It’s Bryan Colangelo, at least for the next few months.
This is the biggest offseason he’ll ever have as a player-personnel executive. There will be no time to go down to the Jersey shore and drink like a fish, which is what I soon hope to do.
Instead, he’ll be tasked with figuring out how to use significant salary cap space and movable trade pieces to improve a 52-win team that features two young superstars.
All of that seems to suggest immediacy, does it not? The Sixers are ready to win now! That’s sort of how the greater cross-section of fans and media view this thing, with the head coach telling us on Friday that a high-priced free agent is the next step to getting his team over the hump and into the Eastern Conference finals.
Colangelo seemed to agree with that, at least if you read between the lines. He did, of course, protect himself by leaving open the possibility of kicking the can down the road until 2019, when the Sixers would still have flexibility and “optionality” and, hopefully, a known quantity in Markelle Fultz. The downside of that is, well, kicking the can down the road when you’ve got a 21-year-old point guard and 23-year-old center who look like they’re ready to rock and roll right now. I’m not sure how interested the fan base is in waiting until 2019 for a big offseason splash.
“This is not about a one year situation, this is about a long run,” Colangelo said on Friday. “This is about the next eight to ten years. We’ve got flexibility built into our plan, both in ’18 and ’19 potentially. We’ve got the ability to improve this team this year, and if we decide to defer, another ‘stem’ year of sorts, if you will, like we did last summer, it’s a situation where you might see us waiting to make a splash in free agency in 2019. But the fact that we have flexibility and optionality in both is what we’ve been so diligent in protecting.”
And so here’s where you arrive at a crossroads of sort.
I think most Sixers fans are ready to ride this thing into the stratosphere, and that means pursuing LeBron James or Paul George and making a run at the finals. Maybe you combine one of those potential signings with a trade for Kawhi Leonard and just go for it, man.
The other end of that spectrum is to say “thanks, but no thanks,” pass on the off-court headaches LeBron might provide, and continue along a steady path that sees Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz take a step forward while reserving “optionality” for 2019. You take a look at how the Boston, Golden State, and Houston rosters shake out, then you make your run at the best-fit free agent(s) available.
Is there a middle ground here? A waffling? Maybe.
Maybe the Sixers draft Mikal Bridges, sign Will Barton, bring over Jonah Bolden, and do some sort of “not entirely going for it, but not really deferring either” kind of strategy. I don’t know how feasible that is, but I wouldn’t put it past Colangelo to try it. I think we’re all assuming that one of LeBron, PG13, or Kawhi wants to be here in the first place, so what happens if the Sixers swing and miss? You can always circle back and say, “well, that was never our strategy in the first place.”
It’s really a philosophical divide, right? I guess it depends on what your end goal is here. If your mindsight is to win a title at all costs, you go for LeBron right now. If you would rather see long term, sustained success, then deferral is okay. I find this interesting from a sports and fan psychology standpoint, because the Sixers’ support base is now an intriguing mixture of patient, pro-Process Hinkie supporters and casual, “win now” anti-tanking types who just came back to the bandwagon.
That’s the genesis of the organic vs. inorganic dichotomy that has emerged in the Sixers’ fan base, the idea that some folks want to win with a core of Embiid/Simmons/Fultz, while others feel like pricey free agents are necessary to get you over the hump. Even though I asked Brett Brown about it last week, I’d actually argue that the whole thing is a fallacy, since I feel like the concept of attracting stars to your franchise is organic in and of itself. If the first part of a rebuild is to establish young potential through the draft, then one of the final measures is adding a superstar “outsider.” To me, that’s one continuous, organic timeline of reconstruction.
I don’t know how Colangelo sees it, but it feels like the window of opportunity is smaller than most people think, since I’m not sure you can trust the GM to get any kind of legitimate return value on any free agent signing or trade.
Case in point, trading a first round pick to move up to select Fultz, a guy who sat on the bench while the #3 overall pick, Jayson Tatum, contributed to your playoff exit.
Now, I hate revisionist draft history, stuff like “why did we draft this guy when we could have had this guy?” If there was any logic to that thinking, we’d be asking ourselves why 12 teams passed on Donovan Mitchell and 31 passed on Tom Brady. We’d have learned our lesson when Brandon Graham and Earl Thomas both won Super Bowl rings. Every draft has a crap shoot element to it, certainly, but the Tatum/Fultz thing looks awful because Colangelo gave extra assets to a division rival. We’re now waiting for Fultz to develop to see if the trade ends up killing the Sixers long term or just maiming them.
Another case in point = $22 million for one year of JJ Redick. Now what? Ask him to take less money to stick around? That was a short term overpay that now needs to be rejiggered into something feasible, if they even want to keep him around. Eleven million dollars for one year of Amir Johnson? Now what?
Go down the list of Colangelo moves and the pattern is the same – little overall return value:
- Getting nothing for Jahlil Okafor = Bad. You gave up a second round draft pick and got Trevor Booker in return, who was waived weeks later.
- Nerlens Noel for Justin Anderson, an expiring contract (Andrew Bogut), and draft picks = did either team really “win” this trade? I guess the Sixers got the better end of it, considering that Noel bombed out in Dallas.
- Paying Jerryd Bayless $27 million over three years = disastrous. Bayless came out of the rotation midway through the year and never looked or sounded like he wanted to be here.
- Sergio Rodriguez and Gerald Henderson = didn’t really hurt, didn’t really help either
- Turning Kendall Marshall into the draft pick that landed Bolden = good
- Signing Joel Embiid to a long term contract = obvious move
- drafting Ben Simmons = obvious move
- Robert Covington contract = Feels like an overpay after Cov’s disappointing playoffs, but it made a lot of sense at the time and will probably pan out. Worst case scenario is that he’s a movable trade piece.
- Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova = good veteran additions who required no assets to acquire. They were a big reason the team got the #3 seed and went on a 16 game winning streak to finish the year, but their limitations were obvious against Boston. These guys, at no cost, helped extend a season that wasn’t supposed to last this long in the first place.
- Trading Jerami Grant for Ilyasova and a first round pick (that likely becomes two second rounders) = good return
- Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Furkan Korkmaz, Anzejs Pasecniks, Mathias Lessort = who knows?
- exercising T.J. McConnell’s option = pretty obvious move, but made necessary due to the question marks surrounding Markelle Fultz
So you look down that list and see some okay moves, some bad moves, and some decent moves, but does anything really jump off the page? There’s no Danny Ainge or Sam Hinkie fleecing in there, nothing that really says, “wow, that was a great move.”
Obviously it was much easier for Hinkie to tear it down and accrue assets vs. actually building this thing back up. There was less risk/reward in his reconstruction, most of which came in the form of how future draft picks ended up shaking out (i.e. the Lakers’ pick). The majority of the “reaching” is done by teams looking to turn the corner, which is where the Sixers are now.
Colangelo is always going to be judged as an extension of Hinkie and I don’t find that to be fair at all. There’s a portion of Sixers fans who will probably never give him credit for anything on the reasoning that Hinkie put this whole thing in motion and acquired the assets that are now being used. I get it, I do, but the reality is that no one will ever know whether Sam had the capacity to finish the job. If Colangelo and Hinkie are two different executives responsible for one single chain of restructuring, then Colangelo’s responsibilities are exponentially more difficult. In sales terms, Hinkie made the cold calls while Colangelo now has to close the deal.
There are reasons to be skeptical, mostly based on recent history, but whatever you think of him, there’s no doubt that Bryan Colangelo is the most important person in Philly sports right now.