The 76ers acquired a 76-year-old Hall of Fame free agent Monday. Don't be fooled by the advanced age. Jerry Colangelo's stature in the game of basketball remains as relevant as ever and his energy level is still higher than human beings a third of his age.
This was a turn in a new direction by Josh Harris and the boldest move the billionaire owner has made since he purchased the Sixers in 2011. With his team still in tank mode three years into a rebuilding process, Harris decided a fresh face and voice was needed to lead his organization. That he was able to convince Colangelo to become the chairman of basketball operations at a time when the 76ers are the laughingstock of the NBA was quite the coup.
It is no guarantee, of course, that the worst team in the NBA is about to expedite a rebuilding plan that has moved at a pace so slow that it has been lapped by turtles and snails. It is, however, a definite sign that things are going to be done differently going forward.
"[Colangelo] is one of the most respected basketball minds and for good reason," Harris said. "This season to date has not been easy for us and even more difficult than we've anticipated. Our situation necessitated a review to make our organization better."
Harris' words were stilted because he was reading from his own written statement. Communication skills are not his strength anyway. Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie also speaks in an unnatural way when he speaks at all and it is not conducive for projecting the vital qualities of leadership or accountability you'd like to see from the man making final roster decisions.
Social dysfunction is not an issue for Colangelo. He enters a room with a commanding presence and his resume in the world of sports is more voluminous than the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The Illinois native is the former owner, general manager and head coach of the Phoenix Suns, a former owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks and he is the current chairman of the board of directors for USA Basketball.
Now, he is also the chairman of a train wreck. Colangelo witnessed it firsthand Monday as the 1-21 Sixers were squashed 119-68 by the San Antonio Spurs.
"I've lived a very busy life, but I am wired that way," Colangelo said. "I think what keeps you going at a certain age is to keep going. Obviously it's a challenge . . . but there's only one way to go and that's up.
"When I took over USA basketball (in 2005), there needed to be a cultural change and that happened. That took a little bit of time to put into effect, but now it's just rolling and it couldn't be any better than it is in terms of the interest of the players who want to perform."
Since the embarrassment of only winning a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics, the USA has rebounded with gold in 2008 and 2012. Attracting the best players and coaches in the world to represent their country seems far less daunting than turning around a historically bad NBA team that seems to bungle every move it makes.
Exactly how Colangelo plans to change things here will be interesting. At the moment, he is in the same kind of observation mode that Andy MacPhail exercised after being hired as Phillies team president in waiting during the summer.
"I think it's way too premature for me to pass judgment on any plan," Colangelo said. "There's nothing etched in concrete here about what's going to take place."
We know that when MacPhail was done his extensive study of the Phillies' organization that he fired general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and retained manager Pete Mackanin. Could a similar scenario unfold with the Sixers?
It sure seemed as if Hinkie's job was less secure than head coach Brett Brown's on the first day of this new era in Sixers history. Even though Colangelo and Harris both insisted Hinkie would continue to have final say after collaborative discussions on basketball decisions, it was only Brown getting a strong vote of confidence from the owner and new chairman.
"We're still committed to Brett," Harris said. "We're in deep conversations about his contract."
Colangelo was asked for his initial impression of the Sixers' coach and general manager.
"I like Brett," Colangelo said. "I knew him as a terrific assistant coach in San Antonio and I think he's done a terrific job here under the circumstances. I really do."
The new chairman did not answer the Hinkie part of the question and it's quite possible he just forgot. Still, it was interesting when Colangelo said "as long as I'm involved, I'll always be available to media. You will have access to me because that's the only way I know how to operate."
That, of course, has never been the way Hinkie has operated and as the losses have mounted there has been less and less appetite for a plan that has produced a 38-148 record since the start of the 2013-14 season.
It is Brown's name that gets connected to that record, but the coach seemed to have a renewed enthusiasm by the news of Colangelo's arrival.
"I looked at what he did with the United States team and you dream a little bit about how he can come in here and help us also," Brown said. "And so you wake up with a real bounce, a real excitement in what the future can bring with him on board."
On the first night, all it brought was another lopsided loss and a reminder of the enormous challenge ahead.