Everything that Josh Harris said sounded good in theory. Throughout his introduction of Elton Brand as the Sixers' new general manager on Thursday morning, the organization's majority owner sounded sincere in his belief in the validity of the various premises that he advanced to the public in defense of the move: that the NBA is now a player's league, that the best way to assemble a roster capable of contending with the league's super teams is to hire a person who understands those players and garners respect from them and can relate to them, that such qualities will enable said person to persuade the league's most talented players to join his roster.
It's a reasonable way to think. But is it the correct way to think? And, furthermore, what happens if it isn't?
Those aren't the only questions that will determine the wisdom of the move that Harris made in overlooking Brand's scant front-office experience to give him the final say in personnel decisions regarding the Sixers' roster. Brand could prove to be an ace in a lot of the areas that separate the NBA's good general managers from those who exist as liabilities. Talent evaluation, asset valuation, cost-benefit analysis, long-term strategic thinking: Just because Brand's capabilities in all of these areas are unknown does not mean that they do not exist.
But, at the moment, all we have to go on are the words that Harris used to explain his rationale for choosing the 17-year NBA veteran over many candidates who possessed longer front-office track records. And, almost exclusively, those words portrayed Brand as a man who has the political and personal capital necessary to land the sort of free-agent talent that the Sixers failed to attract during their self-described Star Hunt this past summer.
"He's the perfect general manager for today's NBA," Harris said, "where relationships throughout the NBA ecosystem, creating a desirable free-agent destination, and driving a team-centric culture are paramount."
If that premise is true, then Brand is exactly what Harris contends he is: an obvious choice to take the reins of an organization whose most pressing priority is maximizing the return on the salary-cap dollars that it must spend before signing Ben Simmons and, potentially, Dario Saric to contract extensions next fall. Not only does Brand bring with him the personal cache that comes with being a former No. 1 overall pick and universally respected NBA veteran, but also an extensive network that includes one of the league's foremost power brokers in David Falk, the longtime super agent who has represented Brand since he left Duke and attended Thursday's introductory news conference.
Less than three months after Harris flew to Southern California in an attempt to woo LeBron James to Philadelphia, one does not have to strain the imagination to think that the Sixers are now attempting to replicate the situation that James ultimately opted for with the Lakers. Brand might not be Magic Johnson, but he is an intelligent, charismatic, successful former all-star who, Falk said Thursday, has been destined for some sort of business boardroom since his playing days.
Question is, does any of that matter? Or is the bottom line in the NBA's labor market far more reductive than the Sixers are willing to admit?
As Harris and Brand met the media Thursday, there were reports surfacing that another NBA star had targeted Los Angeles as the preferred destination for the next stop in his career. Forget, for a moment, whether Jimmy Butler would even be a fit with the Sixers. There's a strong argument that he wouldn't, from the difficulty he has had fitting in with young rosters in Chicago and Minnesota to his career .339 shooting percentage from three-point range. The more pertinent takeaway is that Philadelphia is not Los Angeles, and that we have yet to hear of an elite-level star who considers the Sixers to be a choice landing spot on par with the NBA's more traditional destination markets.
The Sixers have the cap room, and they have a couple of budding superstars in Simmons and Joel Embiid. But they had all those things this summer, and there's little reason to think that the landscape will have changed dramatically for the next go-around. If anything, it will be more competitive, with the Knicks and Clippers and Lakers all potentially in the market for the kind of superstar who would transform this roster into a no-doubt-about-it title contender.
There's an argument that says a leader with Brand's skill set is the only thing that could possibly enhance the Sixers' ability to attract such a star. But there's also an argument that says that the identity of a general manager has almost no impact on the decisions that free agents make, and that the real challenge that the Sixers' new hire is most likely to confront is the one that will arise after it becomes apparent that all the elite free agents and free-agents-to-be would prefer to play in some other market, for some other franchise.
Rather than prioritizing a leader who has a track record of outside-the-box roster management and a proven ability to recognize value where other teams either do not think or do not need to look, the Sixers sound as if they settled on the person who gave them the best chance to execute their preferred course of action.
"The NBA is evolving, and it is very much becoming a player's league," Harris said. "The people that can attract the best players and keep them happy, have them work well together as a unit, take care of them, ultimately those are the teams that are going to win."
No doubt, Plan A is to attract that talent. But what if Plan B and Plan C and Plan D are the likelier means by which this organization will need to differentiate itself? What if the Sixers need to end up finding that talent instead of attracting it? What if their best course of action is to trade for a player who has yet to become a full-fledged superstar, the way the Rockets did with James Harden, or, arguably, the way the Raptors did with Kyle Lowry?
What if the true determinant of their future trajectory involves the decisions that they make regarding the assets already in their portfolio, specifically with regard to Saric and Markelle Fultz? As Brand said Thursday, there is a chance that the additional star(s) the Sixers seek is/are already in the fold. There's also a chance that those players are the assets that could help them land the real missing piece(s).