The Philadelphia 76ers decided to do the only thing they realistically could with Bryan Colangelo on Thursday, parting ways with their general manager and president of basketball operations in the wake of an investigation into the fake Twitter accounts linked to Colangelo in an article last week on the Ringer website.
At this point, it doesn’t matter whether Colangelo knew anything about the accounts, which have been assumed to have been run by Colangelo’s wife. The fact that sensitive information was put into the public sphere — along with shots taken at some of the team’s players, most notably Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz — was something from which Colangelo simply couldn’t recover. That’s why Philadelphia accepted Colangelo’s resignation Thursday afternoon.
But while moving on from Colangelo was really the only choice Philadelphia had, doing so has created a vacancy in what is clearly one of the NBA’s top front office jobs. With a talent base including Embiid and Ben Simmons, the salary cap space to sign a superstar free agent, the assets to trade for another and the 10th pick in this month’s NBA draft, Philadelphia is facing one of the most impactful offseasons in franchise history.
For now, Coach Brett Brown has been given the additional title of overseeing basketball operations on an interim basis, until the team can complete a search — which will commence immediately — for Colangelo’s successor.
Who will get the job? Here’s a rundown of a few potential candidates:
Griffin is widely seen as the top candidate on the market and is the likely front-runner to succeed Colangelo. As the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2014 to 2017, he cleared the cap space to bring LeBron James home, pulled off the Kevin Love trade and put enough talent around James to break Cleveland’s half-century championship drought in 2016.
After failing to come to an agreement on a new contract with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert last summer, Griffin walked. He has spent the past year working as an NBA TV analyst and has been the first name mentioned for every opening since.
Between availability, skill set and the fact he has a good relationship with James — who, of course, is set to become a free agent this summer and has been linked to Philadelphia — it will be a surprise if Griffin doesn’t wind up with the Sixers.
Zarren is one of the league’s brightest executives, having earned rave reviews for his work in Boston over the years. When Sam Hinkie was hired in Philadelphia in 2013, Zarren spoke to the Sixers about the job.
He is also, however, a lifelong Celtics fan, and his family continues to own season tickets. That, coupled with the fact Boston appears set to be a contender for years to come, would make it exceedingly difficult to get him out of Massachusetts.
That said, if he wanted to leave and run his own team, the Sixers would be as good of a situation as possible. If the Sixers do make a run at him, he might struggle to say no.
The Sixers have talked to Ferry twice in the past several years about running the organization, both before and after his tenure with the Atlanta Hawks. They didn’t come to an agreement with him either time.
Ferry’s explanation for what happened in Atlanta, when he read a racially insensitive scouting report about Luol Deng, was corroborated by an independent investigation into the matter conducted by the team.
For the past two years, Ferry has served as a special adviser to New Orleans Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps, having previously worked with Demps when both were with the San Antonio Spurs. His time with the Spurs also meant he spent lots of time with Brown, Philadelphia’s coach and a former San Antonio assistant. Ferry has interviewed for other openings around the league.
Go ahead and laugh, but this isn’t as crazy as it seems. The former GM and president of basketball operations still maintains relationships with people throughout the Sixers, and he had a hand in bringing many of those with the organization to Philadelphia in the first place.
The passage of time has also led many who criticized him for the Process in the moment to realize that his tanking plan worked out. The Sixers now have a pair of young superstar-level talents in Embiid and Simmons, and the ability to get more talent in free agency and on the trade market this summer.
But hiring Hinkie would be an admission that ownership was wrong to get rid of him in the first place — something owners are not usually willing to do. If the Sixers want to make people forget about Colangelo, though, hiring Hinkie certainly would accomplish that.
The Mystery Candidate
Given how attractive the Philadelphia job is, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for people around the league to consider leaving their current job running a different team to go there. That would require the Sixers to pay compensation — likely a first-round pick — but they may be willing to for the right candidate.
Could the Sixers job be the one that convinces Sam Presti, after a decade in Oklahoma City, to go elsewhere? Could it prompt Masai Ujiri to consider his options in Toronto and potentially replace Colangelo for a second straight time? Could some other unexpected candidate emerge?
It seems unlikely. But a little over a week ago, so did the idea that Colangelo’s tenure in Philadelphia was about to come to an end because of multiple Twitter accounts. Positions like this one — set up to win, and win big, right away — don’t come along often.
Promoting from within
With Philadelphia on the precipice of big things, it would seem likely the Sixers will go outside the organization to replace Colangelo. But by giving Brown control over basketball operations in the interim, there is at least a possibility that they could just reshuffle the organization with who is in house right now.
Teams have begun moving away from the “Emperor Coach” model of having one man in charge of both coaching the team and running basketball operations over the past couple of years, with Doc Rivers losing his personnel powers with the Clippers and both Mike Budenholzer (Hawks) and Stan Van Gundy (Pistons) losing their jobs entirely. But Brown has a lot of pull in Philadelphia, so it shouldn’t be ruled out as a potential outcome that he keeps both roles going forward.
Among internal candidates to promote to running the show on the front office side, the most likely nominee is former Washington Wizards executive Marc Eversley, Philadelphia’s vice president of player personnel.