Bryan Colangelo

A year removed from Collargate, at least Sixers are in better shape than dysfunctional Lakers

A year removed from Collargate, at least Sixers are in better shape than dysfunctional Lakers

May 29, 2018, is a day that will live in infamy among Sixers fans.

One year ago, an article was published by the Ringer’s Ben Detrick which connected then-president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo to multiple Twitter accounts. Those who weren’t familiar with the term “burner account” learned in a hurry. It all led to Colangelo resigning from his post after an internal investigation.

If Collargate was the scandal we all wanted, then “Lakers 2.0” is the sequel we all needed. What Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka reportedly did to the Lakers makes what the Colangelo conglomerate did to the Sixers look like mere child’s play.

Who would’ve thought when the Sixers missed out on LeBron James that they’d appear to be in better shape than the team that landed him less than a year later?

Much like Detrick, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes wrote an explosive article outlining serious dysfunction in the Lakers’ attempt to return their organization to its previous glory. 

Johnson and Pelinka were able to sign James and crafted it as a masterstroke. Like they were the ones that sold James on choosing them over a team like the Sixers and it wasn’t solely because of geography. According to the story, the Lakers got more than they bargained for with James and all that comes with the superstar.

It was eerily similar to some of the stories that came out of Collargate. It was ironic that commissioner Adam Silver intervened with The Process, forcing the Sixers to bring in Jerry Colangelo, which led to the resignation of Sam Hinkie. The Colangelos were meant to come in and provide stability and instead created an even bigger mess. Beyond the scandal, Colangelo whiffed on several roster moves, most notably Markelle Fultz, that the Sixers felt the pain of this season.

Johnson was expected to provide a similar stability, with Pelinka helping with the minutia of dealing with agents and the numbers. After the duo landed James, they made a series of peculiar moves, signing guys like Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasely — talented players that never quite lived up to their potential and came with plenty of baggage. Then the Anthony Davis saga happened where any remotely talented young player on the roster was publicly dangled. It all culminated in the Lakers missing the playoffs, firing their coach — which then resulted in a disastrous coaching search — and now an offseason of uncertainty.

Thankfully for the Sixers, they have the most stability — at least from a front office standpoint — they’ve had in forever. They’re coming off back-to-back 50-win seasons. Brett Brown returns for his seventh season as head coach. Elton Brand gets his first real offseason as GM. The team has two young All-Stars that should be plenty motivated this offseason.

Sure, we have no idea what’s going to happen with Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris or even JJ Redick. The Sixers only have five players under contract: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Zhaire Smith, Jonah Bolden and Jonathon Simmons (who likely won’t be back since only $1 million of his deal is guaranteed). 

But even with all the roster certainty, at least they’re not the Lakers right now.

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Elton Brand's respected career as a player is what Sixers need right now in a general manager

Elton Brand's respected career as a player is what Sixers need right now in a general manager

Maybe we should have known this was coming from the Sixers.

Sure, they looked into a bevy of candidates for their vacant general manager job after Bryan Colangelo’s Twitter scandal rocked the organization.

There were the reported big-name misses such as Houston general manager Daryl Morey and former Cleveland Cavaliers exec David Griffin. There were also the other capable external candidates that included Utah Jazz assistant general manager Justin Zanik and Houston Rockets vice president Gersson Rosas.

Of course, in-house guys Ned Cohen, Marc Eversley and Alex Rucker were each given a legitimate shot at the job.

However, looking back on things, perhaps Elton Brand should have been recognized as the man for the job all along.

Not because of his front-office pedigree. Let’s be honest here, Brand was just in a uniform as recently as the 2015-16 NBA season when he played 17 games during his second stint with the Sixers. 

He followed that up by retiring (for the second time) and joining the franchise as a player development consultant. That lasted just nine months before the 39-year-old was named general manager of the Delaware Blue Coats and another year before he was tabbed as vice president of basketball operations.

While that’s an impressive rise up the ranks, it doesn’t scream out as the extensive résumé of someone prepared to take over the controls of a 52-win team on the cusp of being a serious championship contender.

But Brand has one major characteristic that is critical to the Sixers at this moment: respect. After the Colangelo mess unraveled in unprecedented fashion, the Sixers’ current players — and future ones — need someone in a position of power that understands them and that they can trust.

