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76ers Collars: Finding a New GM

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Josh Harris, David Blitzer, and company have one more chance to get this right.

Allen Iverson Wears Reebok Questions En Route To 76ers Game Photo by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images for Reebok

It has been 37 days since Process supporter and #BurnerGate reporter Ben Detrick dropped the now famous Ringer article that helped depose former 76ers general manager, Bryan Colangelo. It has been 27 days since Colangelo offered his weak resignation letter (where he threw his wife under the bus and denied his involvement in the incident on his way out the door). It has been 20 days since the NBA draft, when Interim GM Brett Brown (and shadow GM Sam Hinkie?) provided a tribute to optionality with the trade of Mikal Bridges for Zhaire Smith and an unprotected MIA 1st-round pick in 2021.

Prior to Monday’s comments from 76ers Co-Owner, Josh Harris, the team had been pretty mum on the candidate search as a whole. Should this be a concern?

The prospect of hiring a GM two weeks before the NBA draft was certainly not something in the cards for ownership. Ownership’s move to promote Brett Brown to Interim GM and work in tandem with front office executives Ned Cohen and Marc Eversley was generally accepted from the fanbase. Brown was to be the face to draw in big fish free agents like Lebron James and Paul George, while the Colangelo hires were to work behind the scenes, counseling Brown through any potential obstacles that could pop up while Brown steered the ship.

Although the organization has seemingly struck out on the star-hunting it set out to accomplish this offseason, the general consensus of the fanbase seems to be OK with how the summer has played out. If Brett Brown and the front office are comfortable putting their eggs in the “star-development” basket (i.e. Drew Hanlen’s work on Fultz’s shot, along with steady improvement from last year’s Rookie of the Year and last year’s Defensive Player of the Year runner-up), then the moves made along the margins make some sense (namely, Nemanja Bjelica, Wilson Chandler, Amir Johnson).

That being said, now that the first wave of free agency has passed, it is the opportune time to open the GM search and look for the next candidate to man the helm for the future. Ideally, the new GM should not only have a good working relationship with Brett Brown (who has more than earned his stripes in this organization), but be a creative and forward-thinking executive. A lot easier said than done, but considering the situation that the new GM would be walking into—max cap space next offseason, established young stars in Embiid and Simmons, a developing young star in Fultz, complimentary pieces surrounding them (Saric, RoCo, Zhaire, Redick), and a stud head coach—the 76ers are in a spot where they are able to get the top guys on the market.

The following list of candidates was compiled via various sources and grouped into tiers by me. Note: this is not how I think the 76ers are looking at it, but roughly how I think they should be looking at it.

And awaaaaaay we go!

The Big Fish

Mike Zarren - Assistant GM and Team Counsel for the Boston Celtics (in organization since 2004)

Previous positions: Team Statistician, Team Counsel

Mike Zarren is the dream candidate for 76ers faithful at this juncture in the process. He was even a part of the 76ers’ GM search in 2013, before withdrawing. Quite notably, as the Celtics salary cap expert and in-house counsel, Zarren has experience both on the basketball side and business side of issues for his team. As part of a small front office in Boston, Zarren has a leading voice in the film room, and is also the go-to guy for crunching the numbers to make the Danny Ainge’s trade proposals fit like a glove. He has had significant roles in the Ainge trade deals involving Kevin Garnett, the Nets picks, the Sacramento pick, and more.

Ainge’s protégé is also known for being a forward thinker, submitting the famous “Zarren Wheel” to the NBA as a method of draft lottery reform. The wheel discourages tanking due to pre-determined draft slots that are rotated each year. Whether you agree or disagree with the logic, it took a lot of creativity for such a radical lottery reform proposal to make it that far.

Of course, Zarren is also a die-hard Celtics fan through and through. A season ticket-holder for years, and by all accounts being groomed by Danny Ainge to be the next GM, Zarren seems to be content where he is in Boston. When Danny Ainge retires is anyone’s guess, and the fact that the 76ers have such an enticing situation would normally draw just about any candidate. But would Zarren willingly jump ship from his hometown team to run its divisional rival?

