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June 04, 2018

Colangelo saga dragging on reflects poorly on entire Sixers organization

Sixers NBA
060418-JoshuaHarris-USAToday Bill Streicher/USA Today

Philadelphia 76ers owner Joshua Harris watches on during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets Wells Fargo Center. The Brooklyn Nets won 141-118.

The burner account scandal that Bryan Colangelo is at the center of concerns, quite obviously, the GM himself. There is no way he emerges from the other side of this scandal with his reputation completely intact — even if he is exonerated in remarkably unlikely fashion, there will be jokes and chants and scrutiny at a higher level than he has ever faced before in his career, let alone in Philadelphia.

But this has gone on long enough for us to collectively turn our attention to people who don't share a last name with Colangelo. Philadelphia's ownership group, spearheaded by Joshua Harris and David Blitzer, are the ones who will ultimately decide the fate of their current GM and the rest of the front office. And instead of offering strength, clarity, or any semblance of transparency over the last week or so, they have bunkered down and allowed everyone outside the practice facility to assume the worst.

The justification behind usurping Sam Hinkie as Sixers GM was tied to a significantly worse on-court product, it must be noted, but if you've paid close attention you'll notice the most maligned traits of Philadelphia's rebuilding period remain in place.

The lack of public accountability and availability for the team's top decision maker(s)? A running theme right on through Colangelo's tenure. Timelines that constantly shift, whether offered officially by the team or in leaks to national-level reporters? We got a healthy dose of those this season. Scandals that emerge out of almost nowhere that could be easily avoided, burning down goodwill it took countless hours to accumulate? You betcha.

What is so striking about these constants are the inconsistencies in many of the areas that actually matter. Having hired a GM to undergo a radical, long-term focused rebuilding plan, Sixers management didn't let a single one of his draftees reach the end of their rookie contracts before they pulled the plug. 

Whatever you attribute that sudden change of heart to — pressure from the league, the extreme degree of losing suffered in 2015-16, or some combination of factors — it was a large pivot, and the simple passage of time proved to be a much bigger asset to the Sixers' organization than future hires did. The team's current best player was already on the roster, the No. 1 overall pick came at the end of that tumultuous season, their sharpshooting Euro delivered on the promise he'd made repeatedly over the two years prior, and little has been done since to improve the team's future upside, even if the core pieces benefitted from present-focused moves.

These decisions, it should be noted, came after the Sixers handed organizational control to former coach Doug Collins and GM Tony DiLeo, authorized them to trade for a big man with a checkered medical history, watched as his body fell apart and his mind never registered interest in fighting to return, and decided this was enough to warrant vaporizing their roles altogether less than a year after a franchise-altering trade took place. Collins and Co. did plenty to prove they weren't worthy of that responsibility, but the organization's lack of conviction in their path forward is more obvious in hindsight.

That lack of conviction, more than anything else, may be the defining trait of the Sixers since they were purchased by Harris and Co. in 2011. It's how you end up bending over for the league when they intervene, it's how you allow a coach who has burned out at every stop he has ever coached at to wield excessive power, and it's how you let an open-and-shut case devolve into a week-long saga that does nothing to aid the organization moving forward.

I think Bryan Colangelo is a more sympathetic figure here than many around town, assuming the leaker/tweeter in question here is indeed his wife, rather than some rogue employee. Everyone with a significant other has divulged secrets few others are aware of. But most are not charged with the high-stakes task of running a professional sports team, nor or are they violating codes (legal or moral) in the space of medical records, mental health accusations, and other less insidious topics of conversation.


RELATED: Should Colangelo's alleged burner accounts be grounds for firing?


While waiting for a legal resolution is all well and good, there is very little upside to the Sixers going radio silent, allowing the public to fill in blanks. With each day that goes by, belief grows that the Sixers may be earnestly considering keeping Colangelo around as GM, in the face of damning, information-leaking evidence. Intentional or not, it sends a message to your paying customers and writers on the beat: they are looking for any excuse they can find to see past unacceptable, trust-breaking behavior.

They can come out and spin it however they want, and you'll hear a whole lot of buzzword-filled phrases like, "doing our due diligence" whenever they decide you deserve the privilege of hearing their side of the story. The fact remains that, up until this point, they appear comfortable being the organization that needs to really deliberate whether leaking off-the-record medical information, disparaging your star player, and openly playing favorites between your young stars is a capital offense.

Whenever this wraps up ... the Sixers damn well better have an ironclad, sensible explanation for why they are allowing this to continue.

Pause on that last bit for a second — internally, one of the biggest worries for the Sixers' basketball ops department as I understand it has been (and will be) the coexistence of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons on a long-term level. This is not necessarily a reflection of either player/person in the equation, but the reality laid out by league history. Young duos and trios have clashed time and time again, with the best among them only saved by high-level winning and intervention from well-placed figures in the organization. Conversations with Sixers staffers reveal they are more worried about solving that puzzle than figuring out a way to maximize their talents.

As the Sixers stare down that potential battle of egos and touches moving forward, they have to grapple with the reality that this tweeter/leaker, informed with inside knowledge and opinions from a top official in the organization, has openly disparaged one of those two players in service of propping up the other. If you don't see the danger in going down that road, Embiid's public calmness aside, I'd advise you to think harder about how prideful one has to be to cut it as a professional athlete in the first place.

Concerns like these exist all over the spectrum in the aftermath of The Ringer's Colangelo report. Multiple league sources insisted to PhillyVoice that contact has been made between parties associated with players caught up in the scandal and the National Basketball Players' Association, gauging whether any sort of formal action is necessary. Requests for comment from the NBPA on the matter went unreturned over the weekend.

That these sort of things are happening at all should spell out what the resolution should be here. That the Sixers have their lead decision-maker missing agent-run workouts to have discussions about anonymous Twitter accounts should be a death knell. This is taking longer by several magnitudes to conclude for a high-powered, well-financed legal team and a board filled with rich, powerful owners than it did for people with nothing other than an internet connection and an interest in the team.

Whenever this wraps up — from the sound of things by the middle of this week — the Sixers damn well better have an ironclad, sensible explanation for why they are allowing this to continue. They are courting uncertainty at a time of the year where they can least afford it. They are angering their fans, drawing ire from all corners of the NBA universe, and throwing the most important summer they've had in decades into jeopardy.

Blame Colangelo for his role in all this and you'll be more than justified. But the longer this drags on, the clearer it becomes that this problem is a lot more than just him.


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