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May 30, 2018

Bryan Colangelo investigation could wind up costing Sixers draft picks

NBA Sixers
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.

The full ramifications of the Twitter controversy swirling around Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo are beginning to come into focus. They might explode the heads of Sam Hinkie's deepest devotees.

What emerged as a bizarre expose from The Ringer on Tuesday night could ultimately result in the forfeiture of draft picks for the Sixers, according to a report from SI.com.

Colangelo is accused of using five burner Twitter accounts to defend his own reputation, criticize Sixers players, ridicule former general manager Sam Hinkie and disclose private medical information surrounding former top draft pick Jahlil Okafor.

The Ringer's Ben Detrick began investigating the story after receiving an anonymous tip in February. The source, described as an artificial intelligence expert, claimed the accounts were analyzed using an "open-source data analysis tool" that found "linguistic quirks" linking them all to the same user.

Figures from across the sports world, including the Sixers' own Joel Embiid, have weighed in on the obvious liability the allegations create for the leaguewide perception of the team's front office. The Sixers reacted Wednesday by launching their own investigation into Colangelo, who has taken responsibility for one of the accounts (the one that never tweeted anything) but emphatically denies any connection to the other four.

How the Sixers choose to proceed with their investigation could significantly influence whether NBA Commissioner Adam Silver decides to pursue a probe with much sharper teeth. Will the Sixers retain outside attorneys to ensure that their investigation is conducted independently? Will the National Basketball Players Association separately press the issue with the league?

If the NBA does become heavily involved, the consequences could be more severe. Per SI.com legal analyst Michael McCann: 

[T]here are two key provisions from the league constitution concerning a possible investigation into Colangelo and, by extension, the 76ers.

First, Article 35A of the constitution would authorize Silver to suspend Colangelo for any length of time and/or fine him up to $1 million. Such a punishment would be appropriate if Silver concluded that Colangelo engaged in “conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the Association.” Second, Silver could refer to Article 24, which contains the “best interests of the NBA” provision. It expresses that the commissioner is “charged with protecting the integrity of the game of professional basketball and preserving public confidence in the League.” The best interests’ provision makes clear that “when a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws, the Commissioner shall have the authority to make such decisions, including the imposition of a penalty, as in his judgment shall be in the best interests of the Association.” Article 24 authorizes a suspension of any length, a fine of up to $2.5 million and the forfeiture of draft picks.

As many have pointed out already, the allegations against Colangelo couldn't possibly have surfaced at a worse moment for the Sixers. Coming off of a breakout season and an impressive playoff performance, the team is expected to make a major push in the free agency and trade markets next month.

If this investigation hangs over the team's head for any length of time, the Sixers' plans to pursue marquee free agents and engineer trust in trade talks will be a tough sell. And if the inevitable move becomes firing Colangelo, the longer it takes to do so will be time lost in securing his replacement. 

If ever there was a time to dig deep and Trust the Process, that time has arrived at the feet of owner Josh Harris.