Gersson Rosas - Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Houston Rockets (in organization for 17 seasons)

Previous positions: Intern (Rockets) GM of Rockets G-League Affiliate, GM (Mavericks)

From the Daryl Morey branch emerges another hot GM candidate, Gersson Rosas. Much like Zarren, Rosas worked his way up from a lowly intern to a GM-in-waiting over the past decade. Suffice to say, as Executive VP, Rosas has his hands in both the basketball and business side of the front office, and comes from a winning culture with the Rockets. He played significant roles in the acquisitions of both James Harden and Chris Paul, along with the free agent recruitment of Dwight Howard.

Rosas has had success in his role as a talent evaluator, specifically in his role as the GM of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He was able to bring titles home with the Rockets affiliate in the 09-10 and 12-13 seasons. Unearthing G-League gems is something that Hinkie and Morey are both skilled at and Rosas is no exception. The organizational philosophy of the Rockets has placed value on G-League development, with names like Patrick Patterson, Robert Covington, and Troy Daniels coming out of their system.

Rosas also has experience with the Men’s Olympic Basketball team through his appointment as an International Player Personnel Scout for USA Men’s Basketball in 2015. So a line can be drawn to both Hinkie and the Colangelos here. His brief experience as the Mavs GM may also satisfy Harris’s preference for someone with experience in the role. I think that he should be the guy that gets the most buzz among ownership. Only time will tell.

The Up and Comers

The candidates who fall under this tier don’t have quite the track record of Rosas and Zarren, but certainly are rising stars in league circles. I think this tier of candidates is where the 76ers should be fishing from if they can’t land Zarren or Rosas.

Trajan Langdon - Assistant GM for the Brooklyn Nets Since 2016

Previous Positions: NBA Scout (Spurs), Director of Player Administration and Basketball Ops (Cavs)

Langdon is one of the fast risers that I would keep an eye on if the 76ers miss out on the two names listed above. He has a great track record and reputation around the NBA, first as a scout with the Spurs (potential Brett Brown connection), and then with a higher position in Cleveland. As Sean Marks’ number two, Langdon has a significant hand in the organizational philosophies and day-to-day operations of the Nets.

If you are as impressed with Marks as me—the guy started with even lesser scraps than Sam Hinkie did, and look at how the Nets have been able to rise to respectability—then aiming for his second-in-command could be a valid plan B for the 76ers. Langdon also has experience as a talent evaluator, as he is the GM for the Nets G-League affiliate (maybe a theme here). He is known as being skilled in his evaluations of international talent, most likely due to his years spent playing overseas.

Langdon was in the running for the Pistons GM position this year, so he’s certainly no stranger to the interviewing process. I hope the 76ers exercise proper due diligence here and look into the former Duke star.

Justin Zanik - Assistant GM for the Utah Jazz (with organization for roughly 4 years)

Previous Positions: Assistant GM (Bucks), ASM Sports Agent

Zanik is a guy that has a ton of popularity in Utah. For a brief moment in time, it looked like he was going to be the heir apparent to John Hammond in Milwaukee, gifted with the opportunity to build a team around Giannis Antetokounmpo. Unfortunately for Zanik, it was not meant to be, as Milwaukee ownership went in a different direction, hiring Jon Horst internally instead. Zanik returned to Salt Lake and Dennis Lindsey got his right hand man back again.

Zanik is deep into stats and contract negotiations for the Jazz. His background as an agent for ASM Sports no doubt helps him with player negotiations. Derek Bodner of the Athletic has even noted that Zanik has done some international scouting for Utah.

Although Zanik doesn’t seem to fit the experienced-GM mold that Harris seems to be pushing for, I think this would be another guy to look at. He is coming from a winning organization in Utah and working as Dennis Lindsey’s number two in Salt Lake is certainly a nice note on one’s resume.

