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June 06, 2018

Sixers mailbag: How will Philadelphia address 2018 NBA Draft amidst GM uncertainty?

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Report after report is coming in on what exactly Bryan Colangelo's fate will be and the end result is, well, that no one has a whole lot more clarity on what the Sixers are doing. With each day that passes, the more people are convinced that Philadelphia might just hang onto the disgraced general manager, throwing a pivotal offseason into chaos before it really even begins.

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, their investigation dragging on over the last week or so has not stopped time, nor has it prevented other teams around the league from getting their work done. The other members of Philadelphia's front office certainly haven't stopped getting after it, but working conditions are obviously not in an ideal state at the moment.

At some point — and everyone assumes it will come soon, as they have ever since this news broke — the Sixers are going to have to come to a decision and move forward with the offseason. Not only that, they're going to have to empower people to take things over mid-stream after groundwork has been laid to get them to this point.

So how exactly does a franchise do that? Glad you're so interested!

Bringing in a new GM, or at the very least defining who the next GM of the team is going to be, is going to be absolutely critical for Philadelphia. And the reasons for that should be abundantly clear, because the decisions made this summer are going to have massive ramifications moving forward.

The latest report floated by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski early Wednesday morning suggested the Sixers might be content to go into the draft and free agency with current front office members Ned Cohen and Marc Eversley running the show together, instead of hiring a new GM. This is an arrangement I would find laughable — not because either guy is incapable of doing the job, but because split responsibility and interim decisionmaking simply isn't acceptable for a franchise in their position.

This is almost certainly going to have an impact on the NBA Draft coming up in a couple weeks, but the Sixers are at least prepared and able to deal with that reality. Their scouting department will largely remain intact either way, with or without Bryan Colangelo, and homework has been done for most of this season to ensure they have all the information possible heading into the big night. Free agency is a different beast altogether.

Can the Sixers really make a credible pitch to LeBron James or Paul George without a clear picture of who will call the shots? In the case of the former, that seems like a problematic setup in particular. If you're the type of person worried about the sort of influence LeBron can wield over a front office, dividing power further opens up a bigger opportunity for the pending free agent to take control.

Even aside from that, it makes the sales job that much more difficult to bring him in to begin with. How can you have total confidence in a front office to make championship-level moves if you're not even sure who is going to be ultimately responsible when things go awry? Power structures exist so that people understand who they're working for and with, and muddying that up helps no one.

I don't think the hiring of Eversley would be the worst thing in the world, nor do I think it would be necessarily representative of any change in philosophy. But if the Sixers want to go that route, they damn well better make a real decision instead of trying to split the difference.

Speaking of unacceptable arrangements, this would be right up there are the very top of the list of things that can't happen. I have a great deal of respect for Brett Brown and believe he has a fair share of input on team decisions, but in no way shape or form would it be okay for him to take over as lead decisionmaker, even if only in an interim capacity.

The reason so many people have failed at splitting responsibility between coach and GM is not that there's an absence of smart and experienced people around the NBA. Rather, it's because both jobs are so challenging and come with inherently different responsibilities, which makes it hard for people to compartmentalize and get the best of both worlds.

This is not to say Brown would be uninvolved in the team's collaborative process this summer, and he will certainly be a large voice in free agency meetings this summer. But there's a huge difference between being the guy who can sell players on his vision — free-flowing basketball, excellent relationships, and shared responsibility — and one who has to fix fundamental problems with the roster if and when they arise.

A coach is a short-term problem solver, adapting to the needs of a game at moment's notice. A general manager is a long-term problem solver, identifying trends that are troubling and doing their best to supply the team with the necessary solution, or even identifying solutions before the problems become obvious to the average observer. Those are much different paths to walk, and it's why Brown should be nowhere near the GM seat.

I think it is going to have an effect insofar as it creates a power vacuum someone else has to step into. Say what you will about Colangelo, love him or hate him, but with him in place at least the Sixers have an executive who we know the buck stops with.

