On Thursday, June 7, in a story that still makes you shake your head in disbelief, the 76ers announced that Bryan Colangelo, his effectiveness and leadership compromised after his wife used anonymous Twitter accounts to post sensitive and proprietary information about the team, had resigned as their president of basketball operations. Over the subsequent six weeks, these things have happened:
The Sixers drafted Mikal Bridges, then traded him to the Suns for Zhaire Smith and a future first-round draft pick.
Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, two midseason pickups who helped the Sixers win 52 games and reach the Eastern Conference semifinals, signed with the Bucks and the Spurs, respectively.
Paul George, a player who seemed a perfect fit for the Sixers’ style of play and roster needs, re-signed with the Thunder. LeBron James’ people took a meeting with the Sixers’ people, among them principal owner Josh Harris, after which James promptly announced that he was signing with the Lakers, after which Harris said that it was an indication of how far the Sixers had come that they could even get a sit-down with people who aren’t LeBron James. Kawhi Leonard, whom Sixers coach and interim general manager Brett Brown knows well from their years together with the Spurs, is reportedly heading to the Raptors, even though apparently the last thing he wants for his basketball career and peace of mind is to remain with the Spurs or head to the Raptors. (Of course, having Leonard go to the best regular-season team in the Eastern Conference last season, presuming he stays there, doesn’t help the Sixers much, either.)
The Sixers acquired forward Wilson Chandler and a second-round draft pick from the Nuggets for cash considerations, and they re-signed JJ Redick and Amir Johnson for less money than either player earned last season.
Nemanja Bjelica, a 6-foot-10 forward who seemed a perfect fit to replace Ilyasova, told the Sixers on Tuesday morning that, all things being equal, he would rather stay in Europe than sign the one-year contract to which he and the Sixers had verbally agreed earlier this month.
Here is one thing that has not happened: The Sixers have not named Colangelo’s successor. They have neither hired a new GM/basketball-ops president nor promoted someone from within their own front office. For an organization that was supposed to be in the midst of one of the most important offseasons in its history, the Sixers have taken their time in pinpointing the person who will be charged with turning them into a championship-caliber team. Recently, they have they been publicly linked to a few external candidates, and those candidates are doozies: Houston’s Daryl Morey, per The New York Times, and San Antonio’s R.C. Buford and Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, per The Inquirer/Daily News’s Keith Pompey.
In Morey, Buford, and Presti, the Sixers reportedly targeted three of the four or five best GMs in the NBA. (Maybe they could also target Danny Ainge. That way, after the Sixers have hired him, Ainge could trade Markelle Fultz to the Celtics for Jayson Tatum and a draft pick.) Given that the Sixers have made it clear that they want an executive who is willing to collaborate with Brown and the existing personnel staff, though, no one should expect that they will persuade one of these heavyweights to take the job. Which of these GMs would give up the power and control that he already has within his own franchise to come to the Sixers? And if the Sixers know that the obvious answer to that question is, None of them would, why go big-name hunting after such candidates in the first place?
The answer to that one is pretty obvious, too. Pursuing the likes of Morey, Buford, and Presti – even if there’s no realistic chance of hiring any of them – allows the Sixers to claim that, in trying to replace Colangelo, they chased the most accomplished and qualified candidates. It’s a perceived laurel for them, just as securing the meeting with James’ coterie gave them a meager public-relations victory. Hey, LeBron could have picked any team to think of in passing as he and his wife flew to Europe, and he picked us!
Image and appearances are still primary concerns and considerations for this franchise, never more so than in the wake of an embarrassing scandal involving Twitter burner accounts and the secrets that spouses share. It sometimes seems that those considerations are more important to the Sixers than the substance of their basketball decisions, and it’s easier to defend elevating Ned Cohen or Marc Eversley or hiring a less-ballyhooed outsider once you’ve created the impression that you swung for the fences first.
That sort of lower-key move wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible thing – who’s to say Cohen or Eversley can’t do the job and do it well? – and it would be consistent with the arc of the Sixers’ offseason, with their return to a longer-term view of the future. The notion that James or George would sign here or that Leonard would welcome a trade here was always far-fetched at best. The acquisitions of Smith, Chandler, and the accompanying draft picks and the reluctance to re-sign Ilyasova at the relatively high price that Milwaukee paid (three years, $21 million) restored at least some personnel flexibility. Bjelica’s decision to back out of his contract hurts; he’d have helped. It has been a modest six weeks for the Sixers, nothing more, and despite those sparkling names that keep coming up, the result of their GM search doesn’t look as if it will be much different. Such is life, apparently, in a post-@Enoughunkownso1 world.