Brian Wright - Assistant GM for the San Antonio Spurs (with organization for 2 years)

Previous Positions: Director of College Scouting (Magic), Assistant GM (Pistons)

Wright has bounced around a few spots in his short time in the league, but just like many of these other executives, started out as a lowly intern. After serving his time as the Director of College Scouting for Orlando, Wright became one of the younger assistant GMs in the league at age 32 in Detroit in 2014.

Wright loves scouting. Here, I’ll share with you one of the quotes he gave to the Spurs organization for an intro article:

“Scouting is always about peeling back the layers,” Wright said. “When you see somebody for the first time, you’ll always identify a few traits. It’s our job to go back and get through the layers, figure out who someone is as a player and as a person, then determine if they’ll fit.”

Wright has only received sparkling remarks from Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford, two of the best minds in the sport. The 76ers could certainly do worse than bring Wright in for an interview.

Let’s hope that they don’t do worse.

Troy Weaver - VP of Basketball Ops for the Oklahoma City Thunder (10 years)

Previous Positions: Head Scout (Jazz), Director of Player Personnel (Jazz), Assistant GM (Supersonics/Thunder)

The last guy of this group has a decade of experience with Sam Presti to draw upon. That should be enough of a reason as to why the 76ers should bring him in for an interview.

The Thunder organization has been the model that the 76ers had been focused on when the Process started up. Although luck certainly had a hand in MVP players like Durant-Westbrook-Harden being drafted in back-to-back-to-back years by the same team, we can also see that the draft evaluators in the Thunder front office are towards the top of the league. Nabbing guys like Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka also speaks highly of their draft acumen.

In addition, Weaver was recently in the running for the Hawks GM position before it went to Travis Schlenk. Getting Sam Presti’s 2nd-in-command in for a chat is a no-brainer.

The Retreads

This section will be a little different. Since these candidates each have GM experience (some in multiple stops), I’ll be presenting a couple of their notable draft, trade, and/or free agency moves that they made at each stop. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be comfortable with the hiring of any of the next few guys, but unfortunately, I think Harris may pick this route in the end.

Danny Ferry - Special Advisor to the New Orleans Pelican Basketball Ops (2 years)

Previous Positions: NBA Player (1989-2003), GM (Cavs), VP of Basketball Ops (Spurs), GM (Hawks)

Of course, when Ferry’s name is brought up, most will remember the Luol Deng situation in Atlanta and how his tenure ended there. However, we should also remember that Ferry made it deep into the 76ers GM search process in 2012 before that all happened. I think it’s still likely that Harris reaches out to Ferry, considering some time has passed since his exit in Atlanta.

As for some of the notable moves Ferry has made in his time both in Cleveland and Atlanta, he’s left a lot to be desired. Building a supporting cast around LeBron James is probably a little more difficult when Dan Gilbert is your owner, but such has been the the standard with GMs who have worked with Lebron up to this point. Ferry decided to compliment his budding superstar via trades and free agency, rather than the draft.

Such uninspiring moves included: signing Larry Hughes as a free agent, signing Damon Jones as a free agent, and signing an aging David Wesley only to trade him for a player who only lasted four years in the league (Cedric Simmons). Some of his better moves included acquiring Mo Williams in a trade from the Bucks, drafting Danny Green with the 46th pick in the 2009 draft (he went to San Antonio a year later), acquiring Shaq on his last legs, and acquiring Antawn Jamison.

In Atlanta, his transaction history is just as subpar. 2013 was the first year he drafted a notable prospect (Dennis Schroeder with the 17th overall pick), followed by signing Lou Williams, Paul Millsap, DeMarre Caroll, and acquiring Kyle Korver in a trade for cash.

I will note that Ferry had winning teams in both of his tenures as a GM, but he I think we’d be looking at incremental erosion of the team’s assets as opposed to continuing to view the long term with his hiring.

David Griffin - NBA TV Analyst (1 year)

Previous Position: GM (Cavs), VP of Basketball Ops (Cavs), Senior VP of Basketball Ops (Suns)

Griffin was the hot name thrown out in the aftermath of Bryan Colangelo’s departure. Originally touted as the former GM who had a great relationship with Lebron James, Griffin was the easy connection to make by media and some fans who saw this offseason as the year to go all-in for LeBron in free agency. Luckily, the 76ers decided to take a more patient approach, as Griffin brings a little less to the table outside of his connection with LeBron.

