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Elton Brand press conference: 5 monster decisions loom this off season

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Atlanta Hawks - Game Two Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

While countless media personalities and former players who were wrong about The Process, and never bothered to read about how it basically ended back in late 2015, take their misguided victory lap and pronounce it dead, there’s some actual tea leaves for us to read here. Brett Brown is out. Long live Brett Brown. It’s genuinely sad to see him go, even if there are good arguments for change and even though it feels like Brown never got a fair chance to develop chemistry around any core group with all of the injuries and frenzied trading. GM Elton Brand’s job is apparently safe (we think?) and on top of that he gave a press conference today, per our Tom West, detailing how he’ll be overseeing some sweeping structural changes to the front office.

That would obviously be a bit weird for any well-run franchise. “I want to hire you to work for me and help me clean up the massive mess we’ve made” is certainly not the way to attract top candidates on the market. But it’s how the Sixers do business and you just can’t quit this team so let’s countdown the 5 biggest decisions looming, based on everything we learned since the Celtics brutalized them in the first round.

5) They’ll probably hire Tyronn Lue

Per Woj yesterday:

Lue comes in with a ring on his finger, that’s impressive. Some people will understandably roll their eyes when they hear this touted as a laurel. Hey, with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in their primes my nana could have coached them to 1 or 2 titles. Truth is, that’s a semi-reasonable position to take if your nana would also have switched on every Curry-Green PnR in the finals and fearlessly held a couple mega-stars accountable. But this type of reductive thinking can lead us to miss a) that it’s probably quite difficult to coach a Type A legend in LeBron and a talented if moody-artist-type in Irving and b) there are some very real positives on Lue’s resume.

Our Sean Kennedy has more on Lue being a leading candidate to replace Brett Brown. And from Mike O’Connor, a very good thread:

After all, it wasn’t long ago that people questioned Erik Spoelstra’s credentials for underachieving with the Heatles, but nobody questions Miami’s head coach anymore. So Lue certainly deserves strong consideration. And I have high hopes for his inevitable self-deprecating joke about “the stepover” in his opening presser if they do.

NBA Finals X Iverson

4) Alex Rucker, Ned Cohen and others with the Colangelo link are probably toast

A peak at the Sixers org chart for B-Ball ops:

Recall, we learned this a couple of years ago:

Marc Eversley has taken the GM vacancy in Chicago. And so that should draw attention to EVP of B-Ball Ops Alex Rucker, and Assistant GM Ned Cohen. Firing both Rucker and Cohen seems like it might well be in the cards here if the Sixers want to retain Brand to “oversee basketball operations” yet gain a modicum of credit for making important changes.

Per Yaron Weitzman, writing for Bleacher Report yesterday:

“Still, some in the organization recognized that allowing Butler to leave could backfire. In a meeting discussing the deal, sources say Alex Rucker, the Sixers’ executive vice president, was asked by colleagues what the team’s plan was for closing playoff games.”

Perhaps Rucker, often rumored to have as much say as anyone under Managing Partner Josh Harris, was the lead advocate for last summer’s epic failure of an off season; or at least one convenient fall-guy. Lending more credibility to the hypothesis that Rucker is out is this quote from Brand, per West:

Fans of any major sport will hear the phrase “[insert name of sport] mind” and know it always means “less power for analytic dweebs!” It almost never works out to neuter the nerd department though, but in this case replacing them would be wise.

Rucker of course, spearheaded the analytics team for Bryan Colangelo in Toronto and later Philadelphia before being promoted to EVP of the Sixers when Colangelo resigned. The team has been known for having one of the largest analytic staffs in the entire league, and also implementing that department’s recommendations in everything from game planning, to rotations, to free agency decisions; yet they wound up with so many non-analytic friendly players and in game strategies featuring a season long litany of long mid range jump shots.

The other perceived benefit to canning these guys might be seen as an attempt to move on from some of the stigma associated with the often-utilized phrase “Colangelo lieutenants” to describe them. (Yes, even though it was reportedly Jerry Colangelo who first recruited Elton Brand to come aboard in Philly, Brand’s rep certainly isn’t tied to the family name the way Rucker’s or Cohen’s is).

3) Elton Brand’s role moving forward?

Philadelphia 76ers Unveil Charles Barkley Sculpture Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The big mystery here has been and will continue to be “what the heck is Brand’s actual role?” Sources have insisted to Liberty Ballers that Brand’s role has been truly that of the GM, the top voice within the front office reporting only to Management, whose role and responsibilities have only grown over his two year stint. But plenty of accounts of the Sixers much criticized “multi-voice” power structure (with folks on the business side collaborating closely with folks on the b-ball side) have questioned how much authority the former All-Star has ultimately had internally. It remains unclear how or if the failings of the last two seasons that have come to light in the bubble will impact his role.

Once upon a time we were told that Sam Hinkie was safe, amidst a “restructuring,” only to learn that Hinkie was effectively benched and Jerry Colangelo was running the show.

Per The Ringer’s John Gonzalez, at the time writing for NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“Colangelo gave two staggering radio interviews this week. He told a station in Phoenix that Adam Silver and Josh Harris called him “pleading for some help.” The savior spin is pronounced right now. In the other interview, Angelo Cataldi and Colangelo had an interesting exchange.

