Friday was the one-year anniversary of when the 76ers “agreed to part ways” with general manager Bryan Colangelo. The departure of Burner Boy was worded in that cryptic manner because Colangelo refused to resign and the Sixers, as usual, were incapable of just saying what actually happened. They fired him.
Maybe they thought that made the whole thing sound better, but after a week of having the entire organization become a laughingstock at the hands of the guy who was hired to rescue them from the supposed embarrassment of Sam Hinkie’s Process, there was very little to salvage there. “Agreed to part ways” was probably just something they said out of habit because obfuscation is a way of life for the Sixers.
In any case, Colangelo became the second guy who didn’t get to finish the job. The first, at least in this iteration of the team’s journey, was Hinkie, of course. It would have been fascinating to see Hinkie given the chance to turn the corner on losing and start his own build around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
He resigned when owner Josh Harris was afraid of losing his washroom key at league headquarters and brought in Colangelo as hall monitor. There was no “agreed to part ways” about it. Hinkie quit and, just so everyone understood that, he sent a 13-page resignation letter to all the owners that, somewhat wordily, mocked their timidity.
Colangelo had a little over two years at the job before his self-immolation, and he left just before getting his first real chance to put together a true contending roster. What he did during his time in office didn’t inspire confidence he would succeed. His legacy is mostly bad drafts, curious signings, and the ham-handed unloading of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor.
In a true lowlight, Colangelo traded Okafor, Nik Stauskas, and a second-round pick to Brooklyn for Trevor Booker, who was waived after a cosmetic interval. Everyone understands it had to be a fire sale, but, boy. The draft pick, by the way, is No. 31 in the upcoming draft, the first pick of the second round. Thanks, Bry.
It was difficult to judge how the organization handled its affairs last summer, because the front office was in such turmoil. Brett Brown was stuck in place as the interim GM, and there is evidence that some members of the ownership group took advantage of the vacuum by stepping up their involvement in personnel matters. (Colangelo often complained privately that he was so inundated by questions from and meetings with owners that they weren’t letting him get his job done. At least that was his excuse.)
The team’s “star-hunting” attempt on the free-agent market was unsuccessful. It could be that the shaky nature of the front office scared off some players, but the truth was that the high-ticket guys they targeted just weren’t coming here. Colangelo wouldn’t have had any better luck.
Here we are a year later, and the Sixers once again have an important summer in front of them. They also have a general manager, Elton Brand, who was elevated from within the organization in September, and he will get the third full-time crack at finishing the job Hinkie started.
As with all things Sixers-related, it’s a weird situation this offseason for Brand, partly of his own making. The team has backed itself into the corner of needing to offer free agents Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris max contracts to stay. Whether those are the right moves or not, it would be a departure for the Sixers to admit they erred in overpaying to trade for Butler and Harris, and the only face-saving option is to overpay to keep them.
Brand has no control on their decisions to stay or go, however, and his task this summer could switch from trying to add piece players at the bottom of the rotation to actually swinging for the stars again. That’s quite a gap.
They hope to find a serviceable player with the 24th pick in the draft, and they also have some packaging flexibility with their other picks (33, 34, 42 and 54), but for every Landry Shamet found near the end of the first round, there is a corresponding Furkan Korkmaz.
It’s a crap shoot even for teams that are good at this, and we haven’t witnessed enough track record to know if the current Sixers front office qualifies.
It will be telling to see if Brand can limit the cooks in the kitchen as he plots his course. One of the reasons he was a popular choice within the organization was that everyone else could keep their jobs (in the front office) or their influence (at the ownership level). He was a safe pick compared with an outsider with a fresh set of ideas.
Of course, now he has to do the job, and this summer will be a good test of whether he is up to the task. It’s not a clear-cut set of circumstances, but it never is with the Sixers. The way the story stacks up at the moment, it seems that Hinkie, Colangelo, and Brand will represent the beginning, middle, and end of The Process.
The only thing we don’t know is what kind of ending the story will hold.