since deleted:

The Nets had no rights to Robinson until he cleared waivers. Again, this is all within the NBA rules. I’m sure the 76ers like Robinson’s game. He is, after all, a former top-five pick, and Hinkie was in the Rockets front office as an assistant when they traded for him in February 2013, shortly before becoming the 76ers GM. But the 76ers’ plan isn’t just about players they like, it’s about acquiring assets with leverage and long-term benefits. Acquiring a player on the last two months of his contract that can bolt the second he gets the chance, when he’s already expressed his excitement about going somewhere else, accomplishes none of that.

The last remaining thought: it just looks like everyone, from Robinson to the Nets to NBA 2K15, jumped the gun on this one.