Bryan Colangelo Fails In Philadelphia 76ers Crises

As the frustration between player Nerlens Noel and coach Brett Brown builds, Bryan Colangelo is mishandling the team with clumsy misuse of media and messaging

Bryan Colangelo might as well be quoted as saying: “I am not my predecessor’s keeper”. He could not have done more damage across the board as he did with this message out today.

Let’s not misread the facts. Technically, he is correct. Technically, he arrived to the team with Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and Joel Embiid on the roster. He came to the club knowing the team had three potential starting centers.  But the team had time.  The team had incentive.

Nothing happened.

Bryan Colangelo was the basketball minded executive with connections to other basketball executives, to player agents, and to the media.  His was a new direction, open communication and frank honest dealings with the business side of things.

He talked about building versus rebuilding. But the truth is that this team has already converted to building a championship roster from the moment Joel Embiid and Dario Saric would join the team in the 2016-2017 season.

Dec 2, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) defend against Orlando Magic center Bismack Biyombo (11) during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Window of Opportunity, Thanks to Minutes Restrictions

The team had walked past the cliff of utter disaster for three years, and it the end, had a handful of draft picks in the top ten as a result.  Unfortunately, three of those top selections all played the NBA center position.

And that complicated the team’s future, a future where winning was quickly becoming everything. But the team still had hope. They could timeshare the three centers, and overflow the excess playing time at power forward.

Embiid would come on minutes and load restrictions.  Okafor would come with minutes restrictions.  Noel could fill the gap and allow Richaun Holmes to pick up minutes at power forward.  But the team had hopes.

Perhaps the team had too high hopes.

However it fell out, the “it’s Hinkie’s fault” ended with the publication of the resignation letter. Colangelo said as much when he arrived, insisting that the team needed to fix the center position. Remember the press conference when the team opened the new training facility in New Jersey?

“We have a lot of time for things to work out,” Colangelo said during the team’s media day at its new practice facility. “Some of it will happen in the preseason. Some of it will happen in the regular season. But I don’t feel like we are up against any kind of deadline of any sort.”

And so, the urgency of a new season was never admitted to the public. Oh, lots of messages DID make it through. Too many rookies. Too few veterans. Too many centers.  Too many speculations. Too few frank discussions with players.

A ticking time bomb.

Dec 16, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) warms up before action against the Los Angeles Lakers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights!

That bomb’s timer was already ticking. It began to tick from the moment Colangelo arrived and broadcast the message that the team needed to move out of three centers before the 2016-2017 season.

“I don’t know that there’s a likelihood,” Colangelo said. “I can’t put a number on it. I would just simply tell you that there’s been conversations and there’s been a lot of interest expressed in some of the players that we have, but nothing that’s made enough sense to pull the trigger on. We’ve talked about the five position in particular.”-Colangelo discussing the 76ers’ center issue in June 2016

Bryan Colangelo knew he had valuable assets that are quite precious to the team. NBA teams knew that Bryan Colangelo would run out of time. So the NBA low-balled offers to the Philadelphia 76ers new president.

In the end, Bryan Colangelo declared the Philadelphia 76ers to be on the fast track to building a champion, but took slow strides himself.  The variable in the equation was once thought to be the dependability of Joel Embiid.

But Embiid arrived, and has been the shining star of this franchise.  That star rose under the care of Sam Hinkie.  But that has been pushed to the rear view mirror, along with the entire “rebuilding” concept.

Apr 10, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown goes over a play with his team during the third quarter of the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Wells Fargo Center. The Milwaukee Bucks won 109-108 in OT. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Rearview Mirror

It’s not uncommon for a new executive to distance himself from his predecessor. But that strategy works best when taking over for a team with depleted currency, with few draft picks, with little to no young talent.

The Philadelphia 76ers were brimming with young talent.

“Now that we can put the word ‘rebuilding’ in the rearview mirror, this is about taking those proven steps toward creating and developing the right culture. Adding the right kind of pieces, bringing in the right talent to take incremental steps forward going into the future.

How quickly [a turnaround] happens sometimes is an unknown. I don’t think it’s fully predictable. I think you can put a certain amount of science to the process and guesstimate how it might play out, but there are so many variables that it’s hard to be in the prediction business here.

So I think what we’re doing is we’re just preparing ourselves to make the best possible decisions to make sure that those incremental steps are actually taken, not just talked about.”-Bryan Colangelo in an April 2016 interview with Jessica Camerator of CSNPhilly.com

And so, the die were cast. The incremental steps that were to be taken are still being talked about.  The team has this moment.  Bryan Colangelo had the off-season.  What has truly changed about this team that was not already in the pipeline?

Not much.  The only difference is time… and it’s not on the side of Bryan Colangelo any longer.

Dec 11, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) and Detroit Pistons forward Ersan Ilyasova (23) scramble for a loose ball during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Time Is On Their Side

The smoking gun. And yet, nobody is looking for it. You see, this is a team that is losing, but not trying to. This is a team as injured as last year, but not on purpose. This is a team that is NOT tanking because… well… because a Colangelo said so.

As of today, the Philadelphia 76ers have seven wins and twenty losses. That is last place in the current NBA rankings. Say it’s not tanking, call it competitive effort, call it a young inexperienced team. Whatever you call it, the results are in and they are still the same.

For all the bravado of a father touting the basketball mind of his beloved son, the outcome is undeniably the same. The Philadelphia 76ers entered this season limping, again.  The Philadelphia 76ers have a major player out for the season, again. 

Dec 18, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert (22) goes up for a shot as Philadelphia 76ers forward Hollis Thompson (31) defends during the fourth quarter of the game at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers won the game 108-107. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Still The Same

All the while, time moves on. Players contracts expire.  The team will lose five players in the upcoming offseason. For now, the team has plenty of opportunity to restock the shelves. But for far too long, the front office has delivered players with “some assembly required”.  Head coach Brett Brown has spent virtually his entire time with the Philadelphia 76ers teaching basketball to raw prospects.

This was the year that would change.  Not much has.

This is neither the time to hide, nor the time to feed the head coach to the wolves in the media.  The front office manages the roster, and if the heat is on, the front office had better find a camera, a microphone, and the courage to talk to the what who and when.

Nerlens Noel and Noel’s agent are acting in a very expected manner. They are scheming in every way possible to get Noel on another team’s roster, where he can showcase his talent before trying to land his next NBA contract.

Head coach Brett Brown is acting in a very predictable and responsible manner as well. He has advocated selflessness to his players. Why wouldn’t the guy react to a selfish “it’s all about me!” player on his roster?

The person who is not acting in the way either expected or predicted is Bryan Colangelo.  A man who has run two NBA teams previously seems to have forgotten the politics, the end game, and the need to defend his coach, while dealing with personnel issues directly and privately.

If you are a fan of Bryan Colangelo, I feel for you.  My jury has been out. But this crises has shown Bryan Colangelo doesn’t have the skillset I had thought he brought.  Tossing his coach under the bus over a crises of his own making is disappointing at the least.

In the first Philadelphia 76ers crises, Bryan Colangelo has failed.  I hope he learns how to do better before the next one.

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