Elton Brand is in a tough spot.
Two seasons removed from a successful 17-year NBA career, Brand was promoted by the 76ers to be their general manager. It's a powerful title for Brand, who most recently was the team's vice president of basketball operations and general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats.
Yet the perception is that it's a powerless position.
It's a job that few — if any — accomplished general managers around the league wanted. Something about not having the final decision or selecting your own front-office staff was the deal breaker for them despite the team having two young stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and plenty of cap space for the 2019 free-agency period.
Brand will also have to deal with an ownership group that has been heavily involved behind the scenes.
"Brand lacks a little experience, but I really like the hire," a source familiar with the Sixers organization said. "He knows the game, works hard, gets along with people, and is a basketball guy. Those are all positives. He listens to people and heeds their advice. Can he make his own decisions and keep ownership out of decisions is a question to be determined."
That's perhaps the biggest question.
Can Brand keep the ownership group out of decision-making?
Head coach Brett Brown was named the interim general manager after Bryan Colangelo resigned as president of basketball operations/general manager in June.
But sources have said that limited partner David Heller, a businessman and former Goldman Sachs executive, was running the show in Colangelo's absence, and that he, more than Brown, was the acting general manager at least through the NBA draft process if not the whole offseason. Sources have said that co-managing owner Josh Harris listens entirely to Heller.
The team denies those claims and says that, while Heller was involved in the draft process, he isn't as powerful or as involved as sources made him out to be.
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However, the ownership's heavy input in basketball decisions is nothing new for the Sixers.
Sources have said that Heller's role gradually increased during Sam Hinkie's tenure as president of basketball operations and GM. The sources said, on occasion, Heller would run the staff meetings when Hinkie wasn't present.
Multiple sources said Colangelo complained that 50 percent of his time was spent doing reports and meeting with owners. He said that he couldn't get his job done some days.
Once Colangelo resigned, Brown was named interim general manager. However, sources said that Heller was the "biggest voice in the room" at organizational meetings. His entire focus was, and still is, on finding a third star to go with Simmons and Embiid.
"Heller comes in two weeks before the [June 21] draft, and he knows everything because he's been on the internet and been on Twitter," the source said. "Those owners think they know basketball and what's going on."
Heller's influence was evident on draft night, according to sources.
That's when the team selected Villanova University and Great Valley High School product Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick.
But 38 minutes later, the Sixers traded him to the Phoenix Suns for Zhaire Smith, the 16th overall pick. The Sixers also received the Miami Heat's 2021 first-round pick in the trade.
The draft-night trade was left up to Brown. He was told that he could veto it if he wanted to.
The entire night in the draft room, all Heller said was, "This is the last time we'll have a high pick. We've got to swing for the highest upside. We've got to find the third star," according to a source.
Smith was identified as the guy with the most incredible upside, and they pushed to get him, and Brown signed off grudgingly.
"It hurt his heart to do it," said the source.
But during that night's press conference, Brown explained the decision was his and that it was too good of a deal to pass up. He referred to Smith as the "1B" to Bridges being "1A" on the team's wish list.
"Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected plus our 1B in Zhaire [Smith], who we value very highly, and you're in a position that you're on the clock, and you really have a decision to make," Brown said.
But Brown was definitely heartbroken over the deal, according to sources.
A source said, prior to the Brand hiring, that there are some front-office personnel who go along with Heller and try not to ruffle his feathers. When they disagree, they have to "massage his ego" to get what they want.
So how much power will Brand have in decision-making? Will the Sixers ownership group try to micromanage the rookie NBA general manager? Did they hire him because of his vision? Or do they view him as a figure head who allows the group to keep control?
The sense around the NBA is that the Sixers never seriously intended to hire outside the organization. The disadvantage of that, some said, is that the team has no one in the front office who can make the phone calls and keep up with the agents and know everything that is going on in the league.
But, according to a source, the organization isn't sure it needs that because the landing of free agents will be done by Simmons and Embiid creating interest and by the owners' wads of cash due to more than $40 million in available cap space, according to Spotrac.com.
Harris said at the introductory press conference on Thursday that Brand will be in charge of the off-the-court business, while Brown will be in charge of on-the-court stuff. Both individuals will be equal partners who report directly to the ownership group.
Taking this job was a no-brainer for Brand despite not having much more power than his coach.
He aspired to become a GM, and this opportunity came a couple of years sooner than expected.
Brand brings the advantage of being an ex-player who played at a high level.
In addition to possessing great basketball knowledge, Brand has been on both good and bad teams. So he knows what it takes to be successful.
On the other side, he lacks experience with the nuances of dealing with agents, other GMs when it comes to trades, and the salary cap. Those are things he'll have to learn on the fly.
He's intelligent, though, and he should be able to pick up things easily. It will just take him a while.
And, more importantly, he's not a "yes" man. Brand commands respect, and he doesn't need this job. He's made more than $169 million throughout his playing career. And he's earned additional income through business ventures. So Brand could walk away if he doesn't get the power he thinks he deserves.
His leadership qualities and ability to relate to people are among the reasons why he has a lot of internal support within the organization. His hiring has also provided a new excitement at the practice facility among employees.