THE COLANGELOS' name is mud today in Philadelphia.
Their chief sins: They have been evasive in handling the injuries of star center Joel Embiid and rookie Ben Simmons; they didn't trade unpopular center Jahlil Okafor; and, now, they have traded popular center Nerlens Noel, the first piece in Sam Hinkie's haphazard rebuilding puzzle.
This enmity is not entirely fair.
No, they haven't saved the franchise in the 14 months since Jerry Colangelo subverted Hinkie's reign as team president, then 4 months later hired his son Bryan to run the club (Jerry ascended to "advise" owner Josh Harris). Then again, the Colangelos haven't destroyed the franchise, either. In fact, they've conducted themselves with logical professionalism. That's not a popular sentiment in this moment; but, in balance, the job they have done is, at least, acceptable?
First, understand that winning games the rest of this season is of minimal importance to the Sixers. For one thing, more losses equal more chances to get a higher lottery pick. For another, even if they had kept Noel (and forward Ersan Ilyasova), winning is going to be incredibly difficult. Not only do they have a difficult schedule, but also Embiid will miss at least eight of the remaining 26 games; the next four because of a bone bruise in his left knee that already has cost him 13 of the last 14, as well as four more because he doesn't play back-to-back games.
Noel has endured four fruitless NBA seasons. He wants the chance to start. That will never happen with Embiid in town. He is a restricted free agent with a bright financial future, but the Sixers could match any offer sheet. The Colangelos didn't see Noel fitting as a $20 million backup - a role he surely would have resented - so they chose to trade him Thursday at the deadline for very little: second-year shooting guard Justin Anderson, a top-18 protected first-round pick that can become two second-rounders, and center Andrew Bogut, whom they will buy out. Which is better than nothing.
Why not trade Noel earlier? Well, until this season Embiid had never played a game. His playing time would be restricted all season. Also, Okafor was coming off knee surgery. Finally, Noel himself was damaged goods; he had a knee condition that he chose to have addressed through surgery, so he might not have even passed a physical. This injury cost him the first 23 games of the season. His attitude devalued him further: He complained about the logjam at center at the beginning of training camp, then complained about his playing time when he returned from surgery. The situation was never ripe to move him.
In fact, it would be a logical conclusion that the Sixers would have traded Noel even if they had traded Okafor . . . which, of course, they declined to do.
Because they never got an offer they liked. They believe Okafor, a stunningly gifted halfcourt offensive player two years from restricted free agency, is valuable. They believe Okafor can increase his value if, in the next two months, he plays better defense and rebounds better. They apparently believe he can be flipped for decent assets on draft night. His value is unlikely to diminish further, so they have no incentive to move him for minimal return.
Again, this isn't a popular reality. It is, however, the Colangelos' reality.
So, too, are the frustrating injuries of their two potential superstars and the way the Sixers deal with them publicly. Certainly, there is a problem here.
Colangelo the Younger issued infrequent, incomplete updates about Embiid's knee and Simmons' broken foot. Colangelo appeared to be willfully misleading the public, which resulted in outrage from a fan base exhausted by Hinkie's secrecy and obfuscation. In fact, there was little real deception and even less malice by Colangelo (or Hinkie), but the specter of secrecy tends to alienate people paying $100 per seat to watch a team miss the playoffs for the fifth season in a row.
Now, to what Team Colangelo has done right:
Jerry Colangelo honored ongoing negotiations and extended the contract of coach Brett Brown in December, making Brown the coach through the 2018-19 season. This would have been the final season of Brown's initial contract. Brown has ably developed Embiid, Noel, Dario Saric, forward Robert Covington and, most remarkably, created a point guard out of whole cloth in T.J. McConnell (which masks the Colangelos' greatest mistake: failing to acquire a viable, two-way NBA point guard). Brown also has more than doubled the 10-win total of last season; the Sixers sit at 21.
Bryan Colangelo traded for veteran shooting forward Ersan Ilyasova, the franchise's most complete player since Thaddeus Young. He was an excellent complement to Embiid and a superb mentor for Saric, a rookie forward from Croatia who played the last two seasons in Turkey, Ilyasova's homeland. In his first 51 NBA games, Saric averaged 9.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and shot 37.7 percent from the field. In the last five games, Saric averaged 20.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and shot 52.6 percent. Saric was nearly brought to tears when the Sixers traded Ilyasova on Wednesday.
They traded Ilyasova to Atlanta for Tiago Splitter and two second-round picks. Ilyasova would have been a free agent after this season. The Sixers had no incentive to re-sign him since he and Saric occupy the same role. Ilyasova's departure frees more minutes for Saric.
They signed Gerald Henderson, who is quietly having a solid season and whose leadership, said Embiid, has been invaluable.
Could Team Colangelo have been more accessible over the past year or so? Sure.
Could they have been more transparent? Absolutely.
They might be wrong about Noel's worth. They might overvalue Okafor. Both of those points are, at least, arguable.
Overall, given the hand dealt them by Hinkie and Harris, the Colangelos have done relatively little harm and at least some good.
As hard as that might be to admit.
@inkstainedretch Blog: ph.ly/DNL