While the present group insisted the words of Colangelo — or his wife — from the multiple burner Twitter accounts didn’t bother them, that was not completely true. No one wants to be talked about, especially when the words come from a person who is supposed to be on your side.

“It was hurtful because of the stuff that was said in those tweets,” Joel Embiid admitted during an interview with ESPN before last month’s NBA Africa Game. “But at the end of the day, I know who I am as a person, as a player. And I know a lot of people, they're always telling me I'm great but I have a lot of stuff to work on. And actually, I appreciated everything that was said about me because if it was true — even if it wasn't — that stays in my mind. And it makes me want to get better. The stuff where they were saying I wasn't happy, that makes me want to work harder on my body. Or if they're saying that I couldn't do anything, it makes me want to work harder and get better. So, actually, I love it. I appreciated it. It was great. It was great for my game.”

What's even better for Embiid's game? Having a general manager in place that knows the game himself and holds such high regard around the league that other teams/players will at least listen to his sales pitch. That's what comes with being a veteran of 17 NBA seasons and one of the classiest individuals you will ever meet.

Now we're not saying Brand's promotion will turn the Sixers into the league's top destination for free agents or that he's going to suddenly start fleecing teams in trades. Not at all. He's going to have his work cut out for him as a novice in a cutthroat business.

The thing is, he's always been willing to put in the work. Brand's career on the court should tell you that, and now he's bringing that same determination to his new role. With plenty of help, of course.

“More generally, my focus is NBA prep and travel and working,” Brand said of his mindset in June. “We’re doing it collectively and supporting Coach (Brett) Brown and Marc Eversley and Alex and Ned with all the things we’re doing there. That’s actually my main focus. The G League has been on the back burner because of that.”

Now it’s his sole focus. That’s an entirely different kind of Philly max.

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Much like free agency, Sixers comfortable with Plan B in general manager search

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Much like free agency, Sixers comfortable with Plan B in general manager search

When life gives the Sixers lemons, they make lemonade … for the entire room.

That’s pretty much been the Sixers’ motto throughout an interesting summer.

The team entered the offseason with grand plans to go “star hunting” and add one (maybe more) of the NBA’s star players. When that didn’t work out, the Sixers went to option No. 2, which centered on improving the roster through proper fits and depth.

That included re-signing their own veteran leaders (JJ Redick and Amir Johnson), acquiring solid reserves (Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala) and supplementing with promising rookies (Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet and Jonah Bolden).

Now the Sixers are attempting to continue that same practice of spreading the wealth within their front office.

After the Bryan Colangelo scandal left the franchise without a prominent face in the front office, the Sixers went searching for big-name targets on the open market. They were reportedly spurned by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and potentially others.

What does that mean for the rest of the organization’s executives? Business as usual.

The Sixers announced on Monday that Ned Cohen (assistant general manager), Marc Eversley (senior vice president of player personnel), Elton Brand (vice president of basketball operations) and Alex Rucker (senior vice president of analytics and strategy) all received promotions as the team continues its front-office-by-committee approach (see story).

“What I've learned is that GM job has got many facets, and that it's a learned skill,” Sixers managing partner Josh Harris told ESPN. “It's certainly got a public-facing nature to it, but management and very strong relationships are important — and very few people who are not sitting GMs have all of those components. We have strengths in all those areas around our front office right now.”

That echoes a belief head coach and interim general manager Brett Brown shared earlier this summer after Colangelo’s departure. The Sixers truly believe their collective in the front office can do just as good a job as a big-time exec.

“I think one of the tremendous legacies that Bryan should be recognized for is he really, and I mean really, did a great job of putting key people in key positions,” Brown said on June 7 when Colangelo’s resignation was announced. “When I look at our front office the firepower that we really have with Alex Rucker and Ned Cohen and (vice president of athlete care Dr.) Danny Medina leading our medical department and Marc Eversley and Elton Brand and it’s like you can go on. We have the firepower that we need to move this thing forward and not miss a beat.”

Harris made it clear that the Sixers will continue searching for a good match to guide the team into the future. However, if nothing serious materializes, they are perfectly fine pushing on with the familiar faces already roaming the building.

“… We're going to be patient and try to find the right person,” Harris said. “The next year is going to be incredibly important for us, and we have a real desire to find the right person now — but if not, we are incredibly comfortable with the existing staff and we'll move forward from there."

Lemonade for everyone.

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