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A “Transparently Fraudulent GM Search?”

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The Ad Hoc Tribunal

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NBA: Philadelphia 76ers-Press Conference James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

By spending a summer not interviewing the type of General Manager candidates that logic would suggest the Sixers could really use, something many fans have suspected seems more plausible: that the Sixers may not have realllllly wanted to bring in the top candidates this year all along.

The title of this piece was borrowed from reporter Ben Detrick, a contributor for The New York Times and The Ringer, on his recent appearance on The Rights To Ricky Sanchez podcast. Here was the quote:

“...If you don’t do any interviews you’re not interested in hiring a GM....they’re running a transparently fraudulent GM search.”

Since June 7th a critical off-season was spent without a full-time or experienced GM. It all kicked off when the shocking and emotional draft day trade (Villanova and home-town champ Mikal Bridges for the recently injured Zhaire Smith and a 2021 draft pick) went down and the summer of “stah-hunting” was born. Now the less catchy but suddenly more apt rest of the sentence by Interim GM and Head Coach, Brett Brown, becomes the key: “or stah-developing.”

Then Josh Harris, before departing in his personal chopper, described a bit of what the team might be looking for in a candidate earlier this summer.

According to Keith Pompey on a recent podcast: “...they feel as if the model that they have works. So why tweak it?”

The Sixer Sense also talked about continuity being a plus benefit.

Perhaps Sixers Ownership and the current almost “ad hoc tribunal” now might say that they went “stah-hunting;” not just for players like LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard, but for Executives like Daryl Morey or R.C. Buford, whom they reportedly connected with and were (expectedly) turned down.

They might say that they’re going to pick up big-game hunting next summer at the player and executive level.

They might say that now they’re pivoting to “stah-developing” by helping not only Ben Simmons or Markelle Fultz reach that next level, but a “stah” in the making at the collective Executive level like a group comprised of Brett Brown, Marc Eversley, Ned Cohen, Alex Rucker and his analytics team and maybe even eventually an outside “figure-head” GM for the day-to-day chores (we’ve heard retread names like Kiki VanDeWeghe and Danny Ferry bandied about).

They’ll definitely use this word a lot. But should we be OK with this “collaborative” effort or even this painstakingly slow search “process?”

Forgive me if I’m not convinced that continuity is as big of an advantage as they seem to think, or that passing up on possibly great outside candidates now while hoping for one specific candidate is sound planning.

In this great listen from the July Sixers Beat podcast, Rich Hoffman said:

“They want a very specific GM candidate. One who I’m not sure exists ….[one] who delegates responsibility, and is ego-less, and is not a big personality, but they also wouldn’t mind someone who’s experienced.”

According to Derek Bodner on the same podcast:

“...my biggest concern isn’t whether or not they might promote from within, it’s whether they’ll promote from within without a real search.”

So is there a very big fish in mind for next summer and all of this collaborative ego-less stuff will be out the window if they can get that person? Or will they try again to convince some stud exec to leave a job with lots of power and come take one with maybe less?

Ownership

According to NBC Sports, “76ers want GM who’ll collaborate with minority owner, others on decisions.”

The piece quotes Philly.com’s Keith Pompey:

“There’s a guy in the ownership group. His name is David Heller....he was a guy who was basically running the meetings, and he had a heavy hand in the decision making. And at this particular time, he again has a heavy hand in the decision making.”

Nothing comforts a fanbase like hearing there is an owner who believes he is maybe an instrumental voice in a decision making process. No wonder the Sixers owners have support for the current system. It must be pretty fun, huh? Says Dan Feldman who wrote the piece:

“I don’t blame Heller for that. If I had enough money to buy an NBA team, I’d run its basketball operations. That’s a perk of the purchase. Why spend all that money not to do the most fun job?”

For a team who may not have ever truly wanted a change in the first place after Burnergate, this might present an even a more exciting twist. But what about Colangelo’s exit?

To that point, from what I have heard, which meshes with some reports back in early June, the Sixers ownership was largely reluctant to part ways with Bryan Colangelo. Liked by many in the organization, it was an extremely difficult decision they originally hoped was not an inevitable one.

It doesn’t invoke my confidence that they were seemingly more confident in moving on from Sam Hinkie after “The Process” which built this team than they were in moving on from Bryan Colangelo after the twitter scandal.

“It has become clear Bryan’s relationship with our team and his ability to lead the 76ers moving forward has been compromised,” said Josh Harris at the time of Colangelo’s resignation.

