It’s a rivalry that stems back to the early 50’s and features two iconic franchises and blah blah blah. Look we can’t sugar coat this rivalry. The Celtics are run very very well and the Sixers have been run terribly for about 5 years now. The bungles at the very top of the Sixers organization have been so public and so jarring that it seems like only a matter of time until they get that inevitable trade request from Joel Embiid, looking to find a more stable, and well run franchise for his prime. His contract in Philadelphia ends after the “2023 season” (whenever that will be) so there’s three more full seasons of his service on the books. But if it becomes clear “The Process” has seen enough mismanagement for one career and has no interest in sticking around, the franchise would be wise to at least begin shopping him. They wouldn’t want him moping through his prime or watching him walk away for nothing when they could have sold-high and built around Ben Simmons. But c’mon this is crazy talk! They can’t trade the crown jewel of The Process! Sorry, we’re already here. We can forget the days when the media whined about having to trade one of Embiid or Simmons. Because of how badly this team has been run, the problem has officially shifted to convincing either to stay for the long haul amidst such organizational chaos.
One similarity the two Atlantic Division “rivals” share is their being governed by private equity moguls. In fact, many of the top Eastern Conference powerhouses share that style of leadership including the Bucks, Sixers, Celts, and Raptors. The principle of taking a distressed asset and streamlining it for exponential growth has largely worked in the NBA. So why do the Raptors, Celtics and Bucks all seem to be so smart while the Sixers seem so... confused and weird?
The Raptors and Celtics in particular, are regarded as two of the very best front offices in the sport! The Raptors won the chip last year. The Bucks might well be on their way to a title. Bleacher report recently ranked Boston tops in the league for a 3 year outlook, well ahead of the Sixers 11th place finish.
How on earth could the Sixers have had Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes, Nerlens Noel, Jerami Grant, the 3rd pick in the 2017 draft, (where Jayson Tatum was selected) the 10th pick in the 2018 draft (where Mikal Bridges was selected), the 14th pick in the 2019 draft (where Romeo Langford was selected) all of their own picks, tons of second rounders and cap-space for a max salaried Hall-of-Famer or two just a couple of years ago, yet also look like they’re in need of a massive overhaul now?
They have the wrong people on the bus
In the words of Jim Collins, who once wrote the best-seller “Good to Great:”
“In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.”
Indeed, getting the right people on the bus has proven nearly impossible for the Sixers ever since they brought in NBA legend Jerry Colangelo, and it has widened the gap between them and the best private equity run power houses. While the Celtics’ Governor Wyc Grousbeck has President Danny Ainge and his secret weapon, GM Mike Zarren, the Sixers have an almost entirely Jerry-and-his-son-Bryan Colangelo-assembled front office; one that was highly unimpressive in Toronto, where they carefully assembled the league’s least efficient payroll, and one that has arguably been even worse in Philadelphia.
Colangelo: "It's never easy to negotiate with Boston because they're smart guys..I'm talking about Mike Zarren, by the way, not Danny Ainge"— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) June 19, 2017
We cannot allow Brown and Brand to simply be sacrificial lambs here. Alex Rucker and Ned Cohen (Colangelo staff) GOTTA go. Rucker as responsible as ANYONE.— Spike Eskin (@SpikeEskin) August 20, 2020
New coach and President of basketball ops should be SEPARATE and the president should be allowed to hire their OWN staff.
The Sixers have talked to Boston’s Mike Zarren twice both in 2013 and 2018 about running their team and likely blew that opportunity in 2018 by insisting in prime New York Knicks-like-fashion he work with this Colangelo crew.
Toronto’s owner saw what was happening and shed the franchise of the Colangelo-crew and transitioned to perhaps the best Team President in the sport, Masai Ujiri who collaborates with wunderkind Bobby Webster.  Boston and Toronto’s private equity moguls found a way to get the right people on that damn bus.
