This is strictly an OPINION piece and solely reflective of the authors views/sentiments.
The 2019-2020 Philadelphia 76ers season has come to an end. They’ve been swept out of the first round of the NBA playoffs. It is not the ending most fans foresaw before the season. It was an offseason filled with thoughts of championship contention for the organization. Now, there are just questions. Where does the team go from here? Is it time to break up the Embiid-Simmons pairing? What to do with Horford and Harris? But as fans I think, the biggest question of all to ask is: How exactly did we get here? A team with a $130 million payroll, bounced in the first round by a rival, and now toeing the line of perennial 1st-2nd round out in the playoffs. In basketball and in life, I feel that it is important to have the long view of situations —something the 76ers have not done in a long time. So, how is the question. How have the Philadelphia 76ers managed to sink the franchise for a better future, only for that future to be almost a mirror image of where they started, and where exactly do they go from here?
In order to answer this you have to understand that there are multiple facets at play (as with all professional sports teams). 1) Ownership – who they put in place. 2) Front Office/Management – the talent they evaluate and collect. 3) Coaching – How they use and deploy the talent that is collected. 4) Players/Talent – How they develop and ultimately how they perform. In this article, I am going to analyze each of these facets at play for the 76ers throughout this era of the organization’s state and how each has played a role in the team’s current standing.
The Harris/Blitzer Sports and Entertainment group has owned the Philadelphia 76ers since 2011. Josh Harris is the more prominent face synonymous with the organization however. Under the stewardship of Harris, there have been some very high highs however, the lows have been decimating at times.
I am of the opinion that as an owner of a professional sports team, it is your job to vet, appoint, and lend resources. Vet the potential front office/management head, appoint the smartest and well rounded candidates, and lend resources. Keep the business side of things on a separate side and let the leaders of the front office do their jobs. Owners call the shots, and are ultimately the be-all and end-all of decision makers, however it is important that owners let those they hire, do the jobs they hired them to do. Whether it be that of impatience or incompetence (or both), Harris has failed to do this. And it isn’t limited to just Harris, but David Blitzer and minority owners as well have been reported to all have say in basketball operations (free agency, trades and draft selections).
It is this that has partially sunk the franchise. Not letting those you appointed do their jobs as well as being more focused on turning profits than the actual success of the on-court product (it has been reported that Harris/Blitzer Ent. has explored purchasing the New York Mets). Rather than focusing on and working to deliver a championship to a city starved for professional basketball success, Harris would rather focus on the bottom line, the national/public’s opinion of his team(s), and play general manager .
It is this type of meddling and ineptness that has caused the Sixers organization to become what they have over the course of the last few years. Success starts at the top and they have failed the team.
Since Harris and his ownership group have come into power, they’ve overseen 3 different regimes. The Sam Hinkie era, the (short-lived) Bryan Colangelo era, and currently the Elton Brand era. Three men that he appointed and hired.
–Sam Hinkie (2013-2016):
By now we all know the story of Sam Hinkie. He was hired to pull the team out of mediocrity. He had a plan, an outlined plan at that. It was truly, a process. Hinkie outlined his plan stating in his opening press conference,”I start with an end in mind with everything and the mantra here is very clear, which is to compete for championships.”
Process, it’s a word defined as a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end. The organization had a plan and most importantly, a direction. Hinkie talked endlessly about the key to truly contending for NBA championships was having stars, multiple stars. To do this he assembled an asset chest.
-76ers Draft Capital when Hinkie took over:
- 2013: PHI 1st, PHI 2nd, NOP 2nd
- 2014: PHI 2nd,
- 2015: PHI 1st, PHI 2nd
- 2016: PHI 2nd
- 2017: PHI 1st, PHI 2nd
- 2018: PHI 1st, PHI 2nd
- 2019: PHI 1st, PHI 2nd
-76ers Draft Capital After/During Hinkie tenure:
- 2013: PHI 1st, NOP 1st, NYK 2nd
- 2014: PHI 1st, ORL, 1st, PHI 2nd, CLE 2nd, BKN, 2nd, LAC 2nd, MEM 2nd
- 2015: PHI 1st, ORL 2nd, DEN 2nd, NOP 2nd, HOU 2nd, GSW 2nd
- 2016: PHI 1st, MIA 1st, OKC 1st, DEN 2nd
- 2017: PHI 1st, PHI 2nd with Pick swaps with SAC
- 2018: PHI 1st, LAL 1st, PHI 2nd, BKN 2nd, NYK 2nd
- 2019: PHI 1st, SAC 1st, PHI 2nd, SAC 2nd, NYK 2nd
-Notable Players Hinkie acquired or had hand in acquiring for the 76ers:
- Michael Carter-Williams
- Nerlens Noel
- Joel Embiid
- Jerami Grant
- Jahlil Okafor
- Richaun Holmes
- Dario Saric
- Landry Shamet
- Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot
- Zhaire Smith
- Markelle Fultz
- Furkan Korkmaz
- Ben Simmons
- T.J. McConnell
However, with being so focused on acquiring talent through the draft, the only way to do so is lose, and lose often. With all that losing, comes the bad press and as stated above, Josh Harris is deeply concerned with the image of his organization, rather than the ultimate result. With this in mind, it should’ve come as no shock to anyone when Harris was reported (by Jerry Colangelo on Arizona Sports 98.7), to have called NBA commissioner Adam Silver, “pleading for help”.
