At a surprise press conference on Monday held by owner Josh Harris, the Philadelphia 76ers announced that they had hired Jerry Colangelo to be the team's Special Advisor to the Managing General Partner, as well as Chairman of Basketball Operations. Since The Process began three years ago, adding Colangelo to the front office is ownership's first sign of diminishing confidence in both the rebuild, and current general manager Sam Hinkie.
On the plus side, Colangelo's name alone brings a whole lot of legitimacy to a rebuild that at points has looked really amateurish. With Hinkie at the helm, the team has seemingly fractured some of its relationships with agents, and cut the lines of communication to the media. The hiring of Colangelo immediately starts to reverse some of the off-court damage the rebuild has caused. He's a respected basketball mind that has established a good rapport with both agents and players alike, and his willingness to talk to reporters is a public relations dream for a team that could really use some good press.
While the 76-year-old Colangelo will not be a part of the day-to-day operations -- he'll continue to live in Phoenix -- he's not getting cut a paycheck just for image improvement purposes. By all accounts, he's usurping a lot of the power Sam Hinkie once held by himself, and all decisions going forward will at the very least be a collaboration amongst the two. In theory that may sound nice, but any sort of partnership here has the potential for disaster written all over it. For the past three years, Sam Hinkie has been the only guy in the building with oversight authority on the roster/personnel. Now he's being forced to answer to Colangelo, which is a legitimate demotion, whether the team wants to call it that or not. There's something dangerous about removing power from someone running a longterm project, especially in the manner the Sixers are doing it. Colangelo also seems like someone who might not play well with others, according to what ESPN's Brian Windhorst wrote:
Despite Colangelo's affirming Hinkie will retain final say on personnel matters and Harris' saying this move was not a deviation from their plan, those who know Colangelo believe he will have major influence on significant decisions going forward.
"Jerry is not someone who just comes in and gives advice on something he's invested in," said one league executive with a long history with Colangelo. "I don't see him as being just one voice in a collaborative process."
"This is most certainly a wide-ranging deal," another longtime league executive said. "Jerry is famous for being aggressive and getting perks, money and power in his deals."
The rebuild has been far from perfect in a lot of ways, but Sam Hinkie took over an eternal 30-35 win wasteland, and through a handful of trades, has been able to give Philadelphia a ton of shots at acquiring top talent through the draft. His implementation of analytics and other forward thinking ideas has been refreshing in a town that did it the old-school way for so long. Both Hinkie and the rebuilding process have had their flaws, and giving him help in correcting those problematic areas is perfectly reasonable. But this move seems less about bringing in assistance, and more about a changing of the guard, and that could be more dangerous to the process than anything else.
Colangelo now sounds like the new face of the second phase of the rebuild, responsible for making up for lost time. While Josh Harris's comments about speeding things up was somewhat concerning, the league's involvement in facilitating this move has serious implications written all over it. More from Windhorst:
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was instrumental in forming the partnership between Colangelo and 76ers owner Joshua Harris, according to the sources.
Owners routinely complained about the economic drag the 76ers were inflicting on the league as the revenues of one of the largest-market teams -- a franchise expected to contribute more robustly to league revenue-sharing -- sagged.
If the commissioner and other owners are now deciding to interfere with how the Sixers opt to run their franchise, then the rebuild will never realize its full potential. The league forcing Harris's hand to put together a better team has the potential to become a rush job, and the past several years of meticulous crafting to gain assets and financial freedom could go right down the toilet for the purposes of appeasement. It's easy to be a middle-of-the-road team in the NBA. It is not easy to actually be great, and the Sixers are letting people put a time stamp on on their plan after showing patience for so long.
The reason the Sixers have gone through these years of suffering is to avoid the mediocrity they had been used to for so long. Bringing in Colangelo at the league's behest to try and turn this all around in a short amount of time has the potential to for Philadelphia to mortgage their future while improving short term, all while possibly alienating their now relegated general manager.
One thing I liked about the Sixers ran their organization over the past few years was that they were never too concerned about what outside voices had to say. Now is a really bad time to start listening to them, and the consequences could be serious.