For a deeper dive at some of his draft moves, Kevin F. Love did a write-up before the draft that you can brush up on. His trade and free agency moves were not inspiring (he gave up two second rounders, Earl Clark, and Henry Sims, for Spencer Hawes), but it’s notable that he helped bring the city of Cleveland its first title.

I see Griffin holding a TV gig for the foreseeable future.

Rich Cho - Unemployed

Previous Positions: GM (Hornets), GM (Trail Blazers), Assistant GM (Thunder)

Cho was once in the up and comer tier when he was signed away from the Supersonics and put into the Trail Blazers front office. His tenure there was short, but he managed to get a gig in Charlotte not long afterward.

His track record is sort of all over the place. A decent evaluator of draft talent, Cho selected players like Kemba Walker, Tobias Harris, Shabazz Napier, Frank Kaminsky, and Cody Zeller. Of course, his biggest draft miss would have to be selecting Malik Monk over Donovan Mitchell—which turned out to be the last straw in his Charlotte tenure.

Like his draft history, his trade and free agency history is up and down. A three team deal with the Bucks and Kings saw him lose Shaun Livingston and Tobias Harris and switch them out for Corey Maggette and Bismack Biyombo. Another trade saw him give up Maggette for a 1st round pick (later Noah Vonleh) and Ben Gordon. He did acquire Nicholas Batum in a trade for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson though.

Notable free agent signings included Jeremy Lin, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson, Al Jefferson, and Michael Carter-Williams.

I don’t know if it’s fair to blame Cho entirely for the situation the Hornets are in. It’s unclear how much final say one has in transactions when Michael Jordan is their owner. His background in analytics and the CBA make him an intriguing candidate, but I think Cho may need to wait a little longer or be brought on in an advisory role before a team reaches out to him again.

KiKi VanDeWeghe - NBA Executive VP of Basketball Ops (6 years)

Previous Positions: NBA Player (1980-1993), Assistant Head Coach (Mavs), GM (Nuggets), ESPN NBA Analyst, Special Assistant to Team President and GM (Nets), GM (Nets), Interim Head Coach (Nets)

Here is your Adam Silver-appointed candidate. Okay, let’s be fair, maybe Kiki has plenty of experience on the sideline and in the front office.

He is better known for his work with the Denver Nuggets, where he drafted Carmelo Anthony and was able to surround him with players like Andre Miller, Nene, Kenyon Martin, Jon Barry, and Reggie Evans.

His draft record is okay. Aside from Anthony, VanDeWeghe also selected Jameer Nelson and Jarrett Jack in the 1st round (although he flipped both before either played for the team). In Brooklyn, he selected Brook Lopez, Ryan Anderson, and Terrence Williams.

VanDeWeghe has a lot of interest in international prospects and development of overseas players. He was considered instrumental in the development of Dirk Nowitzki in his time with the Mavericks.

My hope is ownership stays far away from VanDeWeghe, but he would fill the criteria that Harris has seemed to put out there right now.

The Wildcards

These next few candidates are names that I’ve heard floated out there, but I’m not sure ownership has the interest (or the candidate has the experience) for the two sides to arrange a serious meeting.

Ben Falk/Sachin Gupta - Hinkie’s Brain Trust (Right and Left Hand of the Process)

Falk: Founder of Cleaning the Glass (out of the league past 2 years)

Previously: Basketball Analyst (Trail Blazers), Basketball Analytics Manager (Trail Blazers), VP of Basketball Strategy (76ers)

Gupta: Special Advisor for the Houston Rockets for 1 year

Previously: Basketball Ops and Salary Cap Analyst (Rockets), VP of Basketball Ops (76ers)

I think if the 76ers wanted to experience Sam Hinkie’s culture again, but without ownership wanting to lose any love from the NBA or certain media, these two would be the way to go.

