Part of the problem that Josh Harris has created for himself since becoming the 76ers' principal owner – but only part – is a matter of image, of appearance.
Watch him during that news conference Thursday afternoon, at the Sixers' headquarters in Camden, as he fielded questions about the franchise's future in the aftermath of the Bryan Colangelo Twitter scandal and Colangelo's exit as president of basketball operations. He searched for answers, for the correct and politically correct wording, at every turn. For instance, in hiring Colangelo's successor, the Sixers were "looking for Mr. and Mrs. Right," a likely innocent attempt to remain gender-neutral that – given the apparent involvement of Colangelo's wife, Barbara Bottini – inspired muffled giggles.
He considers each inquiry about the NBA draft or free agency with his mouth slightly open, as if it were his only source of oxygen, and with a look that suggests either befuddlement or indifference. If it were the latter, it would be understandable. When your net worth is $3.5 billion and the NBA franchise you bought for $280 million in 2011 is now valued at a reported $1.18 billion, it's difficult to weigh which is the greater hardship: the embarrassment of having sensitive and proprietary team information leaked on social media, or the hassle of having to back the ol' helicopter out of the driveway, fly it a few miles south, and land it on a rooftop just for a 25-minute news conference.
In fairness, Harris couldn't have anticipated making such a trip — and certainly not for such a reason — so soon after hiring Colangelo in April 2016. But, well, here we are. As of July, Harris will have owned the Sixers for seven years, and their next general manager/director of basketball ops will be their fifth, following Tony DiLeo, Sam Hinkie, Colangelo, and, on an interim basis, Brett Brown. A man who built his empire on reading and riding out the long-term undulations of the financial market, Harris oversees one of the most volatile executive positions in the NBA. And as enticing as the opening might be for a prospective GM candidate – Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, a fortune in salary-cap space – whoever pursues and/or gets the job has to recognize that Harris' talk of stability and continuity has been little more than lip service so far.
"We've grown a lot," Harris said Thursday. "We've been through a lot as an organization, and, um, sometimes things happen with people. But I'd say that we have a lot of continuity in the coaching staff, and … the way we approach this is, we think longevity is a worthwhile goal."
Sometimes things happen with people. That phrasing frames recent history as just another bumpy ride, when Harris and the rest of the Sixers' ownership group haven't been driving conscientiously enough to avoid the potholes. They went from Go big or go home with the Andrew Bynum trade to Trust the Process with Hinkie. Then, instead of standing by Hinkie and his rebuilding plan, they gave in to the kind of peer pressure that only fellow billionaires can exert and brought aboard the First Family of Proper and Conventional Professional Basketball Conduct.
If there was a correct way to operate an NBA franchise, surely Jerry and Bryan Colangelo knew it and could impart it to Harris and his partners. And, well, here we are, in a world in which The Ringer contacted the Sixers for a comment about its scandal-revealing story a week ahead of publication, and Harris said he didn't learn of the report until an hour before it went online.
"We maybe have, if not the brightest — and I would argue the brightest — among the brightest futures in the NBA and in professional sports," Harris said. "It's an unfortunate situation, but it doesn't change where we are as a franchise."
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No, but it does say a lot about how they operate as a franchise. Ultimately, the groundwork that Hinkie laid and the nature of basketball itself – the everlasting truth that one or two elite players can have a profound and positive effect on a team's fortunes – might be enough to save the Sixers. Remember: One well-timed terrible season allowed the Cleveland Cavaliers the opportunity to draft LeBron James in 2003, and James' desire to return to his hometown team allowed the Cavaliers to reach four consecutive NBA Finals and, in 2016, win a championship.
Neither of those factors made Dan Gilbert a better owner or Anthony Bennett a smarter choice to select with the No. 1 pick in the draft or the Cavaliers anything other than a traditionally moribund franchise located 40 miles north of where this generation's greatest basketball player happened to be born. They didn't implement and carry out any innovative roster-building or playing-style strategies. No one holds them up as an example of cutting-edge thinking or sustainable excellence. They got LeBron, and they got him back. That's all. They were lousy before him, they were lousy after they lost him the first time, and they'll be lousy again if he decides to sign with another team this offseason.
The Sixers might yet be that team, and they already have Embiid and Simmons, and as Brown said Thursday, "We've all been doing stuff like this long enough to understand this, too, shall pass."