I’ve heard that this point, Colangelo’s relationship with his own team, was in fact the key to his no longer being here. And that while some of the players may have “played it cool,” sources have shared with me that things written in tweets were in fact quite hurtful to some players of the team; and for others not named in tweets, hurtful to some of their closest teammates.

I have also heard from another anonymous source that not all the players even believe the findings by Harris’ chosen law firm, Paul/Weiss, that it was only Bryan Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, using the twitter accounts; in part because of 1) the nature of some of the tweets, 2) more than one possible “voice,” and 3) in part because since she was living in another city some wonder if she may not have been privy to all the gossip and sensitive information purportedly transferred accidentally in a home or office setting where Colangelo works.

Ultimately things like the league-wide perception of superstar free agents, a spirit of camaraderie amongst the team’s players, who felt both protective of and betrayed for teammates who were criticized in tweets were likely factors in the tough decision.

Burnergate wasn’t everything (we won’t even bother with the issue that this franchise has had — spanning different Front Office regimes — with handling injuries and setting appropriate expectations for fans). There were leaks that we can just imagine did not sit well with players like Markelle Fultz, or likely did not sit well with his closer teammates who respect him and saw what he went through. Remember this nugget from Philly.com’s Keith Pompey:

“The organization believes Fultz has developed a hitch over time and his case of the yips is strictly mental. Sources around the NBA have said people inside the Sixers organization have been telling league colleagues the same thing since October.”

There was intense pressure on the organization to explain a situation that was confusing to everyone, and they acted in ways that when we look back and consider the full scope of the Mishandling of Markelle Fultz, and other things, Burnergate can sometimes feel like a bit of a symptom of a much broader problem. One that may not have been entirely addressed with Colangelo’s ouster. But the players aren’t nearly as important a consideration now as they might have been in the decision to move on from Colangelo. Which brings us to...

Bryan Colangelo’s Hand-Picked Members of the Collaborative

It’s a big year. Players get hurt causing roster upheaval and a changing of direction. Stars reluctant to commit to extensions get shopped. Stars heading for Supermax extensions teams don’t want to pay get shopped. Monumental trade opportunities worthy of a chat will certainly arise before February. I believe in Brett Brown as a coach, and I like how this summer went but I am not a big believer in the Coach-GM model for success generally that Brown’s mentor, Gregg Popovich has built a dynasty utilizing.

I’d prefer that the Sixers bring in someone to play the role of a full-time GM. If Brett Brown can make his power play to ultimately be president, and work alongside an exceptional outside GM candidate under him, the way that Popovich and R.C. Buford do, then fine. But being a full-time GM and full time head coach? I don’t love the idea. Because inevitably, he would delegate to his tribunal. And who in this thing, from minority owners to former Colangelo hires is there for us fans to truly rely on, even if we’re willing to give Brown some benefit of the doubt he can continue to learn on the fly?

It’s funny, I have heard there are those who have worked closely with the Sixers say they suspect “[Brown] was in closer with ownership than Bryan ever was,” given his now long-standing tenure with the franchise through two front offices. Maybe that sentiment proved prescient as owners did not feel an immediate need to make the type of staggering overhaul they did after Sam Hinkie left.

But remember, some of the key voices in this current front office tribunal were Colangelo’s personal hires. Then on the very day that Colangelo resigned, there may have been more leaks.

The resignation coincided with a transparent leak curious report about Colangelo’s subordinates being overruled by him when they suggested giving a “second look” to other prospects after Markelle Fultz had a poor workout with them, the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported.

It is well known how close the Sixers are with some members of their beat, and how active they are in utilizing the press. But it does cause one to wonder how players on the team may have felt hearing what feels like Sixers Execs angling for promotions by distancing themselves from the decision to draft Markelle Fultz. Was this more of the same things the team’s players have dealt with on the very first day of the post-Colangelo administration?

Here is what one of Interim GM Brett Brown’s most trusted advisors, Marc Eversley said in 2016:

“Bryan [Colangelo] is a mentor to me, and he’s helped me with my development, my growth over the years.... He’s kind of taught me a few tricks of the trade over the years.”

Does any of this mean Eversley, or Cohen or anyone else specifically had anything to do with that? Of course not. Is it possible he or anyone else on staff did suggest more due diligence during the pre-draft process and wanted it to be known on a day they knew they might be promoted or fired? Quite.

