When it was announced that the 76ers would be purchased by a group of investors there were some questions as to exactly who would be the one guiding the team.
Sure, Joshua Harris was always known to be the majority owner, but it was uncertain exactly what his involvement would be. Would be a silent owner? Would he delegate most of the responsibility? Would he take an active interest in, and role with, the team?
That speculation was fueled somewhat by the announcement that Adam Aron would be the CEO, making him the de facto face of the ownership group. It was also somewhat complicated by the presence of Jason Levien, a former player agent and Sacramento Kings executive. Levien was the only person within the ownership group to have any previous basketball experience.
The first domino to fall was when Levien left the 76ers, speculated by some to have lost a power struggle for influence on basketball operations with then 76ers head coach Doug Collins. Levien sold his stake in the 76ers shortly thereafter and joined the Memphis Grizzlies as CEO and managing partner. He's now at the top of basketball operations for Memphis.
This left Doug Collins making the basketball decisions, and Adam Aron as the face of the franchise. Aron's marketing antics have ruffled some feathers, causing some to claim that the ownership group is more worried about how to market the team than how to build it. As the 76ers started losing, Aron's antics went from endearing to annoying, and frustration with the ownership group mounted.
And, through most of it, Joshua Harris remained silent. Sure, he, along with David Blitzer, were the largest investors in the group, and Harris is the managing owner and the one placed on the NBA's Board of Governor's, but he was out of the public's eye. That would lead many to question exactly how much Harris would be involved in the decision making process.
Those questions have been answered this season, as Joshua Harris has affirmed his presence at the top of the 76ers organization. It started during the exit interviews, where not only did Harris drop subtle clues about his role as the decision maker in the management group ("I would make the Bynum trade again", "there were decisions that I wouldn't make again"), as well as more direct statements, including where he said that "the GM" and himself would be the ultimate decision makers in the search for a new coach.
(The fact that he initially said "the GM" and not Tony DiLeo, and then that he said everything was on the table when he was asked whether DiLeo would be the GM, was something I pointed out in the comments in my article following the exit interviews. It wasn't a ringing endorsement, and a change was something that was hardly a shock considering how last offseason played out and Harris's comments after the season).
I was told by an NBA source that the decision to replace DiLeo with Hinkie was a decision made by Joshua Harris, and Joshua Harris alone.
It was the most Harris has taken charge since taking over the 76ers, and it gave me confidence in the direction of the franchise. And that confidence was validated last Friday.
It was also nice to see Harris stick to his plan. Last offseason, the 76ers interviewed Hinkie, as well as other candidates who embraced advanced statistics, for the 76ers general manager position. Talks with those candidates ended up not materializing -- I'll leave you to speculate about what changed between last offseason and this offseason -- but Harris continued pushing the organization towards the future by hiring Aaron Barzilai as the teams director of analytics, purchasing a D-League team, and embracing the SportVu tracking technology. It was nice to see Harris maintain his vision and ultimately get the guy he wanted all along.
Last month during the exit interviews, one of things Harris said that really stuck out to me was the following:
"Things don't always work out. You just make good decisions and over time they work out." -- Joshua Harris
It was something Harris stressed over and over. The Bynum trade didn't work out, but it's a decision he felt was the right one to make.
It's then no surprise that Harris went out and hired a like-minded thinker.
"I'm all about expected values. I don't even care if [a shot] goes in or not, I'm all about "Should it go in?" I can live with randomness" -- Sam Hinkie
That quote was from new 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie in 2008.
That differentiation between outcome and whether the decision was correct is a key distinction that I think gets missed far too frequently, applicable in both coaching and in team building. It's good to know that the two people who will be the most responsible for the 76ers success over the next few years embrace that philosophy.
Aaron Barzilai's future?
Last November we broke the news that the 76ers had hired Aaron Barzilai as their new director of analytics. When the news came out that Hinkie would be the new general manager, I reached out to an NBA source to inquire about whether Barzilai was still in the 76ers future plans.
The source did confirm that the team did not intend to severe ties with Barzilai. Not only that, with a like-minded thinker now running the organization, Barzilai's influence within the organization was likely to grow. Barzilai has not yet had much of an opportunity to make his impact on the team, as the team made very little personnel changes after he arrived, but he should have more potential to make an impact now with free agency and the draft coming up.
String of good decisions
If you add it all up, my confidence in the 76ers ownership group, and Joshua Harris in particular, is continuing to grow. He continues to make good decisions, from his willingness to use the amnesty on Brand (even if the basketball decisions that followed, which were made by others, didn't work out), to his willingness green-light a risk on Bynum, to buying a D-League team, embracing the SportVU tracking technology, and now his selection of a general manager.
While Aron might ruffle some feathers with his marketing strategy, the man behind the scenes seems to be pulling all the right strings.