Remove him from the equation, and what do you have? You have plenty of qualified people in that front office, each offering their own version of what's out there to take stock of. Guys like Eversley and Vince Rozman are some of your go-to figures on the pure scouting side of things, while Alex Rucker is tasked with taking all the data and the work done by the analytics team and applying that to what the Sixers want as an organization. These people and their roles will still exist, regardless of Colangelo's presence.

But information in and of itself is only useful if you have an idea of how you're going to apply it, and not having a firm leader in place would open up all sorts of additional debate that might not otherwise exist. I wouldn't expect the Sixers' front office to turn into Lord of the Flies, but I also wouldn't expect things to just sail on like everything is normal.

Will priorities in the draft change? Most likely not. But figuring out how exactly to move forward will add another challenge to an already difficult process.

I got into the low 400s before I got bored and stopped. I find it impossible that anyone could lose at this game if they're actually trying.

The lesson here is to never give me access to burner accounts.

I'm not sure this is the right way to look at this question. When the Sixers were drafting at the top of the draft during the dark days of the rebuild, it was a little easier to compartmentalize things into two camps: best player available vs. best fit. But that conversation was always a little more complicated than that, and certainly gets complicated further down the draft board.

To use one example, Texas Tech's Zhaire Smith might be seen by a lot of people as being a "BPA" pick rather than a fit one. He has outlier athletic tools and an excellent feel for the game, and if you squint hard enough you can perhaps see him turning into a major steal down the road.

However, Smith comes loaded with major questions to answer at the next level. How real is his jump shot? Was his lack of creating at Tech just a function of his role, or a reflection of his limitations as a ballhandler? Those are real and prominent concerns for teams to consider when evaluating him in the draft.

I would offer that Philadelphia may not be the best environment for Smith to answer those questions in, both because of their competitive timeframe and the needs they have around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. And those environmental concerns have to be taken into consideration when adding another piece to this core, whether in the draft or free agency.

A shorter answer to this question: I believe the pick has to take everything into consideration, with the best blend of necessary traits winning out in the end.

I don't want to say Holmes' days are numbered just yet, but you don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out where he stands in the pecking order. He quite clearly did not have the confidence of his coach in situations that mattered, and was buried in the rotation as a result.

Whether or not you agree with that decision, the coach who made it has now inked a significant extension. That doesn't bode well for Holmes any way you slice it, unless he goes through transformative changes as a player over the offseason. The guy in charge doesn't trust him all that much to live up to the defensive responsibilities of a center, and it seems unlikely that will change.

So I would expect reinforcements to be brought in one way or another. There will be plenty of competition for minutes there; Jonah Bolden is going to be a factor in the 4/5 minutes next year, assuming he comes over, and I wouldn't be surprised if the team goes shopping for additional help once the bigger pieces fall into place.

This is nothing more than a guess on my part, but if I had to put my money on a scenario it would be using No. 10 to select a player they believe they can make a long-term starter, and either drafting and stashing a player at No. 26 or trading out of the first round.

Avoiding more guaranteed first-round money would be ideal for them this summer, though I think they're happier to deal with that problem when it's attached to the upside of a top-10 pick. That's a dicier proposition later in the first.

(And as far as potential trades go, there's just too much projection and guesswork for me to outright predict that would happen this far out from the draft.)

I think I've decided I'm done guessing about Markelle Fultz at this point. Nothing about what happened last season was predictable based on any of the evidence we had on hand, either concerning his on-court production or his off-court attributes (work ethic, drive, etc.). I know more than most of the general populace does about Fultz and his trials/tribulations, and I'm still at something of an information deficit.

I say that to say this: I don't have a clue what the future holds for last year's No. 1 overall pick. His talent is obvious and the team's belief in him remains strong, but we won't really know if that pesky jumper problem is resolved until we saw tangible evidence of progress in a game setting. If he plays in Summer League, maybe I'll be able to give you odds around then.

Until then, I'm content to let this all play out, instead of pretending like I know something that I don't.

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