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June 07, 2018

Sixers and GM Bryan Colangelo part ways in aftermath of burner account scandal

Bryan Colangelo is no longer president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers after the two sides agreed to part ways, a source confirmed to PhillyVoice on Thursday.

The news was first reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, who has also relayed that Brett Brown will take over basketball operations on an interim basis.

As part of a statement released at the conclusion of the investigation, the Sixers noted they did not believe Colangelo was aware of the burner accounts, but placed responsibility on his shoulders for the situation unfolding as it did.

We cannot conclude that Mr. Colangelo was aware of the Twitter accounts prior to the May 22 press inquiry. Mr. Colangelo denies any such awareness and we have not observed any forensic evidence establishing that he had knowledge of the Twitter accounts prior to that date. We note, however, that our investigation was limited and impeded by certain actions taken by Ms. Bottini, including her decision to delete the contents of her iPhone by executing a factory reset of the device prior to surrendering it for forensic review.

Our investigation revealed substantial evidence that Mr. Colangelo was the source of sensitive, non-public, club- related information contained in certain posts to the Twitter accounts. We believe that Mr. Colangelo was careless and in some instances reckless in failing to properly safeguard sensitive, non-public, club-related information in communications with individuals outside the 76ers organization.

A report from Ben Detrick at The Ringer last week sent the basketball world into a frenzy, with speculation about the general manager himself running multiple burner accounts on Twitter. Those accounts included detailed information that would have only been known to people with inside access to the Sixers, from medical information to various notes about the health and wellness of No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz.

And though they were beaten to the punch publicly by various Sixers fans on Twitter, reports eventually trickled in that the investigation centered around Colangelo's wife, Barbara Bottini, whose publicly available phone number revealed a possible connection to the accounts in question.

The most conclusive report in advance of Colangelo's resignation came from ESPN's Zach Lowe and Adrian Wojnarowski, who hinted at the result we eventually reached at the end of last week.

Colangelo, a two-time past NBA Executive of the Year, has discussed with ownership and upper management the possibility that his wife, Barbara Bottini, may have been involved in the postings of the tweets from so-called burner accounts, league sources said.

So far, Philadelphia ownership has shown little, if any, inclination to separate Colangelo's culpability in the matter should a family member or close associate be proven responsible for the postings, league sources said.  []

Ultimately, the Sixers decided they were unable to separate the actions of a member of Colangelo's family from him. In a business built on relationships and trust, you'd be hard-pressed to find many people who don't understand the move.

With one of the stranger sagas in Philadelphia sports history coming to a close, the Sixers are left to prepare for what may be the most important offseason in franchise history with the lead decision-making role wide open. The delay was, in part, due to internal and external politics that ownership had to weigh. 

More than one person who spoke to PhillyVoice on the condition of anonymity suggested Jerry Colangelo tried to intervene on Bryan's behalf, threatening to interfere with club relationships around the league. The Sixers, aware of Colangelo's influence around the league and his connection to numerous agents and power brokers after decades of work in basketball, opted to move forward carefully in what team sources described as a chaotic, uncertain environment.

Discussions PhillyVoice had with people inside and outside the organization turned up no connection between Bryan or Bryan's staff to his father's actions over the past week.

Asked by the Inquirer's Mike Sielski about Jerry Colangelo's involvement during his press conference on Thursday, Joshua Harris offered a denial.

"Jerry was not involved with the process in any way, I am aware of the press report, it's just not true. We did give Jerry a head's up at the end of the process, just before this morning before seeing you all. Jerry was respectful of the process we had to go through."

Expect candidates like former Cavs GM David Griffin — with tight connections to upcoming free agent LeBron James — and Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren to get serious consideration for the position, among other qualified candidates. The Sixers will also look at internal candidates, such as Marc Eversley and Ned Cohen, with the short window between the draft and free agency complicating a potential job search.

It is a much different search this time around than the one the NBA Sixers underwent to replace Sam Hinkie. The last time Philadelphia changed their head honcho, they were equipped with lots of promise but little in the form of concrete returns. They had yet to secure the No. 1 pick that became Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid had not yet stepped onto an NBA court for the first time. With all that has happened since they have a much more attractive position to offer to potential candidates, even if they're not able to lure a big-time player to join them this summer.

And then, of course, we have to discuss what this all means for Bryan Colangelo. It seems difficult to believe that he would get another opportunity to run a basketball organization again after this snafu, even if he might get a shot to work some sort of basketball ops job down the line. It will be hard for him to convince teams in the future that he can distance himself from his wife, so this could very well be the end of his time in basketball at a high level.

RELATED:  Colangelo's burner accounts are the best thing that could've happened to the Sixers

Even for stronger critics of his performance, you do have to feel some sympathy for how this all played out. Should he have held a stronger line on withholding sensitive information from the people around him, and did he deserve to lose his job over this? No doubt. But on a human level, someone communicating the trials and tribulations of their job with their significant other is not exactly the most damning trait in the world.

Not only that, Colangelo will not get to see through an offseason his front office had invested so much time, effort, and planning to be the crown jewel of their time here. Because his one major acquisition (Simmons at No. 1) is seen by many as an inheritance from Hinkie, there will be plenty who dispute whether he leaves any sort of lasting legacy in Philadelphia. 

However, that's a conversation we can have over the coming days.

The Sixers will need to pivot quickly out of this scandal and prepare for the biggest summer of their professional lives. No pressure, everybody.

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