Once Harris called Silver, and Silver brought in Jerry Colangelo, the writing was on the wall. It is my opinion that this was the end of “the process” in its original form. Hinkie had something that the current iteration of the 76ers lack: a plan. Along with that plan was a timeline, a carefully followed timeline. With him out, that timeline followed him out and what ensued is the same thing that got the Sixers where they are today: impatience.
Hinkie resigned on April 16, 2013, leaving the Sixers with $62.5 million in cap space, a gold mine of draft assets and a bright young team. Soon after, Jerry Colangelo’s son Bryan was hired as the team’s president of basketball operations.
–Bryan Colangelo (2016-2018):
All the assets Hinkie had assembled were almost evaporated by Colangelo. Questionable draft picks, bone-headed trades/free agent signings and dissent surrounded this era of Sixers basketball off court. For example, Colangelo selected Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot and Furkan Korkmaz over Future NBA All Star Pascal Siakam. Colangelo didn’t value 2nd round picks, often selling them (which is a function of ownership as well) and he made questionable free agent signings such as signing Gerald Henderson and Jerryd Bayless to contracts to provide “veteran leadership”. The Markelle Fultz debacle and the circus that was summarizes the Colangelo era. There was potential at the beginning, but it was almost destroyed overnight, leaving the organization in limbo.
Colangelo effectively forced the Sixers into a win-now mindset before the team was ready. Sure there had been record setting losing seasons, but the players the Sixers had were young and as previously stated, on a timeline. A timeline that was greatly accelerated by the presence of Colangelo, who was brought in by Harris. It all comes back to Harris. He’d seen all the losing and bad rep his team was getting, but instead of offering his full support and resources to Hinkie, he rushed and caused Colangelo to ruin and further disrupt the image of his organization. The 2018 offseason is one marred by dysfunction and embarrassment. We all know about the twitter burners, in which Colangelo leaked sensitive team information, bashed players and made the 76ers the laughing stock of the league in what was probably the biggest offseason in team history, looking at who was avaliable and the cap space the Sixers had.
With that Colangelo resigned, and the Sixers began the search for a third GM in 6 years. The search was said to be “collaborative” per Josh Harris. However, in this search the conditions the new GM would be expected to work under would make the job “powerless” (according to The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey’s 2018 article). According to Bleacher Report’s Yaron Weitzman, “he (Harris) and the rest of his group have become more involved in basketball decisions. The front office staff of Colangelo’s regime would have to remain in place and Harris still wanted to have final say in basketball operations, and again, not just solely him. These conditions led the organization to hire a person who was possibly one of the least qualified candidates in the search, Elton Brand.
However, before Brand, there still was an offseason. Head Coach Brett Brown was given personnel control. He was given the power, or so we thought. According to Keith Pompey, ownership was once again meddling in basketball decisions. Specifically, in the 2017 NBA draft, which saw the 76ers select Villanova forward (and perfect fit for roster), Mikal Bridges, only to trade him 10 minutes later for Texas-Tech guard, Zhaire Smith, who ownership viewed as having the higher ceiling.
Brand was then brought in five days before the start of training camp.
Elton Brand (2018-Present):
Sure, the optics sounded good. Former player, he knew the team and organization, and he had a mind for the current era of NBA basketball was played. However, diving deeper into the hire you begin to see the cracks.
Brand’s only experience in management was one year as the general manager of the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate. Personally, I don’t agree with the thinking due to the young nature if the team, but if you (Josh Harris) are looking to “win now”, wouldn’t it make sense to hire an experienced GM to head your basketball operations/front office department vs hiring an in-experienced candidate? But no, Harris wants that control. He wants to make decisions. He surrounded Elton Brand with the same guys who were in the front office with Colangelo. In my opinion, he surrounded Brand with people who followed his (Harris) thinking and philosophy. Collaborative approach was the verbiage he used, but when does having too many chefs in the kitchen come into play.
Brand made his mark on the organization almost immediately. In a deal, once again captained and championed by Josh Harris, Brand sent Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for All-Star Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton. Later on in the season, Brand acquired 20 ppg scorer, Tobias Harris from the Clippers, in exchange for Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala and a bevy of draft picks from the Sam Hinkie asset chest. This move solidified the 76ers ascension into championship contention, prematurely, might I add.
