Nine days after The Ringer's burner account exposé -- doesn't it feel more like nine weeks? -- the Philadelphia 76ers parted ways with team president Bryan Colangelo, that his "relationship with our team and his ability to lead the 76ers moving forward has been compromised."
The big news:
- Coach Brett Brown will oversee the front office on an interim basis.
- Barbara Bottini, Colangelo's wife, admitted to investigators that she operated the Twitter accounts. She also said she did a factory reset to her iPhone (though some tweets were posted using an Android device).
- The law firm that did the investigation "cannot conclude that Mr. Colangelo was aware of the Twitter accounts prior to the May 22 press inquiry." Colangelo himself released a statement blaming Bottini for the entire ordeal and saying that he never shared sensitive, team-related information with her. He added, "The content she shared was filled with inaccuracies and conjectures which in no way represent my own views or opinions."
What a mess this was. Regardless of what you think of how this has been handled, there is no denying that Colangelo's credibility has been irreparably damaged. Had he stayed, few around the league would have believed that the information in the tweets didn't come from him. It is difficult to argue that the ownership -- or current Sixers players or coveted free agents -- could have completely separated him from Bottini's actions. There was only one sensible outcome here.
On the bright side, the end of the Colangelo era means that Philadelphia can focus on moving forward and building a championship contender around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. These two are genuine stars, and the front office has the ability to create cap space to go after guys like LeBron James and Paul George in free agency or Kawhi Leonard in a trade. This is an unambiguously great situation with enormous upside.
It is also a complicated one. If they don't manage to get James, George or Leonard this summer, who else will they target? What will happen to their own free agents, including JJ Redick, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli?
The Sixers would not have won 52 games or ended the regular season on a 16-game winning streak without surrounding Embiid and Simmons with shooters who fit snugly in Brown's system. This offseason is challenging because those guys are not under contract, and asking them to wait for the superstars to make their decisions may not be an option.
In other words, Brown just took over a Philadelphia front office that is under real pressure to construct a roster that will win more than 52 games. Sixers owner Josh Harris said at a press conference that they will likely not have hired a new general manager by the end of June, which means Brown will be at the helm for the draft and free agency. At the same press conference, Brown said that his role will be more about providing leadership and support to the front-office people who are already in place.
"I think we're going to be just fine," Brown said. "I think we're going to go into the marketplace proud. I think we're going to go into the marketplace having a real story to tell. I think that this is going to be an incredibly attractive place of destination for many free agents."
Brown acknowledged that other teams will try to take shots at the Sixers because of the Colangelo fiasco. He insisted, however, that they will be armed to overcome that. Star players will not need to do much research to see what Philadelphia has to offer them. Harris praised Brown's skills as a recruiter, bringing up how he sold Redick on the organization last year.
"I feel most strongly that when we go into a place with some of my coaches and you start bringing Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in with me, as an example, that that will be sufficient," Brown said.
On a recent guest appearance on the "Invest Like the Best" podcast, former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie distilled his long-term, big-picture philosophy on team-building with an anecdote about from a meeting in Philadelphia: "[A colleague] said, 'We don't want to wake up three or four years from now and regret this.' And I interrupted and I said, '30 or 40.' And he said, 'What?' And I said, 'Let's not kid ourselves that we won't wake up in 30 or 40 years and think about that one opportunity we had at the Sixers and we shortcutted. I will."
From that perspective, this controversy could wind up being little more than a footnote in the story of how the Sixers became an NBA dynasty. Perhaps the next general manager, whether it is former Cleveland Cavaliers GM David Griffin, someone who is already in the Philadelphia organization or even a returning Hinkie, will do a much better job than Colangelo ever would have. Harris was right to say ownership will prioritize finding the right candidate rather than finding that candidate as quickly as possible.
It is unavoidable, though, that the short term is much more important to this version of the 76ers than it was in the middle of The Process. The Sixers have a realistic shot to hit a home run in the offseason, and if they swing big and miss, their cap space and flexibility will decrease every year. Before they even decide who is going to replace Colangelo, they have some serious work to do.