I’ll never forget walking into the Sixers’ sparkling new Camden practice facility in the fall of 2016. Dario Saric was finally stateside and launching three-pointers. Philadelphia’s eminent skyline emerged from across the water, as natural sunlight poured in from gaping, gorgeous windows. The impressive facility was itself a conclusion of an exhaustive planning and construction process, delayed by decorative decisions and designs exacted by managing partner Joshua Harris’s wife, multiple sources told SI.com. I was also told about changes Bryan Colangelo had made to the facility’s blueprint, tweaks that certainly deviated from the plan of the building’s original architect, former general manager Sam Hinkie.
Most notably: Colangelo had made alterations for a far larger office, one that overlooked the practice courts and optically staked claim over which man was literally overseeing the team’s basketball operations. Hinkie had originally called for much smaller, more modest quarters, and, if my memory serves correctly, didn’t view the parallel courts, and was pushed towards the outskirts of the structure. In Hinkie’s mind, the hardwood, the gym, the weight room—infrastructure obviously necessary for the franchise’s players—were of utmost importance, and deserved as much central real estate within in the complex as possible.
Following Colangelo’s resignation as the team’s President of Basketball Operations on Wednesday, mired in a confounding Twitter burner account scandal, this keen difference between managers stands emblematic of the issues plaguing the Sixers’ ownership. When Harris’s unit purchased the franchise in 2011, Philadelphia’s ownership group took a year to survey the league and the functionality of basketball operations while appointed CEO Adam Aron zainily milled around the Wells Fargo Center concourse interacting with and taking the pulse of the fanbase.
When interviewing new GM candidates in 2012, the Sixers ultimately made the hire from in-house, temporarily promoting Tony DiLeo and exhibiting rare patience from new ownership. Philly had just pulled the trigger to acquire Andrew Bynum, a transaction DiLeo had been heavily part of. It was a pragmatic wait-and-see approach, evaluating whether Bynum was truly the superstar the Sixers had long lacked since Allen Iverson’s departure in 2006. The Sixers even interviewed Hinkie and determined he was an intriguing candidate, but one they weren’t quite ready to invest in.
Things obviously changed by May 2013. Bynum’s knees couldn’t be regenerated in a petri dish, those Sixers clearly topped out as a middling playoff team, and staunch changes were necessary. They did bring in Hinkie, who subsequently trekked over 100 draft prospects into the team’s old practice facility, rented space at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine out on the Main Line, in the shadow of Kobe Bryant’s Lower Merion high school. And just as Hinkie indulgently poured through the 2013 NBA Draft class, building a ridiculously extensive rolodex of player intel he could always later revisit, the team’s head coaching search, in the wake of Doug Collins’ retirement, unraveled as slowly as humanly possible.
Hinkie interviewed roughly 20 head coach candidates from around league—by my count of previous reports and from polling executives around the NBA. It was a virtually unprecedented search process, one that lasted until August, when local sports radio hosts finally ceased clamoring WHERE IS THE COACH, SAM? and Hinkie had wisely chosen a former San Antonio Spurs assistant coach, who specialized in player development, named Brett Brown.
Brown of course remains the longest-tenured member of the Sixers’ basketball operations who does not hold ownership stake. He’s outlasted the man who hired him, and initially-billed franchise cornerstones Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel. He’s the man solely responsible for piloting the Sixers from the basement of the league to contender status, for fostering a culture of camaraderie, development, and now winning, despite compiling more losses than you can count without Googling the statistic. The Sixers’ current success is as much a result as Brown’s patience and dedication as it is of Hinkie’s temperament when holding out to find the paragon to lead this team five summers ago.
Eerily similar to the practice facility, ownership baldly failed to exhibit the same level headedness when choosing Hinkie’s successor in 2015. The Sixers hired Colangelo a mere four days after Hinkie “resigned” in April 2016—just as Colangelo “resigned” Wednesday. Harris said the team had interviewed a sizeable number of candidates before ultimately—miraculously!— handpicking the son of the team’s Chairman of Basketball Operations Jerry Colangelo, the man who was clearly added in some faction to steer the Sixers’ back to a greater optical standing from Hinkie’s brazen rebuild. It was a laughably quick transition. One a fanbase, clearly mobilized behind Hinkie, immediately saw through and one that clearly did not pay dividends. Colangelo’s crowning achievements as the Sixers’ general manager stand as trading Nerlens Noel for a heavily-protected first-round pick—that was always doomed to convey into two second-rounders—and Justin Anderson; signing JJ Redick to a massive—yet objectively worthwhile—overpay one-year contract; the same for Amir Johnson, not as objectively worthwhile; and inking Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova on the buyout market—two players with clear previous connections to Brown and his coaching staff.
Meanwhile, ownership has doggedly tried to scrub the franchise clean of Hinkie, with current CEO Scott O’Neil unnecessarily proclaiming during the team’s media appreciation day this spring, that the Sixers were rising towards championship status specifically under the new leadership of Colangelo.
Facing the largest inflection point of this ownership’s era, an offseason ripe for adding a max-free agent to pair with budding MVP candidates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers and its ownership find themselves at another crossroads. Should they steadfastly move to fill Colangelo’s void, they may very likely find themselves right back where they started, licking the wounds that were only opened by hasty and poor decision making. Ownership would be best served patiently undergoing a thorough, yes, process that they once utilized to hire Hinkie, and he subsequently parlayed into hiring Brown.
In a recent podcast appearance, Hinkie spoke of a fable often uttered at Bain Capital: That “A” players hire “B” players and “B” players hire “C” players, out of fear that the new addition could one day usurp him. Those selfish decisions could clearly cap the upward growth of the company. The Sixers’ last “B” hire clearly did not spark massive dividends. Harris and company would be very wise to trust this newest process, and hold out for the premiere general manager candidate possible, with respect to the short window before the draft and free agency. Or else the consummate decision-making that led to Brown’s arrival may all one day, ultimately be for nothing.