You have to remember, that in 2017 while the 76ers did make the playoffs and advance to the second round, first, the team’s o/u for wins was set at 40 games. The team won 52 games (including a 16 game win streak at the end of the season). Second, the teams two franchise cornerstones: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were 23 and 21 respectively. The very next year, they were being expected to compete for championships.
We all know how this iteration ended and it has led to the picture we see today. Butler’s in Miami, Harris was resigned to a MASSIVE $180 million deal, Josh Richardson was acquired to replace Butler and Brand signed 34-year-old Al Horford to a 4-year $109 million deal. There is so much wrong with that previous statement. The current roster, assembled by the Josh Harris-Brand collective featured wacky spacing, no real point guard, an abysmal road record and altogether a dissapointment.
Roster construction and all the moves made since 2017, are extremely questionable. Things have to change. Whether Brand will be around to lead that charge remains to be seen.
The coach of team assembled by the collective mentioned above isn’t without his share of blame as well.
Brett Brown has been the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers since 2013. Besides Josh Harris, he’s been the organization’s only constant. In his introductory press conference, Sam Hinkie talked up Brown’s ability to develop players saying, “he has a real, real passion for player development”, and that Brown was “the perfect coach to get us through these first few years.”
That was it, in my opinion. Brown was hired to get the team through the process. As stated, Hinkie’s process was centered around draft picks. There were no stars on those process teams, just young players. Young players and high draft picks. All the losing that came with acquiring said draft picks created a culture and an aura around the organization. That which has not left, to this day, in my opinion.
Brown talks a lot about spirit and the competitive spirit of the locker room. The spirit and culture around the team was intent upon losing for so long, and when you decide to flip the script and go into win now mode, all while keeping the same lead voice of the locker room, that’s a tough task.
On court, I am of the opinion, that Brown can only be evaluated as to when the team fully attempted to contend. Understanding this, the on court product under Brown has been in a word: maddening. Whether it’s not putting players in the right position, correctly utilizing players, bad rotations or sticking too long with a concept/scheme (offensive or defensive) that isn’t working, the 76ers under Brown have been an inconsistent bunch.
Brett Brown was hired to head a rebuild. He was hired under Sam Hinkie’s regime and as stated, when Hinkie’s tenure ended, so did his timeline. As a coach, that has to be a sort of difficult task, nevertheless, as a professional coach it is your job to make things work. Instill accountability, motivate your players, and put them in positions to succeed. Brown hasn’t and it will likely cost him his job.
For most of the aftermath of the process, the talent has been there. There’s just always been an issue. Whether it’s the fit, usage or disposition of the players, there has always been something. High draft picks, large contracts, and player egos.
Ben Simmons is a number one overall pick. Joel Embiid was a number three overall pick. Markelle Fultz was a number one overall pick. These 3 were supposed to be what led the team to the promised land. Embiid and Simmons developed somewhat but Fultz was the biggest blunder of all. He was the bridge between Simmons fast pace style and Embiid’s slow pace, post-up style. Once he didn’t work out, the organization acquired Butler and Harris. This was the best roster of this era of Sixers basketball. The fit was clunky at times. Simmons wanted the ball, Butler wanted the ball, and Joel Embiid needed his touches. Ultimately, it didn’t work out.
All of the assets Sam Hinkie assembled and the subsequent squandering of those assets by Colangelo and Brand (due to ownership’s insistence on contending) have led to what we have today: an expensive roster that doesn’t fit. I’d be remissed if I didn’t mention that, yes some of it is on the players.
The players have to do their part, but in order for them to do their part they have to be put in the best position, and a good coach will put them in the right position. Management is in charge of putting those players and coaches together and the owner has to appoint the right management head. Everything is interconnected, but most importantly it starts at the top (ownership).
Where the Team Goes from Here
The Sixers are in a tough spot. They’re an expensive team. They’ve just been bounced in the first round of the playoffs by a rival. And they’re in a spot where no team wants to be: good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to win a championship. In many ways they are similar to where they were when the process first started, however there is a difference.
Make no mistake about it, the process worked. It yielded two generational talents in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Who, despite all the noise surrounding them must continue to grow and develop. The roster around them has to be built to compliment them. Every decision must be made with them in mind.
Things are up in the air right now with this franchise. Coaching, roster construction, and management. There is one key that will determine the success of this organization: Josh Harris. As stated, it starts at the top. Harris has to get to the point where he gets basketball people in this building but most importantly, he has to step back and let them do their jobs. This offseason may be the most tumultuous in franchise history. Changes will occur and tough decisions will have to be made in order to ensure the success of the franchise.