The 76ers announced Wednesday that they are investigating accusations made against Bryan Colangelo, the team's president of basketball operations, after a sports and pop culture website linked him to anonymous Twitter accounts that disclosed sensitive team information and frequently criticized players and head coach Brett Brown.
Fresh off the franchise's most successful season in nearly 20 years, the Sixers are suddenly looking at a firestorm that could seriously damage their "Trust the Process" rebuilding plan that has seemed to be headed toward championship contention. And it could cost Colangelo, hired in 2016, his job.
The team's main offseason goal — signing mega-free agent LeBron James, or another big-name free agent — could face new roadblocks.
The Sixers said in a written statement that "the allegations are serious and we have commenced an independent investigation into the matter. We will report the results of that investigation as soon as it is concluded."
Colangelo acknowledged using one of the Twitter handles reported by The Ringer, @phila1234567, which didn't have an account name. He never tweeted from that account. However, The Ringer alleges that Colangelo may be linked to four other accounts — "Eric jr", "HonestAbe", "Enoughunkownsources", and "Still Balling" — that did make controversial tweets. However, someone actively posted from "Eric jr" while Colangelo conducted a press conference on at least one occasion.
He denied being connected to those four accounts. The problem with Colangelo's denials, however, is that those tweets were aligned with some of the frustrations and beliefs inside the organization. According to several sources, that's why several players believe Colangelo is linked to the tweets even if he did not directly post from the burner accounts.
"I think the damage is done," said an NBA executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I don't know if the players can trust him. I think he lost the trust of the players unless it's proven definitively that it wasn't him."
Colangelo is in Los Angeles attending agent-run workouts for NBA draft prospects this week. A league source said Colangelo was visibly shaken in a hallway as The Ringer report broke Tuesday while he was attending a BDA Sports Management workout.
Along with having two first-round draft picks (10th and 26th overall), the team is preparing to make a big splash in free agency, which begins on July 1. James is the Sixers' most sought-after target, but they are also eyeing Oklahoma City Thunder all-star Paul George, among others, according to sources.
"That's why they are going to have to definitively prove that it wasn't him," the executive said. "You are getting into free agency, and these players aren't going to take a chance coming to the Sixers."
An NBA agent, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed.
"All it's going to take is LeBron saying, 'If [Colangelo is] there, I'm out,' " said the agent, who does not represent James. "That could make it hard for the Sixers to keep Colangelo."
The Ringer report cited tweets that were critical of Brown, all-star center Joel Embiid, top draft pick Markelle Fultz's trainer Keith Williams and former Sixers Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. A number of tweets were critical of Masai Ujiri, the president of the Toronto Raptors and Colangelo's former assistant general manager there. Another tweet was directed at actress Gabrielle Union and her husband, Dwyane Wade, for allegedly mistreating a fan at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Union and Wade both responded on Twitter early Wednesday morning to that claim, saying in separate tweets that Union was not at the 2008 Olympics.
Embiid responded on Twitter at 11 p.m. Tuesday to the report that Colangelo allegedly talked negatively about him via a burner address, @AIVic40117560.
The center tweeted, "Joel told me that @samhinkie IS BETTER AND SMARTER THAN YOU @AIVic40117560 #BurnerAccount"
However, in an interview with ESPN approximately 15 minutes later, Embiid said, "I talked to [Colangelo], and he said that he didn't say that. He called me just to deny the story. Gotta believe him until proven otherwise. If true, though, that would be really bad."
Early Wednesday morning, Embiid tweeted, "Fun night on Twitter lmao. All jokes aside, I don't believe that story. That would just be insane."
Colangelo and Brown did have different philosophies on certain players even if publicly they gave the appearance of being united in their messages.
Jerryd Bayless and Trevor Booker are two examples. Colangelo signed Bayless to a three-year, $27 million contract in July 2016. He was signed to be the starting point guard but missed all but three games of the 2016-17 season with a torn ligament in his left wrist. When he did play, he did not fit into Brown's playing style and wound up being the last player off the bench.
Now, the Sixers have to pay him around $8.5 million next season, and he's still not in Brown's plans.
Colangelo also sent Okafor, Nik Stauskas and a 2018 second-round pick to the Brooklyn Nets on Dec. 7 to acquire Booker, who was in the final year of his contract. The Sixers touted the power forward as a key to the team's making a playoff push. But, unhappy with his role, Booker asked to be released two months later once he learned the Sixers would sign Ersan Ilyasova.
So, the Sixers gave up two assets and a second-round draft pick for a two-month rental. And, Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, who signed separately in February, were Brown's targets — not Colangelo's.
Even more controversial, it appeared on Feb. 11, 2017, that Okafor, a former No. 3 overall draft choice, was to be traded. He did not play in the Sixers' 117-109 victory over the Miami Heat that night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Okafor was the subject of trade discussions with the New Orleans Pelicans, Chicago Bulls and reportedly the Portland Trail Blazers, among others. Brown even told the team that Okafor was about to be traded, so Okafor was not on the team flight to Charlotte on Feb. 13, 2017. Teams sometimes bench players if a trade is imminent, in order to avoid a deal-killing injury.
But Okafor rejoined the Sixers in Boston on Feb. 15 and came off the bench in the game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.
"It was just a weird situation," Okafor said at the time. "I was just waiting to hear a phone call to say I was going to end up [in a certain] city. I just didn't know what to expect. … Now, I'm back here. It's just a weird situation for me. Something I never had to deal with."
In response to Okafor's quote, the Eric Jr. account tweeted to @PompeyonSixers: "Ask Jah if he passed other team physical? He will not say not to lose other chance. But I bet the farm it's what's happened."
It is that kind of inside information that seems to link Colangelo with the tweets.