After a ponderous, five-month search for a man willing to act as Brett Brown's mouthpiece, the Sixers finally just walked upstairs and hired the only man who fit their narrow and outrageous job description.
"I'm looking for a partner," Brown said Tuesday.
Sure he was.
A junior partner.
Brand, 39, retired only two years ago, after 17 successful and profitable NBA seasons; he made almost $170 million. Brand spent the next year as a player development consultant for the Sixers. He was the GM for the Sixers' G League team in Delaware last year. That's it. That's Brand's entire resume, and that's why he's not Brown's superior.
Brown will report to the two billionaires who occasionally check in on the team they own.
"Josh Harris and David Blitzer are my bosses," Brown said. He just signed a contract extension to coach through the 2021-22 season. He's the man.
That's fine. In fact, that's great. That's how it should be. Brown should be in charge.
More than anyone else, Brown built the Sixers into the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. More than anyone else, he turned Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons into stars. He is suited, more than anyone else, to keep The Process processing.
Brown said he shouldn't be responsible for all of a GM's duties, and he was right, of course, and honest, as usual. Brown has data to digest, analytics to analyze, guards to teach how to shoot. He can't be bothered with Dario Saric's work visa.
"I do not believe, in the role that I have as a head coach, that it's tenable," Brown said. "To think I have the bandwidth to do the [sort of] GM job I would want to do … is naive on my part."
So Brown says he wants a partner, but that just isn't realistic. Brand isn't going to be an equal. If you believe, for instance, that Brand could have vetoed Brown's wildly unpopular draft-night trade of Mikal Bridges, then that's naive on your part.
In the Sixers' defense, it was always going to be difficult to hire a front-line executive to replace disgraced Burnergate GM Bryan Colangelo, whose clunky departure left the scent of incompetence and disorganization. Hiring a replacement became even tougher after Brown ascended to interim GM instead of Marc Eversley, the VP of player personnel (and Colangelo's consigliere).
The GM Process, while ultimately toothless, was at least entertaining to witness. The team sent out feelers to accomplished GMs Sam Presti in Oklahoma City, Daryl Morey in Houston and R.C. Buford in San Antonio, who, after they stopped laughing, politely declined. The Sixers interviewed former Cavaliers GM David Griffin, who demanded a more traditional structure. They interviewed second-tier executives Larry Harris of Golden State, Justin Zanik of Utah and Gersson Rosas of Houston, then interviewed Zanik and Rosas a second time early this week. They also interviewed in-house candidates Ned Cohen, Alex Rucker, Eversley, and Brand.
Throughout the process, the Sixers asked Embiid and Simmons whom they wanted to be their new boss.
"We listen to Joel and Ben. They're curious," Brown said. "They have a right to be curious."
Really? Two guys who haven't played 100 games? Two kids with zero rings?
"I think it's their right. They are foundational pieces," Brown said. "You put a gun to my head, I'd say I hope they retire as 76ers."
These were the in-house candidates presented to Embiid and Simmons: Cohen, the money man who spent 12 years working for the NBA before Colangelo hired him; Eversley, whom Colangelo hired twice, first when Colangelo was GM in Toronto; Rucker, the analytics whiz whom Colangelo also hired twice, also in Toronto. And then, Brand, Embiid's former teammate, who spent the 2016-17 season — Simmons' first season — as a player development consultant, making sure the young players were progressing.
Welcome to the new NBA, where players who can't rent cars help choose the brass.
"This isn't a typical life that we've lived. That I've lived," Brown said. "This isn't typical."
"Typical" has no home in Sixerville. Brand was the only candidate who made sense. He's the only in-house candidate who is relatively Colangelo-free, which means a lot, since Colangelo's name is anathema among the players. Brand also is sure to be pliant. Brown has the hammer. After working for Sam Hinkie and Colangelo, he earned it.
Really, nothing about the Sixers has been "typical" since Harris and his partners bought the team in 2011. Not the Andrew Bynum trade, not the Hinkie hire, not the Colangelo hire.
Brown always said he wasn't interested in the GM job, but that isn't completely true. More truthfully, Brown isn't interested in the tedium of the job, the minutiae. It's not just running the draft, shopping for free agents, and making trades. That's the fun stuff. It's also overseeing sports medicine and analytics, the developing of young players, and according to Brown, catering.
It will be Brand, not Brown, who will issue injury updates, gauge G League progress, and make sure the avocado toast is all-organic. But once the information is gathered and curated and analyzed — which players they want, and at what cost — Brown's voice will be loudest.
Most facets of the GM job are utterly unappealing. The endless travel and scouting. Enforcing team rules. Managing player entourages; for instance, Simmons' brother, Liam, this summer quit his job as an assistant at UC-Riverside to work full time with Ben. Brown said he welcomed such consultants but promised that the team will insulate itself from outside disruptions, that it will "build a fence." Brand just bought a shovel and some gloves.
Look, Brand might be the best player-turned-GM since Jerry West took over the Lakers, an organization bursting with strong-arm players and movie-star coaches. Brand is bright, decent, and savvy. He clearly knows the difference between a good basketball player and a bad one.
It can work. Between the Lakers and the Warriors, West now has eight rings as an executive.