Not talking about replacing Elton with another meat shield. They hired Hinkie. They interviewed Rosas and Zarren. Ownership knows who these guys are— Ben Detrick (@bdetrick) August 20, 2020
Cedric Daniels from The Wire knows a little something about the tendency to promote the wrong people and let the good ones get away:
Back in 2018 the Sixers had a tryst with Daryl Morey, GM of the Rockets. He eventually turned them down, and not long after, on a podcast with The Ringer’s Bill Simmons, he had this to say, offering some clues about his thinking:
“...the players are getting smarter they’re looking less at the coach [for important free agency decisions] and more at the owner.... everyone is like why is the west on top all these years? The owners are better. There’s exceptions, obviously the Celtics have an amazing owner. I’ll forget some others in the east that have great owners.”
Bill Simmons quipped: “I dunno if you did.”
Morey: “But you look one through at least eleven in the west and these are owners that have been really good and that’s the difference.”
Morey doesn’t seem to hold the Sixers brass in the highest regard like he does Boston or the top 11 teams out west. Embiid seems like one of those smart players he refers to who’d consider a team’s ownership in making any big decision.
A former Liberty Baller, Adam Aaronson, for his Rights to Ricky Sanchez column “Incompetence Personified: It starts at the Top” wrote:
“The issues begin at the top. All of this starts with the owners and the front office, who have displayed over and over for four years now that they are in every single way incompetent....”
Philly’s pair of overconfident and underqualified fantasy basketball billionaire owners figured it was time to contend and then had their Colangelo-installed incompetent front office orchestrate a series of awful blockbuster-grade moves. Go Sixers!— Jimmy (@_JimmyMcCormick) August 17, 2020
The tea leaves are difficult to read
But Josh Harris has been a bit confusing for fans. One moment (when the picks swapped in 2017) he’s belting “Thank you, Sam Hinkie!” “You set us up well. I’m going to text him tonight, and give him a big kiss over text” demonstrating a profound understanding that Sam Hinkie and his team are why the Sixers had such great pieces and assets. But just a year later he referred to “The Process” as merely a “science project” that “had its benefits.” Huh?
One moment he’s presiding over an “investment committee” that decides to ship out multiple picks for Markelle Fultz, move on from cost-controlled talents like Robert Covington and Dario Saric for Jimmy Butler on his one year deal without the express intent to keep the tempestuous All-Star long term, going absolutely all in for a 3rd or 4th banana in Tobias Harris, selling draft picks, and dropping a near max on a 33 year old backup big to complement a pair of 23 and 25 year old superstars. The next minute he’s preaching how not enough people have a long term view. Double huh?
Yaron Weitzman, who from his great read “Tanking to the Top,” on the process of hiring current GM Elton Brand:
“....the Sixers chased a few other sitting GMs, most of whom were either not interested or were not granted permission to interview by their employers.”
“Others pursued by the Sixers were wary of the team’s existing management structure. For one, Harris made clear that he expected whoever was hired to inherit the executives Colangelo had left behind. It was also known around the league that Harris and his partners expected to be involved and consulted in basketball decisions, and that the power vacuum created by the absence of both Jerry and Bryan Colangelo had provided them even more room to operate.”
Unlike Hinkie and Colangelo, Brand was not given the title of Team President. Did the team owners give themselves a whopping promotion? Things just haven’t gone right, let’s try this ourselves?
Harris himself described how his team makes decisions two years ago:
“The way we’ve run the draft process and the free agency process pretty much forever since we’ve owned the team is that we hire really good people and that we allow them to voice their opinions and we almost have like what we in my day job would be an investment committee, wheres there’s a lot of dialogue and debate around the table and there’s a consensus that we try to develop. Ultimately the GM is given a large vote right, but ultimately if we’re not on board for it it doesn’t happen….”
“That’s how David [Blitzer] and I run our businesses in our day job and that’s how the Sixers operate.”
And that’s ultimately the crux of the issue here.
