Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris dropped a bit of a bombshell at a surprise press conference this afternoon, announcing that the Sixers have hired Hall of Famer and basketball sage Jerry Colangelo as the team’s new chairman of basketball operations. This sure seems like bad news for current GM Sam Hinkie and his Process.
A Hinkie stan could—and Hinkie stans definitely will—argue that this is nothing but a cosmetic move, meant to improve the public face of an organization that has, because of a cynical, protracted tanking campaign, run afoul of GMs and agents across the league. (As it turns out, agents don’t really like teams that waive guys without a word of warning and have no interest in spending money on real NBA talent.) The thinking here is that Colangelo is just there to talk nice to the rest of the league while Hinkie continues to perform his dark magicks in the shadows.
You have to make a few leaps to get to the above conclusion, though, and not all of them follow a totally logical path. For one, you have to assume that Colangelo, who’s been doing just fine as the chairman of USA Basketball and has no reason to take a job he doesn’t specifically want, would be comfortable just being a bit of decoration for a widely-derided organization to which he has no ties. Maybe that’s the case, but it’s hard to imagine a guy with Colangelo’s pedigree not insisting on having some say in the direction of the franchise. What motivation would a guy with his résumé have to join a new team and then do nothing? Once you let a guy like Colangelo in the building, he’s in the building, and his fingerprints are going to end up on the franchise, even if Hinkie is supposedly keeping the final say.
If you believe that Colangelo is nothing but window dressing, you also have to believe that Harris and the rest of the ownership group are completely happy with Hinkie’s guidance of the team. But various reports have hinted that the mood inside the organization isn’t exactly harmonious—someone’s been leaking those negative stories about Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, and Brett Brown has been sounding increasingly exhausted in interviews—and in that context, Colangelo’s hiring seems like more of a substantial sea change. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, who is about as plugged into the league as a reporter can be, is pretty straightforwardly reporting that this move is a repudiation of Hinkie’s plan.
Ownership can spin this however it wants, but if Harris and crew were completely happy with Hinkie, there’s no reason to bring Colangelo in at all. If your boss hires another guy to help you do your job, that probably means he doesn’t think you are doing a very good job.