Joshua Harris and Adam Aron know business, not basketball. They are suits. Not scouts. So it’s no surprise that they look to others for help making basketball decisions surrounding the 76ers.
The question is: are they trusting the right people?
In the first two years of their ownership, Harris and Aron relied on the brain trust in place. Ed Stefanski was relieved of general manager duties, but plenty of too-familiar faces were left calling the shots. President Rod Thorn is said to be stepping into an advisory role, joining Doug Collins and Julius Erving as yet another “advisor” — a cushy gig free from responsibility or accountability. Tony DiLeo remains the reluctant general manager. Even the director of player personnel has been the same since 2003.
Now for the eighth time in 11 seasons, the Sixers will need a new head coach. The front office has seen far less turnover. But why?
Before trying to justify the Andrew Bynum trade, recall that this group grossly overpaid for that pariah Kwame Brown, who will collect nearly $3 million next season to sit the bench and wait to carry injured teammates to the locker room. The franchise has not had a serious contender in any of those past 11 seasons, so what wisdom does the Ivy duo hope to glean from this counsel of basketball elders?
Harris should know better than to get too involved in the day-to-day basketball operations. This was the guy who asked “where do I sign?” at the prospect of Bynum staying in Philadelphia and making it his long-term home.
As CEO and steward of Harris’s latest investment, Aron has adopted a role akin to that of a cruise director. It’s familiar territory considering his background as an executive for Vail Resorts and Norwegian Cruise Line. He’s focused his energy on hospitality and entertainment: engaging the customers on Twitter, commissioning mascot costumes, recruiting the Philadelphia Orchestra and Ayla Brown for the national anthem. He’s invested more time on improving the game night festivities than the game itself. His latest project? Asking the fans what kind of lighting they prefer on the court.
It’s wonderful that Aron is listening to the fans, but this cruise director must realize that if the boat’s engine has failed, no one cares about what comedian is scheduled to perform. Right now the Sixers are the equivalent of the Carnival Triumph, stranded at sea while playoff teams coast by on luxury liners.
Since Collins abandoned ship, the team has been without a captain. But a new coach and all the advisors in the world won’t help this crew get back on course if the propulsion isn’t there in the form of an ardent president and general manager.
Harris and Aron have been timid when it comes to shaking things up in their administration.
For a blueprint of how to do this, the vacation virtuoso Aron should direct his attention toward a city known more for its resorts than its basketball: Orlando. Around this time last year, the Magic fired head coach Stan Van Gundy and agreed to part ways with general manager Otis Smith.
They soon hired Rob Hennigan, who at 30-years-old became the youngest GM in the NBA. Hennigan cleaned house, firing the assistant GM, six scouts, and the director of player development. He then hired Jacque Vaughn — a young assistant with no head coaching experience.
This is exactly the type of overhaul the Sixers need — bringing in bright young minds with a fresh perspective and the willingness to make moves.
Hennigan took a lot of heat for not getting much star power in return for a malcontent center named Dwight Howard in a trade all too familiar to Sixers fans. A year removed from the trade, it looks like Hennigan made all the right moves: acquiring a core of young talent (courtesy of the Sixers), dumping Jason Richardson’s contract (again, courtesy of the Sixers), and bulking up on future draft picks. The Magic suffered through a last-place finish this year, but with the most ping-pong balls in this year’s draft, they are in great position for the future.
Orlando was also keen enough to pass on Bynum. Hennigan said at the time that their research suggested Bynum was “too brittle” to invest in.
If the Magic’s medical staff was able to find something in Bynum’s knees that the Sixers’ docs missed, we need some changes in white lab coats as well.
The good news is that the organization has an opportunity to make wholesale changes. Done properly, they can hire a president, a general manager, and a coach without inciting power struggles or ambiguity about who makes personnel decisions. They have some promising young talent—especially in Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young — and have enough money and cap space to make a major splash in free agency.
The winds are fair enough for Harris and Aron to hoist their sail. In fact, they need to act with greater urgency. DiLeo, whose contract expires June 30, is reportedly leading the search for a new coach. The NBA draft is June 27, and ownership can ill-afford to let the out-going management make any more damaging decisions, or saddle prospective new leadership with inherited coaches and players.
But Harris and Aron seem content to pass the buck to a committee that’s failed them, and avoid making decisions until they absolutely must. Their window of opportunity to start fresh with strong new leadership closes each day they leave the lame ducks in power.
This ownership group believes they can achieve what the last could not, the championship future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded Sixers fans for years, but that’s no matter — the draft and free agency hold the promise that tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one June—
So the Sixers brass beats on, boats against the current, decisions made ceaselessly by the minds of the past.
And yes, that was a Great Gatsby reference. If you don't feel like reading any more, just enjoy: