Last week's press conference was largely about Doug Collins, the 76ers head coach and primary basketball decision maker who stepped down to spend more time with his family. And that was certainly a big story, bringing either jubliation or uncertainly, or possibly both, depending on who you ask.
But what did we learn about the 76ers ownership group? I've argued in the past that the ownership is by far the most important piece of the puzzle. Is this a group who we can have confidence in to steer us in the right direction?
That question is certainly still up in the air, and nothing that was said last Thursday can provide 100% certainty for those looking for answers. That being said, I think the early signs were definitely good.
Was the Bynum deal the right move to make?
The debate that has raged over this past offseason was at the forefront of the conversation. Once the darlings of the town, public sentiment towards the ownership group turned sour when it became apparent that Andrew Bynum would provide the 76ers with less on-court value than Jeremy Pargo. Fans lambasted the ownership group for everything from not doing their due diligence on the Bynum injury to misleading fans to caring too much about the in-game experience, and everything in-between. So it took a little bit of guts, and a whole lot of unwaivering faith, for the 76ers majority owner to get in front of the cameras and reaffirm his belief in the decision made last summer to acquire Bynum.
But that's exactly what Joshua Harris did last week, and it's one of the reasons my confidence in the group he leads is growing by the day.
"Injuries happen. We did what we thought was [an] intelligent risk", 76ers majority owner Joshua Harris said with regards to the Bynum trade. "If I had to make that decision again, I'd make it again."
We've long argued that the trade was the right one to make. That with the whole mediocrity being quick sand argument that we've made here before, this kind of move was worth the risk. That, despite the fact that it obviously hasn't worked out in our favor, the deal was fundamentally the correct decision to make. Some bad luck may have dictated whether the trade was a success or a failure but it should not dictate whether it was the right decision to make. Harris agrees.
"Things don't always work out," Harris acknowledged. "You just make good decisions and over time they work out."
It's that belief in a process rather than results that has me optimistic.
If a player takes a half court shot in the middle of the second quarter with 20 seconds left on the shot clock, and it goes in, the outcome of that shot was good. Nobody would argue that it was a good shot, however.
Evan Turner has the ability to make pull-up jump shots on the lane. But while he has that ability to make them, it's not a philosophy that, if he tries to build his offensive game around it, will lead to a consistently efficient offensive player.
These were two relatively cut and dry examples, but the outcome of a decision is not always representative of whether it was a good or bad decision. A positive, or, in this case, negative outcome of a decision is not always indicative of whether making that decision consistently will yield positive results long term.
This is a business where we are far too reactionary. People are hired and fired based on the outcome of a decision, not whether or not the decision was the right one to make at the time. If you consistently make sound decisions, consistently take intelligent risks, the outcome should be positive. It's nice to see that the 76ers ownership group recognizes the difference.
Bringing Bynum back
While Harris was mindful of the inherent risk in the Bynum situation, he sounded like somebody who had a price where the risk was worth taking.
"We're very open and actually interested in Andrew [Bynum] coming back if we can work out something that makes sense for everyone," Harris said. "A lot of what we do will depend on what 29 other teams do...We're going to look at what the offers are for Andrew and make a decision."
It's very easy to react to the disappointment that came as a result of trusting Andrew Bynum this past season, and that disappointment is something that will obviously impact the point at which the potential reward is worth the risk. But closing the book on the Andrew Bynum situation is probably not the best for an organization with limited assets.
Joshua Harris and the group appear to have a point where they have determined that the potential reward Bynum can bring is worth the continued risk. That point could even be limited to a one year deal, it may be something which may seem unrealistic for Bynum to settle for, but it's good that the ownership group at the very least hasn't closed the book on Bynum, that they have thought about what level of risk they're willing to take in him again, and that they're preparing for situations both with and without Bynum.
Silver lining in Doug Collins' departure?
Make no mistake about it, Joshua Harris was entirely sincere when he said that he would love to have Collins back next year. With the only person among the 76ers ownership group with any basketball pedigree having left for Memphis, Harris and the rest of the owners absolutely value Doug's basketball mind.
However, Harris seemed almost relieved to be able to bring in his own guy, to make the hire himself, and to build the foundation of the team.
"When you're building a high performance organization, being able to pick each piece, including the coach, make sure they all work together, it also gives you an opportunity to make good decisions," Harris said."At the end of the day, the GM [Tony DiLeo] and I will be the ultimate decision makers [with regard to the coaching hire]."
Analytics, D-League, and practice facility
A couple of other key points from Harris' talk was a continued emphasis on the increased role that advanced analytics would have with the team, movement on the acquisition of a D-League team, and putting a new practice facility.
On the latter two, those are long term goals, and still have considerable work before they're realized. For the analytic mindset, that work is already in progress.
"We're going to improve our decision making process," Harris said. "We built up our analytics group, we're going to keep bringing in smart people, and we're going to build a winner in Philly."
Do they have the patience to build a champion?
Now, none of this necessarily means that they have the patience to build a winner, and I'm still concerned that economics and fan approval will play too large of a role in their decision making, taking priority over accumulating assets and building a legitimate core to create a contender around. And Harris did acknowledge that he understands the reality of owning a team in Philadelphia, that in order to sell tickets they have to win, so there's some level of concern that they'll look for the quick fix.
They're one bad coaching hire, one shortsighted trade to immediately improve the team but that hurts them long term, or one needless and crippling free agent contract away from losing the benefit of the doubt.
But the acknowledgement that mistakes happen and their steadfast belief that they made the right decision is a good indicator. When you add it to their willingness to move on from a team that had reached its potential, and their willingness to absorb massive costs and amnesty Brand (even if they didn't make the most of it), it provides some hope that these guys are in this for the right reasons. These may not be basketball people, but they appear to have a good head on their shoulders and a strong analytical mindset, both key ingredients.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is full faith and trust in an ownership group. But the foundation, at least from my perspective, is being laid even amidst the turmoil of what was quite possibly the most disappointing 76ers season in memory.
For a team without much in the way of assets, the 76ers may have one in their ownership group.