Josh Harris had begun reading his prepared remarks in that stiff, halting manner of his Thursday morning, as if he were a bad actor who might forget to omit the stage directions from his lines. To Harris' left, along a wall of the 76ers training complex, was a line of players, coaches, executives and employees, a strong show of solidarity for the new general manager, Elton Brand.
Here was the introduction of the latest face and front man of the franchise, and Harris, the Sixers' principal owner, went on and on about all the ways that Brand, with his 17 years as an NBA player and less than two years as an NBA executive, was the ideal candidate at just the right time.
"It's a players' league, and Elton is universally respected," Harris said. "He knows how players feel and react. He knows what's important to them. He's the perfect general manager for today's NBA, where relationships throughout the NBA ecosystem creating a desirable free-agency destination and driving a team-centered culture are paramount.
"Elton's credibility and reputation stand out. He will be incredible at not only helping our young core continue to develop but also in recruiting other players."
This was the primary justification that Harris offered for Brand's promotion. The Sixers were in championship mode and still on the hunt for stars, and Brand's presence as GM would be a draw to any and all potential free agents who might want to sign here or disgruntled veterans who might want to be traded here. It was a lovely theory that, unfortunately for the Sixers, was contradicted by their own words and their own recent history.
As Harris and Brand confirmed Thursday, only in the last six weeks did the Sixers undertake in earnest the search for Bryan Colangelo's successor. And Harris and Brett Brown have insisted that losing a GM because his wife went rogue on Twitter and going three months without a full-time replacement had nothing to do with why LeBron James, Paul George, and (to an extent) Kawhi Leonard told them, Thanks but no thanks. Funny. One would think that having a general manager who can recruit players either matters or doesn't.
No, what mattered most to the Sixers, it seems, was that even though Brand had less front-office experience than the other candidates they considered, he would be an affable, intelligent, and willing spokesman for the player-personnel department and, in turn, the entire organization. Brown had borne that burden for most of the last five years, and the most telling moment of Thursday's news conference came midway through, when Brand was asked if he'd be more accessible to the media than Sam Hinkie or Colangelo had been.
"I'll lead with honesty, integrity," Brand said. "I'll try to be as transparent as I can. There are certain things that I won't discuss: an individual player's medical [status], other teams' players, things like that. I just can't. But I'll be available, for sure, and I'll take the hits."
Just then, Harris jumped in.
"Thank you," he said.
People in the room laughed, but there was an uncomfortable truth cutting to the core of Harris' quip. One of the unspoken yet unmistakable calculations that the Sixers made here was this: They presumed they'd receive credit for promoting a 39-year-old African-American ex-player to a place of power in the NBA. That might not have been the reason they promoted Brand, but it sure as hell didn't hurt.
Remember: This is a franchise that encourages Joel Embiid to continue his reign as the social-media king among professional athletes in America. And this is a franchise whose owners didn't just welcome social-justice emblem Meek Mill to participate in a pregame, pump-this-place-up ceremony before a playoff game; one of those owners, Michael Rubin, chauffeured Mill to the Wells Fargo Center in a helicopter. The Sixers are forever trying to stay in tune with the zeitgeist, and hiring Brand is on brand for them.
That doesn't mean Brand won't be an excellent general manager, and as long as the Sixers meet or exceed the lofty expectations they have set for themselves, he'll reap the benefits and public praise. But it's worth considering the position he'll be in if they don't.
At the earlier, more uncertain stages of The Process, the Sixers allowed Hinkie and Colangelo to remain in the shadows. Hinkie's public silence in the aftermath of Jahlil Okafor's street-fighting incident in Boston was perhaps his gravest mistake during his tenure, and because of his standoffishness and his tendency to double-talk, Colangelo had built up little goodwill by the time that burner-account scandal broke. It was rare that the Sixers encouraged or compelled either executive to stand up and, in Brand's phrasing, "take the hits."