Philadelphia 76ers Locker Room Not All Fun Games

In previous seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers have been the team with the fewest wins. But somehow the team seemed to be “fun”. This year, however, the locker room is filled with controversy despite the team showing more promise than ever.

Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it. In the case of the Philadelphia 76ers, this applies more to ownership than fans.

For three years, the Philadelphia 76ers took on a hiatus from “winning is everything”.

Perhaps it was the presumption that the team could win nothing. It may have been the realization from the 2013 NBA Draft and foreward that the team was okay with selecting talent who would only play for the team “in the future”. Perhaps it was the fact that the team’s front office was run by a “numbers guy”, a man named Sam Hinkie who would drop everything to talk to the players. Hinkie’s style was examining shot charts and workout videos in the back room, and then just casual conversation court-side.

To the fan, to the players, to the front office, and to the media, it was shangri-la.

But as is the case of all good things, they come to an end.

It began this season.  Coincidence that it’s going down on the watch of Hinkie’s predecessor, Bryan Colangelo?  Perhaps.

What many attribute to the frustration of significant losing on the basketball court is beginning to surface in the public eye.  It began when Nerlens Noel, entering his contract year, unleashed a tirade of second guessing the front office moves to the media.

Shangri-la no more.

Feb 10, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie prior to a game against the Sacramento Kings at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

End Of The Innocence

That may have been chalked down as an anomaly, but other fractures are beginning to appear. Take this small exchange between point guard T.J. McConnell and power forward Dario Saric:

Not much love there, is there? But lest we ignore our problem with Nerlens Noel… he went back to it. You see, he came back to face the Detroit Pistons. In fact, 20 minutes before game time he told the coach he would play. In the game, he got just eight minutes of playing time. That led to this action:

And that led to this reaction:

This is the business side of basketball fans.

Nov 21, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) along with forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) and guard T.J. McConnell (1) and forward Robert Covington (33) talk during a break in action against the Miami Heat in the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia 76ers won 101-94. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Business is Business

Whether you side with a player in his contract year trying to showcase his stuff, or side with a team trying to be fair to all of the players, it’s an eroding situation and it’s only getting worse.  The problem is, this should not be happening.  Part of the reason ownership wanted a change of direction was to improve communication.

But communication is the last thing coming out of the Philadelphia 76ers front office now.

The NBA is a business, and has always been such.  Perhaps Philadelphia forgot that.  It was easy to do with the way that Sam Hinkie conducted the business, making it “feel” like a chess game. It certainly was not a business decision which compelled the Philadelphia 76ers invested two years, the world’s best expertise, and international trips to rehab Joel Embiid’s foot.  It was an understanding that getting ahead meant an occasional step backwards.

But not everyone saw it that way. The “unspoken rules” of the NBA dictate that players go for the ring, the money, the chance to play quality minutes, and the opportunity to mentor rookies.

Likewise, the front office plays by it’s own set of rules.  Deals must yield results in the present tense.  Transactions must yield a higher risk to one team, but the higher risk alternates on the next transaction.   But Sam Hinkie dealt to win 100 percent of the time, but took years to realize value.

In the end, the NBA wanted the 76ers to change. Bryan Colangelo was that change.

Jun 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo during an introduction press conference at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The More Things Change, The More Things Stay The Same

But in the end, the Philadelphia 76ers ownership acquiesced to the NBA league. In the end, ownership determined that the team needed to be reeled in.  The team needed to be run like a business after all.

And now, the Philadelphia 76ers are all business, including facing the dilemma of disciplining one of it’s employees.

But for the future, Noel is no longer cast as an integral player. Avoidable yes. Fixable no.

When a player loses the trust and confidence of the head coach, it’s over folks. This was a situation where everyone saw what would be coming. But the reality was more fabrication that real time.  Joel Embiid began the season on minutes restrictions, as did Jahlil Okafor.  Nerlens Noel had that window of opportunity to play, make a statement, and earn his role with the team this season.

This team is in the process of constructing a championship team.  Not all players fit as pieces to that team. But the front office gathered players to develop for three season, only turning to developing as a must this year.  The pace of this team has converted from stroll to sprint. Ultimately, someone would complain.

And Nerlens Noel did.

Dec 14, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and forward Nerlens Noel (M) and forward Ben Simmons (R) during a timeout in the second half against the Toronto Raptors at Wells Fargo Center. The Toronto Raptors won 123.114. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Which Way Is Up?

Now it’s up to the Philadelphia 76ers to do what businesses do, cut their losses. Noel, the center who offers so very much as an NBA rim protector, has forced the team’s hand.  Was that his plan all along? Perhaps not, but the situation is a blazing bridge right now.

And the arsonist is not Noel, Noel’s agent or Brown. Noel is completely frustrated. Brown is trying to manage the issue in the best way possible.

But the fire was ignited in the off-season, when newly hired president Bryan Colangelo told the NBA that the team had too many centers. In fact, he did everything but guarantee that the team would trade one before the season. Now the team is a week from Christmas. And now he stands there, with a pack of matches and a gasoline can.

This team is built for slow improvement. But perhaps that is too long in the minds of father and son Colangelo.  While the window was open to deal this off-season, no deal was made.

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; A general view of a video board displaying all thirty draft picks in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

Bryan Colangelo distrusts young players, and assumed control of a very young team with a myriad of draft picks well into the foreseeable future.  It’s no stretch to say that Bryan Colangelo, while appreciative of an opportunity to run an NBA team, is not in his comfort zone with the current Philadelphia 76ers.

Bryan Colangelo likes veterans.  His trade of Jerami Grant to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Ersan Ilyasova and a top 20 protected first round pick from the 2020 NBA Draft seems to have worked out well so far.  In fact, Ilyasova’s performance have some abandoning the “build through the draft” concept, claiming that trading is the way to go with this team.

Some claim that there was a tank of the team, and it’s now over.

Perception is a curious thing.  When Sam Hinkie signed veterans with injuries, and drafted rookies who could not suit up, it was tossed into the catch all “tanking”.  Those same factors this season, including the season outage of guard Jerryd Bayless, is being overlooked by too many. Head coach Brett Brown needs a front office which gives him (a) healthy players (b) patience to develop the roster and (c) handles the media.

Right now the front office is batting 0 for 3. Is there a grander plan in the works?

Dec 5, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown reacts during the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Wells Fargo Center. The Denver Nuggets won 106-98. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Are Colangelo Goals With Or Without Brown?

Brett Brown has been all but abandoned by his front office over the Noel situation. Now that the situation has perculated into a media frenzy, Colangelo is stepping in very modestlyl.

This is not the statement of a front office backing the head coach.  In fact, it feels more like a fire Colangelo started, and now is hoping will burn the support out under his very popular head coach.

The Toronto experience tells a bold tale of Bryan Colangelo assuming the reigns of a team coached  by a very popular and knowledgeable Sam Mitchell.  In quick work, Colangelo replaced Mitchell with a coach of his choosing, Jay Triano.  The Raptors would falter for the remainder of Colangelo’s tenure.

This feels like a very political situation.  Artificial in the making, but deadly in the eventual outcome.  At risk is the career of center Nerlens Noel, playing time at center for the Philadelphia 76ers, and the coaching perpetuity of Brett Brown.

Things have certainly changed with the Philadelphia 76ers.  The moves of Sam Hinkie are no longer up for public debate.  Instead, the team is ablaze with controversy, frustration, and what will likely lead to remorse.  It’s no longer fun and games in the Philadelphia 76ers locker room. Where there is smoke, there is fire.  And the smog from the Toronto Raptors has settled in over Philadelphia.

This article originally appeared on