When Keith Pompey says that “people inside the Sixers organization” leaked stuff that contradicted Colangelo’s public positions, it doesn’t seem likely that he means it was Colangelo himself, does it? So then who was undermining the team and violating trust with the players? I don’t know. Was it someone at the top or bottom? What I do know is this....

Those “tricks” Eversley learned from Colangelo weren’t all David Blaine quality.

Great things happened while Eversley was under Colangelo like: drafting Ben Simmons, or the Raptors’ “Process:” an insufferable 5 years of winning less than 31 games per year in Toronto that formed via draft capital the nucleus of an Eastern Conference semi-contender for years to come (e.g. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valančiūnas).

But also very bad things like drafting Andrea Bargnani, trading away assets and cap space to Pat Riley in order to sign Hedo Türkoğlu, only to see Pat Riley turn around a year later and use that capital to steal the guy Türkoglu was supposed to keep happy, Chris Bosh. Then overspending on Rudy Gay, and trying to overspend on an entirely washed Steve Nash were also the type of “tricks” that got both Eversley and his mentor let go by the Raptors.

Eversley went on to learn from another “mixed-bag” GM in Ernie Grunfeld, with the Wizards. The best personnel decision made while Eversley was there may have been the acquisition of Kelly Oubre Jr. or Marcian Gortat.

Then he returned to the Sixers with Colangelo in 2016 for an extremely rocky management period, where mistiming the market on centers like Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor were major problems along with squandering and selling late but valuable draft picks.

None of this is meant to single out or criticize Marc Eversley. Its not, I promise. As far as I’m concerned he is an unproven candidate with some valuable insights to offer, liked by people he’s worked with and he instills confidence in people I’ve spoken to who have worked with him. He’s just the most experienced of the Sixers front office Execs, so his and other’s resumes become worth looking at more closely.

There isn’t a ton of experience in this collaborative at the GM level. And the survivors are not entirely distinct from the culture of confusion, misdirection and leaks that violated players and fan’s trust. It does not make me so confident that I would basically forgo an interview process for a full year and miss a shot to bring in good help now. Brett Brown was and still is a coach, so this choice places even more emphasis on his staff.

So who?

Candidates to Call

Sam Hinkie?

Yeah yeah yeah. Of course his role as a VP to Daryl Morey and his role in the acquisition of James Harden landed the Rockets an MVP and him the Sixers GM gig. Of course those accolades alone are good enough to rival many of the hottest Assistant GM candidates in the sport today. Of course he got the picks that built the nucleus of the current Sixers at the top and bottom of the NBA draft and blah blah blah.

It won’t happen because it doesn’t even sound like all of the current owners truly understand how much of the team’s (and their own) success has and will come from Sam Hinkie:

But sidebar, check out some cool things Hinkie’s former Sixers staff are doing lately:

  • Brandon Williams, former Chief of Staff for the Sixers, is currently Assistant General Manager of the Kings.
  • Sachin Gupta, former Sixers Vice President of Basketball Operations in 2014 and served as then-GM Sam Hinkie’s top lieutenant is now the Assistant General Manager of the Detroit Pistons (something former GM and outspoken “Process” hater Stan Van Gundy, might find particularly revolting)
  • Brett Brown, Sam Hinkie’s hand-selected coach, has obviously proven himself to the owners and fans, being extended as coach then promoted recently to Interim General Manager to oversee the team’s most critical off-season in decades.
  • Will Weaver, who worked his way up from video coordinator for Brett Brown to Special Assistant was recently promoted to Head Coach of the Nets’ G-League team, the Long Island Nets after winning the respect of Nets Coach Kenny Atkinson, Assistant GM Trajan Langdan, and GM Sean Marks.
  • Ben Falk, former Sixers Vice President of Basketball Strategy, created an oft-cited NBA content hub of really exciting and in depth, intelligent analysis, called Cleaning the Glass.

Some smart people who played instrumental roles in Hinkie’s regime are in demand and doing great things. The idea that Sam Hinkie could already have a more robust and sought after “NBA tree” than many working GM’s have would almost be funny if there weren’t millions of fans who don’t care how many eggs get cracked along the way to make that golden Larry O’Brien omelette. Grovel and beg for Sam to come back if he says no, then fine, you did your best.

The Kings were smart enough to interview Brandon Williams, why not us?