Falk founded the Cleaning the Glass site, which is truly a great source for both the casual basketball fan and those who want to get deeply involved in analytics. Falk has earned tremendous respect around the league, and he is really young. If you haven’t read it yet, here is an awesome SI article on Falk that has quotes from Gupta and Hinkie as well.

Falk seems to be content in his role outside of the NBA right now, so I doubt he gets a look in the near future. But I would put him in the same tier as Zarren and Rosas if there was a little bit more buzz.

Gupta has just as much respect in league circles. Hinkie’s number two (and architect of ESPN’s Trade Machine) was known as the driving force behind trades in Hinkie’s tenure. Gupta loved the Trade Deadline, making sure to propose as many potential avenues to team-building as possible. With his CBA background, he certainly knew a few tricks that other teams didn’t think were very good or didn’t know at all (such as pick swaps).

Derek Bodner wrote a great article for Philly Voice detailing Gupta’s rise. I think it’s fair to say that the non-traditional front office that Hinkie assembled turned out pretty well.

Gupta is back in an advisory role with Daryl Morey in Houston. Ownership probably won’t test the waters on him or Falk, but they are certainly more experienced than these next two.

Marc Eversley/Ned Cohen - The Colangelo Squad (2 years)

Eversley: VP of Player Personnel (76ers)

Previous Positions: Director of Basketball Ops (Raptors), VP of Player Personnel (Wizards)

Cohen: Associate VP and Chief of Staff (76ers)

Previous Positions: Associate VP of the NBA (2004-2016)

I’m trying my best to separate Colangelo from guys like Cohen and Eversley. By all accounts, these two are great guys that Brett Brown has had a good time working with collaboratively. That being said, I think we can only expect team-building somewhere between this offseason and Bryan Colangelo’s tenure if either of these two are hired.

I know some have been content with how this offseason has played out. But I do think it is important to note that the 76ers will only have one more year of max cap eligibility before they need to pay up for their young guys. I’m not quite sure if Cohen or Eversley are guys who should get you amped if you hear their names brought up in the GM search.

Harris’s comments yesterday seemed to suggest that he wants the next GM to keep the front office intact. I don’t think that’s feasible or sends the right message out to prospective GMs. A new person will want to bring in their own crew, and that’s their right if they will be running the ship. Yes, they will need to get along with Brett Brown, but let them figure out whether they will keep Cohen and Eversley. Don’t force it upon them.

Anyway, between the two, I think Eversley gets the nod because of his experience in multiple organizations. But I’m not crossing my fingers for him to get the call up here.

Elton Brand - GM of the Delaware Blue Coats (1 year)

Previous Position: NBA Player (1999-2016), Player Development Consultant (76ers)

Yes, this name has been floated around once or twice. Although Brand is a Philly favorite, he’s certainly going to need much more experience before he’s seriously considered for a GM job.

I only really put him up here because it seems like a move where Brand wouldn’t be the true number one, which could open a door to a meritocracy with Brown, Cohen, and Eversley up top.

Shane Battier - Director of Basketball Development and Analytics for the Miami Heat (1 year)

Previous Positions: NBA Player (2001-2014), ESPN Analyst

Similar to Brand, Battier probably needs a little bit more experience before he’s seriously considered for GM openings. That being said, he was briefly a part of the Pistons GM search (although he would have had to report to Ed Stefanski, not steer the ship himself). Maybe Battier gets a courtesy call in the GM search.

The Architect

Sam Hinkie - ousted 76ers GM

Previous Positions: Executive Vice President (Rockets)

I suppose there is a non-zero chance this could happen. But it’s not something I would hold my breath for. Hinkie seems quite content outside of the NBA at this time and even in consultant roles with other teams (THE BRONCOS).

I think it would be more likely at this point that ownership reaches out to him than he accepts the position. Especially because he would want his own team that he’s comfortable with. And certainly a breach of trust occurred in the transition from Hinkie to Jerry Colangelo and then Bryan Colangelo.

So that’s 17 candidates. I’m sure a name will pop up out of left field as the search heats up. But let’s all hope that ownership takes the time to exhaust all avenues before coming to a decision.