Cataldi: “I don’t think at 76 you came back to get overruled by a bunch of people who have never won anything.”

Colangelo: “No, I would never do it. I would never do that.”

At the time the Sixers ownership had been urging Hinkie to hire a public-facing “relationships” person and he just wouldn’t do it. Hinkie did not collaborate well internally, and he didn’t have the best relationships around the league and the Sixers brass have since used the word “collaborate” the way Hodor uses his own name. But maybe that’s in the rear-view?

So perhaps the franchise would obfuscate here again. What we can be sure of, Brand collaborates well. Is it possible he’s being retained because ownership knows he was one of the lone voices in their “investment committee” to advocate retaining Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick? Could it be possible that he represented more of a figure-head than a hands on GM and so that’s why they do not feel the need to blame him for all that has gone wrong? If so, will he have more (or less) power moving forward?

Conversely, is it possible Brand was all aboard project Tobias Harris and project Al Horford but ownership, who have reportedly taken a larger and larger share of control over the years per Yaron Weitzman’s book “Tanking to the Top” would overlook Brand’s missteps because they don’t want to risk hiring someone who wants more power than he’s comfy with? Yeah he’s not perfect, but running a team is super fun and Brand doesn’t mind letting us do it, someone else might?

This line from Brand, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps is interesting:

“To be clear and frank, we feel the collaboration days didn’t work too well,” Brand said. “So I will be leading the search....I was put in the fire, had some tough decisions to be a part of, but now I’m looking forward to putting my stamp on this thing and taking full accountability for whatever happens next.”

It’s sounds like Brand is saying he didn’t have that level of responsibility or say in the past. Maybe now he will.

2) Who’s next?

If Brand is still in place and also conducting interviews this presents some major major problems. The Sixers should have learned that if you don’t let your next decision maker build his or her own team, you’re going to limit your candidate pool to some folks who are not in high demand. Sports Business 101. You want a great chef to cook the meal, you gotta let the person buy the dang groceries. Both the Knicks and Sixers were rebuffed by some top executive candidates in 2017 and 2018 respectively. New York because they always insisted on foisting folks like Steve Mills and Alan Houston onto their next hire. Philadelphia because they insisted on foisting their Colangelo-assembled front office.

The Sixers may toggle out a couple of Colangelo-hired folks but they’ll now be foisting Brand on some people who may not necessarily agree Brand is the very best person to collaborate with on the most important basketball decisions. A very clear signal that they have not yet learned their lesson.

Working above the Colangelo group in 2018 with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and tons of draft picks and still no Tobias Harris and still no Al Horford was FAR MORE ENTICING of an offer than working UNDER or alongside Brand would be in 2020. For all of you eternal optimists out there hoping for a new front office savior, read that last sentence again.

It’s not hard to imagine the team turning to folks with past-GM experience and NBA League office ties. They seem to really value people with ties to Adam Silver’s office. They did interview Kiki VanDeWeghe back in 2018. The Knicks convinced GM Scott Perry to accept their weird dynamic and welp, you’ve seen how that’s worked for them. But those types of candidates certainly won’t inspire confidence in Embiid or Simmons that the coming years will be markedly better managed than the prior few. For Simmons in particular, he’s only seen mismanagement from above ever since being drafted.

One way we could spin all this might be “OK, Elton’s super likable maybe he will be a purely ceremonial, public-facing GM and cede all major basketball decisions to the next hire.” But what elite candidate would leave a great program for that type of muddy power structure? Names like Masai Ujiri, R.C. Buford, Bob Myers, Bobby Webster, Mike Zarren, or an Adam Simon would rightly scoff at such a bizarre arrangement as well as warn their friends to be wary. Is that the type of internal structure you want to stake your career on? You’ve had so much success without ever working with Elton, why partner up with him after the brutal run he’s had? Is this a wink-wink he’s your boss but you’re the boss thing?

In winter of 2019, per Weitzman, a war room table of Managing Partners Josh Harris, David Blitzer, Team CEO Scott O’Neil, GM Elton Brand, EVP Alex Rucker and Coach Brett Brown reportedly reached a consensus on the trade for Tobias Harris. Ownership isn’t going anywhere. But simply toggling out Brown for Lue and Rucker for the next name to agree to the gig doesn’t lend much reason for optimism given the massive undertaking righting this ship will require.

1) Seems like the Sixers will not shop Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons this fall

Philadelphia 76ers v Indiana Pacers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Whew. That’s a huge relief. A few smart people like Zach Lowe and Yaron Weitzman have recently speculated that the Sixers would not look to trade one of their franchise cornerstones so soon and Brand has basically confirmed as much for us today. Per Tom West today:

To all of the fans of other teams who desperately want one of the Sixers’ stars and constantly write articles about how they need to shake it up, go suck an egg for 12 months. It’s possible that eventually trading one of these guys might one day begin to feel like the right thing to do. But we’re not there yet. For the love of locally brewed beer, let’s give these poor guys at least one freakin’ chance to play with a small forward, a shooting guard, and a point or combo guard who can shoot and see what happens. Even though we may not have much faith that whatever wonky leadership group they form will be able to turn this luxury-tax strapped monstrocity of a roster into a champion we’ll get to keep watching Jo and Ben. After all, home is where the heart is and they’re still home.