When it comes to the Philadelphia 76ers over the past two and a half years, anything that happens off the court is a much bigger deal than what transpires on it. Monday, December 7th was no different. The Sixers lost to San Antonio by an astounding 51 points Monday night—a franchise-record margin of victory for the Spurs—but no one cares one whit about the game because of the press conference that occurred earlier in the day and its potential ramifications.
When it was announced Monday morning that Josh Harris would be holding a press conference at 4:30 pm, the entire Sixers basketball community went on high alert. Not a single person outside the organization knew the reason for the announcement. Speculation arose across all ends of the spectrum, with theories ranging from major firings, to Harris belatedly discussing the Jahlil Okafor situation, to something as innocuous as announcing a new charity partnership. A similar hush-hush press conference had resulted in the team’s partnership with PartyPoker (now since severed) back in 2014.
Instead, the hiring of Jerry Colangelo as Chairman of Basketball Operations and Special Adviser to the Managing General Partner signaled one thing: Sixers ownership had grown tired of waiting.
76ers owner Josh Harris says the Colangelo move is about making "The Process" go faster.
— Dan Gelston (@APgelston) December 7, 2015
And as organizations often do when they want to move faster, the Sixers hired a 76-year-old who lives in Arizona.
Coangelo coming aboard means management is not a group of hedge fund shysters looking to strip everything down and milk profit for years before flipping the franchise for even more money down the line (this was actually a belief among a sector of the Sixers fanbase). Ownership wants to win games, and while they were initially fine with tanking as the best way to build a long-term contender, a third straight year of being the laughingstock of the league was understandably beyond the scope of what they could endure.
The storyline I’m most intrigued by is the one introduced by USA Sports that, “NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had a significant hand in Philadelphia’s decision to hire Colangelo and placed a call to Colangelo to gauge his interest.” ESPN then released a report early Tuesday morning that owners played a role in Silver brokering discussions, due to the financial implications of the Sixers tanking on both the revenue-sharing system and attendance. How much of this whole situation was Sixers ownership reaching out for help, and how much was essentially a league mandate?
Whatever the underlying stimulus, it’s hard to imagine Jerry Colangelo’s ushering in much of a change from a strategic perspective.
Joshua Harris: "We're still committed to the process…I don't see a radical change in what we're doing." #sixers
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) December 7, 2015
The summer of 2016 has already long been viewed as the tipping point for the Sixers franchise. With multiple first round picks, Dario Saric, and a potentially-able-to-take-the-court (I won’t say healthy) Joel Embiid all arriving, the roster would be beyond the point of being a surefire high lottery team where tanking seemed most natural. Everyone already expected Philadelphia to start being more aggressive in free agency around that time; they would already have collected their assets, so it would be time to accelerate the rebuild. The team also made sure to announce it was in serious discussion with Brett Brown about an extension, per the report from Yahoo Sports.
That being said, free agency and public relations are precisely the areas where Jerry Colangelo should make the biggest impact. There’s no questioning Colangelo’s bonafides in league circles. Since being named the director of USA Basketball in the summer of 2005, the stars and stripes have only lost one game. He ushered in Mike Krzyzewski and now Gregg Popovich to coach the program, and transformed participation from something players viewed as a distraction, back to being seen as a high honor. As a result, stars throughout the league carry a high respect for Colangelo.
As do league executives, based on his decades of service in the front office, most prominently with the Phoenix Suns. Sixers fans might remember Colangelo as the man behind the Suns’ acquisition of Charles Barkley for a handful of beans that went by the names of Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang (you owe the city of Philadelphia a solid, Jerry). For his work, Colangelo was four-time NBA executive of the year in 1976, 1981, 1989, and 1993, while also shifting into an ownership role with the Suns from the late 80s to late 2000’s. He also was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor along the way.
— Tom Moore (@tmoore76ers) December 7, 2015
The point being, there’s not an agent or executive in the league who won’t hear him out when Colangelo wants to discuss something. This is a huge departure from Sam Hinkie, who was pissing off both agents with his four-year, team options, and executives with what was perceived as his “smartest guy in the room” attitude. While the Sixers organization maintains on the face of it that Hinkie still has final say in terms of decision-making, you have to think it’s Colangelo who will be the one massaging relationships with outside parties. Colangelo will also be the more public-facing member of the executive team, there to assuage fan discomfort more than the tight-lipped Hinkie.
Ultimately, I think this will be a good thing for the Sixers franchise. The concern among Hinkie truthers is that Colangelo will persuade management to bring in well-tread veterans at the expense of player development for the young guys. But I don’t see the harm in one or two players helping to add a more professional, on-court product, and I believe management knows not to sell off any of its big pieces for the future unless the right opportunity presents itself. Colangelo should greatly improve relationships with both a portion of the fan base and more importantly, those with other potential partners in league circles.
Philadelphia always knew this rebuild would be a marathon, not a sprint. The summer of 2016 was always seen as the checkpoint to conclude the first stage of the process. In Colangelo, the Sixers now have the guy to whom they’ll pass the baton.