The Philadelphia 76ers hosted the San Antonio Spurs Monday night. Even with three key players — Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard — sitting out, the Spurs won by 51 points.
The loss dropped the Sixers to 1-21 this season, and was a fitting microcosm of how the past two-plus seasons have gone in Philadelphia. Ever since the Sixers hired Sam Hinkie to be their general manager in May 2013, the phrase “Trust the Process” has become as pervasive in basketball circles as Philadelphia’s losses over the past two-plus seasons. Monday afternoon, however, the trust in that process from Hinkie’s employers appeared to evaporate with the hiring of Jerry Colangelo as both a special advisor to owner Josh Harris and, most importantly, the chairman of basketball operations.
Sure, the three men sat behind a bank of microphones inside Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia before the Spurs bludgeoned the Sixers, 119-68, and pledged to work together as a team. Both Harris and Colangelo even said — after plenty of tap-dancing on each of their parts — that Hinkie would be making the final decision on basketball-related matters.
“I think I can offer a lot of mentoring to Sam,” Colangelo said.
But Colangelo didn’t take this job — particularly one that, by giving him the title of chairman, ensures his name will be at the top of the basketball operations flow chart no matter how Harris, Colangelo and Hinkie try to describe it — to simply be a mentor to Hinkie and Co. Instead, he was brought in to instill a new process — one that will undoubtedly be different than what Hinkie was committed to following.
“I think we’re ready to go to the next phase,” Harris said.
That phase will apparently be focused on reducing losses — something that Hinkie, frankly, hasn’t concerned himself with. To his credit, Hinkie has done exactly what he said he would do: tear down Philadelphia’s roster to try and rebuild through the draft. But after the team has gone 38-148 (including Monday’s loss) since he took over, it’s clear Harris decided Hinkie’s long-term plan is taking too long.
The way Hinkie and the Sixers have gone about their business over the past couple of years has engendered plenty of anger around the league, despite the fact that Philadelphia actually hasn’t been the league’s worst team by record in either of the past two seasons. But how Hinkie has carried out his process has led many to call on the league office to take action, and to criticize NBA Commissioner Adam Silver when he did not — despite the fact the league did present draft lottery reform legislation that would’ve done the trick last year, only to have it voted down.
Regardless, those calls can end. Multiple sources said the league office helped bring the pairing of Harris and Colangelo together in Philadelphia — which should come as no surprise, given Colangelo’s long and deep ties to the league between his Hall of Fame run with the Phoenix Suns, being the managing director of USA Basketball and his involvement with the Hall of Fame. It’s a clear admission that things aren’t progressing nearly as fast as Harris would like them to — despite the fact he agreed to this process when Hinkie took over.
If there was any possibility that this long-term experiment of tanking for picks could continue past this season, those thoughts ended Monday.
And while everyone tried to play nice Monday, its hard to see how two people as different as Colangelo and Hinkie will be able to successfully co-exist — particularly after Hinkie has been essentially demoted just over two years into the job. Then there’s also the very real possibility that Colangelo’s son, Bryan — a long-time executive with both Phoenix and the Toronto Raptors before stepping down in June 2013 — could join the franchise in a high-level capacity moving forward.
But whether that eventually takes place or not, there’s no doubt that things are going to change significantly in Philadelphia. That should begin with the signing of some veteran talent — something Colangelo made clear he thought was necessary.
“There needs to be some support within the organization around the players,” Colangelo said. “There seems to be a void of leadership, player-wise.”
Whether he intended it or not, that was a direct shot at Hinkie, who has run the organization by the philosophy that each of the 15 roster spots is an invaluable commodity — one that shouldn’t be wasted on a veteran who can’t contribute on the court. That’s why Carl Landry is the only player on the team over 24, and he’s been out all season injured. It’s also an easy philosophy to question in the wake of the myriad issues that have cropped up in the personal life of 2015 No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor, including being caught going 108 miles per hour and fighting after hours in Boston the night before Thanksgiving.
It underscored the significant differences between the two, and how things are all but certain to change moving forward for Philadelphia now that Colangelo is in control. Even if Hinkie remains around for the long haul, it’s hard to see how his long-standing plan — to truly bottom out until he gets the players necessary to compete for championships — is going to play out the same way that it did before.
That even includes their approaches to the media. While Hinkie has never been willing to share his thoughts publicly, Colangelo has never been shy about doing so.
“What I see here,” Colangelo said, “is there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Monday afternoon, the Sixers decided Colangelo, not Hinkie, was the one to decide how. There’s a new process in place, with a new person entrusted to install it after trust in Hinkie’s plan ran out.