The problem that anyone outside of this organization can see of course, is that whatever process they’ve implemented has not actually had “really good people.” There is nothing inherently wrong with collaboration. Venture Capital mogul, Joe Lacob built the Golden State Warriors dynasty by utilizing this method. He collaborated with Don Nelson, Larry Riley, then eventually with Jerry West and Bob Myers, and Mark Jackson, and finally Steve Kerr. He ignored Larry Riley, Mark Jackson, and his own impulses when they wanted to build around Monta Ellis, and he deferred to Bob Myers and Jerry West at crucial intervals along the way. Lacob subverted his gut, he iterated on the fly, and he continually moved away from the wrong people and promoted only the strongest voices.
The Sixers have done the exact opposite.
Other than the time that Sam Hinkie, Sachin Gupta, and Ben Falk were around in Philly the team’s “investment committee” has arrived on major decisions like maxing Andrew Bynum, and letting Boston’s clever front office out fox them on dealings from Fultz and Jayson Tatum, to Matisse Thybulle to Horford.
That's not great. pic.twitter.com/FIzmSp8lJF— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) June 21, 2019
“I know a place where villains are welcome”
Which all brings us back to Embiid. Embiid calls himself “The Process.” He’s always given due credit to Hinkie, the Team President who drafted him, the executive who was there at the big man’s apartment the day he learned his brother had passed away. Heck his dog’s middle name is Hinkie.
Embiid has had a front row seat for Hinkie’s ousting and all the asset and roster carnage that has since ensued. Long gone is the promise of a treasure chest of assets to play with. Long gone are the cost-controlled two way All-Defense wings. Long gone are the days Philadelphia would routinely fillet dumb teams in trades. Long gone are his best friends like Dario Saric and Justin Anderson and his most complementary teammates like JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler. Joel has publicly flirted with leaving the team before on Instagram with Butler. It should not be taken lightly. His instincts, like yours and mine, were correct whenever the team was making massive franchise defining mistakes, long before we watched it all play out last night on tv in the bubble:
June 30, 2019
So to recap... everyone knew Embiid would be miserable if they let go of Jimmy and JJ except the sixers front office. Got it https://t.co/KtXiH5Lu0D— Greg Dennis (@TheRealGD) August 10, 2020
Per Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice, last summer:
“This has been one of the major struggles of untangling Philadelphia’s moves since Bryan Colangelo parted ways with the team last June. Nearly all of his front office lieutenants have remained in place, which makes it hard to dole out credit (or blame) for involvement in the team’s decision-making process, even (and perhaps especially) reaching as high as Brand.”
What an embarrassment the Sixers are. The Celtics are the better team but getting blown out in what should’ve been a bounce back game is a joke and a product of the organization’s failures over the years. And what’s so scary is the issues run so deep it’s hard to find solutions. pic.twitter.com/h0znIJp1j7— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) August 20, 2020
There’s no longer any need to untangle who is making what calls. The entire front office hasn’t worked. So now the Sixers’ preference for an investment committee war room of Josh Harris, David Blitzer, former NBA League office and former New York Knicks Marketing czar Scott O’Neil, Elton Brand, Alex Rucker, Ned Cohen and Brett Brown has been fully exposed. Harris and Blitzer will remain. Maybe this business isn’t important enough to them to count as their “day-job.” Maybe it’s just a fun hobby. Maybe tripling down on a leadership team that hasn’t succeeded in past or current organizations would be the classic sunk-cost fallacy, but maybe it’s just fun to run a team with people you like. But that doesn’t mean the team’s best players will be on board with the board’s decisions. The right move is to relinquish some authority to a great team president with a great resume, let him or her handpick the team and save this sinking asset from itself before “The Process” understandably wants out.
 Both Ujiri and Webster’s contracts will end following the 2021 season. More than likely one of them will move on. Which team will be lucky enough to let the one who departs lead their franchise?