ESPN’s Senior Writer Zach Lowe has long paid pretty close attention to the Philadelphia 76ers over the years. When Sixers Nation was relatively down on the team, and feeling that things weren’t heading in the right direction, Lowe would buy stock, reminding us that if Joel Embiid were ever healthy and engaged, he could become one of the few best players in the entire league. It sounded like hyperbole to even a few of Embiid’s biggest fans at the time. But here we are and two runner-up MVP finishes, back-to-back scoring titles and one MVP trophy later, Lowe’s analysis proved prophetic.
But a notoriously tough fan base has directed some of their ire toward the team’s ownership for a long time now. Of course, there was a sizable portion of fans who never liked former President Sam Hinkie’s tanking strategy. And then when the team’s Managing Partner Josh Harris, and Co-Managing Partner David Blitzer, decided to squeeze Hinkie out for Jerry, and later Bryan Colangelo, upper management began to draw more and more wrath from the other side of the fanbase who wanted the team to simply vie for championships without much regard for how the sausage got made.
Between Colangelo’s disastrous 2017 NBA Draft and Twitter burner scandal, and the subsequent ownership-led-Collaborative years that followed, aside from Sam Hinkie’s drafting Joel Embiid and leaving the team with two rebuilds worth of young players, cap space and picks to trade or work with, the team has simply become a case study in basketball mismanagement at the upper management level.
Zach Lowe recently hosted Bobby Marks, ESPN’s NBA Front Office Insider, to chat some James Harden trade stalemate news on “The Lowe Post podcast.” It’s one of my favorite listens. But because there are so many Shakespearean parallels now between the Ben Simmons and James Harden trade requests, Lowe couldn’t help but zoom out a little and take a 10,000-foot view of the “chaos” that has clouded this team since Harris (who recently bought the Washington Commanders NFL team) led a purchasing group back in 2011.
“The two teams that were kind of better than [Philadelphia] last year in the regular season, [Boston and Milwaukee] at least there’s a world in which they’re worse this year, or shakier, or more uncertain. Miami still doesn’t have Damian Lillard, lost some guys off their team….If we could just get our shit together yeah we haven’t made the Conference Finals in a million years, and yeah we got some issues in big games but like it’s there for us and you know what? They don’t have their shit together and you know why they don’t have their shit together Bobby? I don’t really know why. But it’s just every goddamn year with the Sixers. It’s just constant. It’s been 10 years of just chaos almost every offseason. Last offseason in 2022, ironically the one they got docked draft picks for, was a great offseason. Relatively copacetic, they made smart signings, everything was good, they aligned up their team blah blah blah, other than that it’s just chaos all the time.
From Sam Hinkie getting shoved out, maybe not provided enough support when he got the job anyway — now we can quibble with a lot of the stuff that Sam did and how he did the job but still — the Colangelo era, was kinda messy, there was like the Brett Brown is the GM interregnum, how involved are some of the owners? There was hiring Doc Rivers before hiring Daryl Morey, there was the I don’t want to say mismanagement, but there was the Jimmy Butler versus Brett Brown, versus Ben Simmons thing that they decided to resolve by jettisoning the clearly most valuable of those three people in terms of building a championship level basketball team and getting Al Horford and Josh Richardson in return essentially. It’s just been a mess constantly.
The Simmons thing, now the Harden thing. You know we don’t even have to get into Fultz and Zhaire Smith and all the stuff that has gone wrong and I guess the question I would have Bobby is at what point do we start asking questions about the ownership of the Sixers?
For every other franchise if they had experienced 10 years of this people would be like ‘wait a second who’s actually running this where does the buck stop?’ If this were Mark Cuban —and it has been Mark Cuban for more serious reasons then this — people would start asking questions about the owner. Why is there just never any talk about Josh Harris, and David Blitzer and all the other guys who are running — and Michael Rubin. Like what was the Michael Rubin thing? Michael Rubin’s owning the team, he’s posting on Instagram with Harden, now he doesn’t own the team anymore, he’s sold his interest in the team, why is there never any talk about this? And by the way, they’ve won. Lots of games. I don’t really think that’s a huge thing to be proud of. Cause when you tank four seasons and draft no. 1-4 every year, in like eight years you should win a lot of games, like the minimum is being a good team which they’ve been. So that’s one of my questions. It’s kind of a black box ownership. Like the guy just bought the Commanders!”
Now Zach, if this lands on your plate because your name was in the headline, first off I agree this is a big deal and has been a huge, huge problem at the organizational level since Dec. 7, 2015, when Jerry Colangelo came on board.
But I can absolutely, positively assure you, rest easy my friend. If you’re as embedded in the weeds as we Sixers Psychos have been, this topic has been talked about. The same way that if you happened to wonder “why we don’t talk much about James Dolan’s influence over the Knicks over the years,” you know you’d get absolutely peppered with replies from smart and passionate Knicks fans like say Knicks Film School’s Jon Macri, playfully reminding you that yeah, we got you, we’ve hammered this topic for the better part of two decades, Bro!
Your buddies at Rights to Ricky have cleanly crushed this subject for over seven years. John Gonzales was all over this. Ben Detrick and Andrew Kuo have drained game-winner after game-winner from the logo on this theme. Derek Bodner has absolutely demolished this subject with the same reckless abandon and focus he takes to flying drones. Rich Hofmann has macheted through these jungles for us like a regular Crocodile Dundee. TrillBroDude has chopped this theme up so much on pods he could audition for ‘The Bear.’ Keith Pompey has led more than a few game-winning drives on prime time. Yaron Weitzman and Jake Fischer literally wrote books detailing some of the team’s sordid history at the upper-management levels.
I could go on and on about many of my own colleagues and alum at LB, more than a few of whose names I’ve already mentioned above.
In fact, so many of the top reporters were talking about the exact same subject of Sixers upper-management chaos, including yourself when you hosted Weitzman that I once made a little audio compilation about this just before the team hired Daryl Morey.
You can hear just how many people whose voices you’ll certainly recognize were discussing this theme three years ago:
In case you’re curious why fans in Philly stopped trusting the #sixers process, here are some of the top reporters (and a couple former players) describing what went so wrong. pic.twitter.com/LsaYKdYU3i— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) September 24, 2020
Oh, and humbly, humbly speaking, ever since SB Nation let me publish stuff, I’ve spilled a few million frustrated words on this subject myself. Here’s about two percent of the stuff I’ve screamed into the internet heavens over the years tackling this one:
Okay, please forgive me if it’s a bit narcissistic to put photos of my own pieces. But I just want to be clear that it’s a fair subject to discuss. But let’s not overlook just how many folks at the local level have lived in this frustrating subject for essentially the slow demise of the Process due to upper management opting to put Colangelos, Collaboratives, Interims, Interregnums or Doc’s before the Hinkies, Moreys, or other names fans pushed for like the Mike Zarrens, the Brian Wrights, or the Bobby Websters.
Anyway, Washington Commanders fans can still freely rejoice they no longer have Daniel Snyder. But they’ll have to simply hope Harris and co. have learned to simply find an NFL’s version of a Sam Hinkie or a Daryl Morey, step back and let that person pick his or her coach and staff from the absolute get-go. That way Commanders fans (hopefully they change that brutal name one more time just not this one or the old one) won’t be watching their future generational superstar go from loyal to patient to perhaps one day disgruntled.