Mike Zarren

If it’s possible that some members of this current Sixers front office felt that leaking they had reservations about drafting Markelle Fultz could land them a promotion, then how do you like ‘deez apples: maybe the person who was literally on the phone with Colangelo trying to acquire Jayson Tatum and a future draft pick, is worth a call. As a bonus, you’d also be stealing a key voice from your biggest rival’s Front Office, the Celtics. Oh and his mentor is Danny Ainge.

Troy Weaver

Worked under Sam Presti since 2008. Presti is very smart. Not even worth a call?

Gerrson Rosas

Worked with Darly Morey and Sam Hinkie. He has been with the Rockets roughly 17 years. Holds a key role under perhaps the NBA’s best GM, Rosas was maybe one Chris Paul hamstring injury away from being a champion. You wanted Morey, the guy who may have cracked the code to beating the Warriors but you don’t need to even interview Morey’s VP?

Trajan Langdon

I don’t know but he does work under Nets GM Sean Marks, who comes from The Spurs. Give the man a shout. What’s there to lose?

Brian Wright

You want R.C. Buford so badly, call his Assistant GM and interview a Brian who probably wears standard collars.

Who Else?

I’m probably missing 15 great names but I have to go do a fantasy football draft so let me know who I missed!

When in Doubt Model the ...Knicks?

According to Derek Bodner of The Athletic here:

“that brings up an interesting question of exactly how much freedom a new general manager would have in building up his staff. Harris and Brown have frequently spoken about wanting to find someone who will work with the existing staff.” Sounds familiar?

James Dolan recently fired Phil Jackson and promoted Steve Mills to Team President, a person who’d been with the team presiding over the disgraced Isiah Thomas regime, who had worked under Jackson’s tumultuous regime, and has been a part of the organization for over a decade beginning in 2003. Mills quickly offered Joakim Noah money to Tim Hardaway Jr. and turned down someone who wanted a sizable voice, David Griffin. Then he hired an inexperienced candidate recently with two moribund franchises, the Kings and Magic. Scott Perry apparently did not need as much power as Griffin but he is actually off to a nice start in New York.

Dolan called it a “culture change.”

The Sixers seem to be using a wonky version of James Dolan’s model now. Have a disaster? Promote internally then maybe find a person who won’t shake things up down the road. Call it a culture change or a collaboration, whatever. It’s a bit of a stretch but there are creepy similarities too.

So we’ve got owners who may not have ever wanted change to begin with. And now that they’ve got it, it might be really really fun for them. Meanwhile the current Front Office, may be justifiably worried that recommending anyone new and qualified could cost them power or even a job so is anybody with decision making power truly motivated to investigate here? Or is this all one “transparently fraudulent” charade much like we’ve come to expect from injury reports around these parts over the years?

Maybe that’s part of why this has been such a slow process. If they know someone very good is coming next summer then maybe all the talk about the perfect fit is pure smoke. But maybe it’s not and their specific and odd criteria will repel all the best names.

A Tribunal of Warriors

Yes Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are here. But once upon a time it was a GM named Larry Riley who drafted Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. He participated in a bit of a collaborative tribunal along with first his mentor Don Nelson, and then eventually Mark Jackson, Bob Myers, Joe Lacob, and Jerry West. Even with those star players in place, and more picks and cap space to come, leaving Larry Riley in charge was not the answer for the Warriors dynasty. And bringing in as many of those bright and up and coming names wound up being the key to building maybe the best team that ever played together. Newer names like Bob Myers, proven names like Jerry West, an Owner in Joe Lacob who was “light years ahead” enough to defer to people who knew a bit more than him when he wanted to roll with a Monta Ellis and Curry back court.

Lacob said in 2013 that the Warriors were closer than people realize to landing Dwight Howard, just about five years before Joshua Harris said the Sixers were pretty close to landing LeBron James.

We’re at a similar cross-roads as the 2013 Warriors here.

There are big things on the horizon and big decisions to make now. How many minutes will Fultz play? How much if any should Ben Simmons play off the ball? What happens if Jimmy Butler or Kyrie Irving or Klay Thompson becomes available? How can we lure Kawhi Leonard next summer, beginning today? When you find yourself teetering on resembling the Knicks and the Warriors, it’s time to think hard about the intrinsic value of continuity and the opportunity costs it may present. And don’t worry if the very best person for the gig wants to hire or fire a couple people. Maybe there are better people out there than happen to be in here. It’s worth a few meetings, even if nobody in charge feels he or she has much incentive to take them ‘til next summer.