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NBA AM: Change Of Direction For The 76ers?

Does the addition of Jerry Colangelo give the 76ers instant credibility with NBA free agents?

Steve Kyler profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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Change Of Course In Philly?

Yesterday, the Philadelphia 76ers named former Phoenix Suns majority owner and current USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo to the post of Chairman of Basketball Operations. His role will also include being an adviser to 76ers majority owner Josh Harris.

As the dust on this move settles, there are few things worth talking about.

This move likely isn’t going to change much in the short-term, as current General Manager Sam Hinkie will continue to run the day-to-day operations of the team. However, in the long-term, league sources believe that Colangelo will be putting not only his stamp on the team, but also will be very active in recruiting and shaping the team’s roster going forward beyond this season.

There is also a sense that NBA commissioner Adam Silver – at the behest of several other owners – was urging Harris to put a proven and established face on the 76ers franchise, as the team has continued to drag on the NBA’s bottom line of the league during their rebuild.

In Colangelo, not only did the Sixers get a credible basketball operator, they also get someone who has ties and connections to some of the top talent in basketball from his role with USA Basketball. Colangelo has been personally recruiting the NBA’s top talent to participate in the Men’s National Team program and has gotten to know many of the top players and their agents personally, which could be huge for the 76ers as they enter the next phase of their rebuild. Armed with a small mountain of free agent cash to dangle to would-be free agents, Colangelo has the relationships and credibility in the NBA community the 76ers were frankly lacking.

There is also a sense among outsiders (personalities not currently working inside the 76ers organization) that Colangelo could be fairly active around the 76ers during the trade deadline this year, although sources close to the process say that Colangelo has pledged to work with existing management this year in more of an advisory role. So how aggressive Colangelo’s voice will be in the short-term remains unclear.

There is also a sense that to land Colangelo an ownership stake in the team was part of the deal, either as part of his compensation or as an offer to buy-in with his own cash or some combination of both. The 76ers have a very complex ownership structure so arranging for Colangelo to buy in wouldn’t be that difficult to pull off.

In the long-term, it remains unclear how secure Hinkie will be beyond this season, as more than a few insiders wonder if adding former Toronto Raptors president and Colangelo’s son Bryan to the mix isn’t likely next season.

While everyone in the mix is saying that Colangelo is an addition to the current structure of the 76ers, the belief outside the organization is that this is the first step toward a significant change in direction and that Colangelo isn’t going to sit in the corner and collect a paycheck; he is going to put his stamp on the team and that’s likely going to include some major free agent signings this summer.

Has Hinkie Really Done A Bad Job?

With yesterday’s hiring of Jerry Colangelo, questions about the future of current General Manger Sam Hinkie surfaced. And while Hinkie takes a lot of heat from fans over his rebuilding tactics, there are a few things worth noting.

If you rewind back to the state of the 76ers organization when Hinkie took over in May of 2013, the team had just gone 34-48 and finished fourth in the Atlantic Division. Doug Collins was basically running the show and the roster was a mess. The team had traded away bright young talents like Nikola Vucevic and first-round pick Moe Harkless, and had taken on the contract of Andrew Bynum that the team ultimate re-traded.

There wasn’t a lot of promise on the Sixers’ roster outside of point guard Jrue Holiday and forward Thaddeus Young.

According to sources close to the process, Hinkie laid out several scenarios for ownership. Among them was the option of trying to build going forward using what the team had, which would have likely yielded some playoff appearances but not much else given how hard it is to add talent in the draft when you are the seventh or eighth seed. Equally, Philadelphia was struggling to attract free agents. The other option was a complete rebuild and ownership opted for that. This included trading away as much of the roster as possible, leveraging the draft and the 76ers’ salary cap space to bring in as many low-dollar talents as possible.

That’s was the plan ownership approved, and Hinkie has been executing it. While there is often a sense that Hinkie is operating autonomously, the truth of the matter is that ownership has been involved at every step of the rebuild.

The Sixers have been operating under a simple principal: that they want to be “Great Not Good.” While amassing good talent is valuable, the key to winning and sustained winning requires great talents. That’s what the Sixers have been looking for during this process.

During the 2013 NBA Draft, the Sixers traded away a proven guard in Holiday for an injured Nerlens Noel. The 76ers did that knowing full well that Noel would likely miss the season rehabbing from a torn ACL, but the belief was that Noel had the potential to be a great NBA player. With their own selection, they drafted point guard Michael Carter-Williams, believing that with his length, court vision and size that in time he had the potential to be a great talent, despite his struggles shooting the ball.

After roughly 100 games, the 76ers ultimately traded Carter-Williams in part because he became a problem within the team dynamic, but also in part because they realized that he was not improving as a shooter and that the best he could be for them was good, not great.

In the 2014 NBA Draft, the Sixers had their eye on Australian guard Dante Exum, and there was a sense that’s where the 76ers were going to go if the draft played out as expected with Kansas big man Joel Embiid going number one overall and Andrew Wiggins going number two overall. However, Embiid injured his foot and fell out of the top two and was on the board for the 76ers. The belief at the time was that while Embiid’s navicular fracture was serious, he was far and away the best talent on the board with the potential to be great. There was risk in the pick for sure, but the chance to get a franchise-type player was the goal and the 76ers drafted him.

The Sixers made a similar choice later in the 2014 draft with international forward Dario Saric. The team knew he was staying in Europe for at least two years, but viewed him as the best long-term talent available to them.

Where Hinkie gets heat is with four selections at the top of the draft, he has yielded just one player that’s logged game minutes.

That’s a tough pill for pundits to swallow, but what’s overlooked in all of this is that the 76ers are incredibly well positioned going forward.

Noel has proven to be a solid player. Time will tell if he gets into the great discussion. Embiid had a setback with his injury, but indications are that he is progressing with his second surgery and taking the rehab process seriously. This year’s first-round pick Jahlil Okafor has been stellar. The 76ers hold the rights to the Lakers’ first-round pick if it falls out of the top three. They have their own pick, which should be in the top five. They have the rights to Miami’s pick, which should be in the late 20s, and they have the Thunder’s pick, which could also fall in the 20s.

Saric has the option of coming to the NBA next season, and throughout the rebuild the 76ers have stumbled upon players like Robert Covington, Tony Wroten and Jerami Grant, all of whom could be solid rotation players.

Assuming everything works out the 76ers way, their roster next year could include Noel, Okafor, Embiid, Saric, Covington, Wroten, Grant, Kendall Marshall and four selections from the 2016 draft class. Oh, and they could have as much as $67 million in free agent cap space.

Considering where the 76ers started in May of 2013, they look to be well positioned for the 2017 NBA season.

While it’s easy to trash Hinkie and his tactics, if you look at what the plan was – reload the cupboard – he has done a great job collecting talent and assets. The next part is what will make or break the 76ers: Can it all come together into something that can contend not just for a playoff berth, but something bigger like an NBA championship? After all, that’s the plan ownership signed off on.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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