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May 31, 2018

Very few plausible outs for Sixers' GM Bryan Colangelo in burner account crisis

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051518-BryanColangelo-USAToday Brett Davis/USA Today

Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo watch a game against the Atlanta Hawks in the third quarter at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 110-93.

Yesterday was a long and eventful day for most of the sports internet, but especially for Sixers Twitter. On the heels of a bombshell report regarding burner accounts and GM Bryan Colangelo, sleuths sifted through mountains of data and phone numbers and tweet timing to determine whether or not it was plausible for Colangelo himself to be responsible for everything that went out through five alleged personal Twitter accounts.

The answer ended up being... not really? As running theories pop up and disappear at warp speed, it appears that his wife has become one of the leading candidates to take the fall. That's fairly consistent with what we know about the accounts in question — they follow people connected to schools in Canada, Italian-centric accounts, and things having to do with the couple's son. Add on top of that the matching of phone numbers with several of the burner accounts, and you have yourself a pretty concrete case.

There is a school of thought in which this outcome — which remains unconfirmed, for what that's worth — makes Colangelo a more sympathetic figure. How could he have expected his wife to take private conversations and lash out at strangers on the internet in a manner that exposed company secrets?

As I said on Wednesday, even if the accounts expressing this information are not being run by Colangelo himself in any way, there remains a major problem when it comes to trust around the league. That will take shape in the form of regaining the confidence of his own players first and foremost, but also with potential free agents, draftees, and other partners around the league that are critical to making this thing run.

Efforts have been made to repair that damage — ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday that Colangelo was actively reaching out to people and seeking to clear his name — and further conversations have confirmed that. 

More than one league source who spoke to PhillyVoice on Wednesday evening confirmed that one of the targets of vitriol from the burner accounts, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, had been in contact with Colangelo since The Ringer story had been published, with Toronto's head basketball man feeling satisfied that Colangelo himself was not responsible.

This is all well and good. Unfortunately, for Colangelo to walk away with his reputation pristine enough for the Sixers not to suffer, you need to believe this has all unfolded in a very specific way, assuming his wife is indeed a major player. Let's run through the steps of this story in rapid-fire fashion.

You need to believe that Bryan Colangelo's wife has, without him having any knowledge of this fact, been anonymously defending him and attacking critics, rivals, and otherwise interested parties for a time period spanning over years. This is admittedly the least difficult thing to spin in his favor — the ignorance plea is probably more compelling than most others right now.

However, this is fairly incongruent with the actual knowledge in question. The person(s) in question have enough inside information to suggest Colangelo has had extensive, detailed conversations about details within the Sixers that 99 percent of the public (and frankly, even people around the league) is unaware of. You have to believe that person is so far inside the circle of trust to learn those things, only to be wildly abusing that trust by doing damaging, reckless things with it in plain sight.

Implausible, but not impossible.

You need to believe that when the Sixers first learned of the Twitter accounts in question on May 22 — the day when The Ringer's Ben Detrick emailed the team about 2/5 accounts — Bryan Colangelo remained in the dark on the true nature of the accounts outside of the account he claimed, @phila1234567. Following an admission that he owned that account, he would have had to have a "Gee willikers!" type conversation with a person close to him (we'll just assume his wife for the sake of the exercise), in which he talked about the situation being weird and/or disturbing, only to unknowingly trigger said person into privatizing the three accounts he was not told about through Detrick's reporting.

This is where things really begin to fall apart. Colangelo would have had to receive this information about a connection between his own account and "Eric Jr.," and speak about his confusion to the exact person who was running the rest of them. That person, realizing what was happening, would have had to go into panic mode and shut down all the accounts, while also not alerting Colangelo to their responsibility in the matter.

A lot more implausible.

You need to believe that when The Ringer returned to inquire about the apparent connection of all five accounts, there is still no breakthrough in communication between Colangelo and whoever the other party is in this dynamic. The Sixers and Colangelo, understandably in panic mode as they see a story developing that could hurt their credibility, begin preliminary steps to get to the root of the issue. 

As the story is published and information begins to pour in about the accounts, the secrets contained within them, and the impact of the article, not a word is said by the actual perpetrator to Colangelo, who, as a reminder, was only able to privatize accounts previously unknown to Colangelo because they were close enough to hear the intimate details of a preliminary inquiry. Colangelo releases a statement within a nationally-publicized story calling this disturbing, questioning motives, and reaching out to people all around the league about the problem...

...and yet the person in question still will not confess to their involvement. You're in fairy tale world at this point.

You need to believe that as the Sixers announce a formal, independent investigation into the matter, as people on Twitter float out the phone numbers associated with the accounts and draw their own conclusions on who is responsible, Colangelo has essentially locked himself away in an information-free bubble, not working himself to get to the bottom of this. How could he be if he is releasing statements to reporters in which he says, "Someone's out to get me, this is clearly not me" as he did to Yahoo's Jordan Schultz on Wednesday afternoon?

That detail came into the picture around 5:30 Wednesday evening, an eternity after the -91 phone number in question had been the subject of public scrutiny for hours. Even if Colangelo himself is avoiding social media in this situation and blissfully unaware of the number tracing, this would also mean not a single person in his orbit has brought up to him a question as simple as, "Hey Bryan, does anyone you're close with have a number ending in -91?" 

Him not knowing or even connecting dots at this point is inexplicable, and going beyond that, offering incredulous reactions to interested reporters is even more insane. Going beyond pleading ignorance to actively accusing someone of sabotage — only to walk that back four hours later — is inconsistent with the mindset of a person who remains completely ignorant of what's going on here. 

It is human nature for someone under heavy scrutiny to doubt themselves and do all the legwork to make sure they haven't missed anything. To still believe in the story of innocence at this point, you have to believe he had effectively remained isolated all the way up until his walked-back statement, which coincidentally came shortly after Twitter users found concrete, if inconclusive evidence that his wife could be involved.

Would any of you like to buy beachfront property in Central Pennsylvania?

And finally, you need to believe that after all this, with his reputation and potentially his career hanging in the balance, that through a series of coincidences and ignorance and perhaps some bad luck landed everyone here, the person (or people) responsible have still not fessed up to their involvement, and that he is giving these statements mixed with denial and incredulousness with less information at his disposal than the average active Twitter user.

You're welcome to believe what you choose, and I personally remain open to various outcomes in this story based on public and private discussions around the league. But if you actually stop to parse through the internal logic of what it would take to get here without Colangelo gaining a firm grasp of the situation, there just aren't many escape routes or logical explanations for bewilderment at this stage.

And since that's the story we're being told for now by the person in question, it only makes things look worse for the current Sixers GM.


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