April 11, 2016
Even if they don’t ultimately matter all that much, we tend to remember first impressions.
For example, when the Phillies hired Andy MacPhail last June, they “won the opening press conference.” Likewise, when the Eagles hired Chip Kelly back in 2013, they won the press conference. But when the Sixers introduced Bryan Colangelo on Sunday, they took a big ol’ L at the press conference.
The good news for the Sixers is that, in the end, it doesn’t matter whether or not the new hire’s introduction inspires the fanbase. For now, though, once Josh Harris laid his eyes on Sam Hinkie’s lengthy letter, he had to know deep down that stepping up to the podium on Sunday afternoon wasn't going to be easy.
“Optics” is a fancy word that Harris used a few times yesterday, and it’s one that has been thrown around a little bit since. Colangelo hiring Colangelo can look like a lot of things, but it just doesn’t appear thorough. For an organization that was so meticulous over the past few years, this decision feels like a complete 180. They went from the kid who requests extra time from the teacher to the one who flies through the test and hands it in after 10 minutes.
Know this: If Harris were a more comfortable public speaker, he still wouldn’t have done well yesterday, not with the moves he was announcing. Harris admitted that there were “not that many” candidates interviewed, and the person who the Sixers zeroed in on just so happens to be the (former) chairman of basketball operations’ son.
“I understand the optics of it, but the reality is Bryan was head and shoulders above every other candidate,” Harris said. “So the optics is something we’re managing right now, but the reality is I went with Bryan because he was the best guy for the job.”
According to Harris, the Sixers began having discussions with Bryan Colangelo at the beginning of the calendar year, which is about a month after his father joined the team. He also held that Jerry Colangelo recused himself from the search to add talent to the front office, a claim that raised quite a few eyebrows.
“We made that decision and certainly Jerry was on board for adding talent to the organization,” Harris said. “But the reality is -- and Jerry was aware of the things that were going on -- it didn’t make sense to have Jerry be a part of that process.”
Take Harris at his word — 1. Bryan was the best candidate; 2. Jerry wasn’t a part of his hiring — and it’s still problematic. If that were the case, your top basketball executive, a highly respected Hall of Famer, had very little to do with the only major basketball decision that the organization made during his four months here.
If that was the case, why was Jerry Colangelo here? To toss backhanded compliments in Hinkie’s direction? What was his purpose?
Harris and Colangelo both said that they wished Hinkie had stayed, and those sentiments might be sincere. It just seems extremely naïve for the ownership to believe that Hinkie would’ve been satisfied doing a different job than the one for which he signed up.
“It’s hard for me to speak for Sam,” Harris said when asked to consider Hinkie’s point of view on adding another Colangelo. “I think you should talk to him about that.”
Bryan Colangelo could turn out to be a very good executive in Philly and a better choice than Hinkie to take this next step, but how he was hired leaves a lot to be desired. In this case “The Process” wasn’t all that satisfactory. But Harris is hoping the results are.
Harris said that Colangelo “masterfully ran two organizations.”
He’s an experienced hire that generally did well as a decision maker in one stop (Nash, Amar’e, Matrix, Seven Seconds or Less!) and poorly in another one (Bargnani, Rudy Gay, Jermaine O’Neal!). Initially, the major question is what happens to the culture that Hinkie built.
At one point, the 50-year-old Colangelo was asked about whether he will bring more traditional “basketball people” into the fold. Previously, he admitted that there could be a change in management and coaching over the summer.
“Based on what I know, I think it’s probably important to add some but I’m not sure to what extent,” Colangelo said. “I really do want to speak to the individuals involved and I’ve been impressed by some of what I heard and some of what I read about. I do know Sam well, and I have talked to him about some of this in the past.”
Colangelo seems to resemble something like a bipartisan candidate when comparing the last couple of general managers. On one side, you have the Doug Collins "don’t show me anything more than a box score" school, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, there is Hinkie.
[The side that invites more information is the better one.]
Colangelo can be found somewhere in the middle of those two, and we will have to wait to see what that exactly means for Hinkie’s staff. There are elements of the current program that could stay intact. For one, Colangelo oversaw the construction of the Phoenix Suns’ magic training staff. So just as the Eagles retained Shaun Huls after Chip Kelly was fired, maybe Dr. David Martin sticks around.
As for analytics?
“I’ve been attuned to it,” Colangelo said. “When I got to Toronto, I put together and assembled a staff of really some brilliant people, it just wasn’t talked about all too often. It wasn’t tweeted about, it wasn’t discussed in public circles. The fact of the matter is, I consider myself progressive in that area.”
There is some evidence that backs his statement up, including a good Grantland piece on the staff that was assembled in Toronto. Colangelo also had the patience to draft Jonas Valanciunas in 2011 knowing that he wouldn’t come over for another year, a Hinkie-like move. He also flat-out admitted to attempting to tank.
Bryan Colangelo said some good stuff on his first day in Philly, much more than the guy sitting next to him. As Hinkie wrote in his famous letter, you can be right for the wrong reasons.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann