Philly's front office is on the clock with huge stakes

ByKevin Pelton ESPN logo
Thursday, June 7, 2018

Nine days after The Ringer broke the news that Twitter accounts linked to Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations and general manager Bryan Colangelo had been critical of Sixers players and shared sensitive information about the team, Colangelo resigned from those roles Thursday.

The timing is far from ideal for the 76ers, who are just two weeks away from entering this year's NBA draft with six picks, including No. 10 overall, and less than a month from having the ability to pursue max free agents in a pivotal summer for the team's growth as a championship contender.

So where does Philadelphia go from here, without Colangelo?

Key decisions looming for Sixers

The process set in place by Colangelo's predecessor, Sam Hinkie, has left Philadelphia in an enviable position this summer. After winning the team's first playoff series since 2012, the 76ers now have several tools at their disposal to upgrade around their young core led by budding stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

Let's start with the draft. Three of the team's four additional picks stem from trades made by Hinkie that continue to bear fruit years after his resignation (the fourth, the final pick of the second round, was acquired by Colangelo last summer). Most important among those is the 10th pick, acquired for Michael Carter-Williams as part of a three-team deal at the 2015 trade deadline that was among Hinkie's most polarizing moves.

Along with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who acquired the Brooklyn Nets' pick from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade, the Sixers are one of two teams in the lottery who reached the playoffs and won a series this year. That gives them the opportunity to add talent on a cost-controlled rookie contract while their other young stars are getting more expensive. (Embiid will begin a max extension next season; Simmons still has two years remaining on his rookie contract.)

In turn, that means Philadelphia still has salary-cap flexibility, despite Embiid's lavish new contract. If the 76ers renounce the rights to their free agents (Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, Amir Johnson, JJ Redick and two-way player Demetrius Jackson, none of whom the team has full Bird rights to re-sign), they can create about $25 million in cap space, depending where the cap is set next month -- just about enough to make a max offer to a player in the lowest experience range (0-6 years).

Because nine of the 12 Philadelphia players under contract for 2018-19 are either on their rookie deals or making the minimum salary for their experience level, there aren't many bad contracts for the team to shed. The one exception belongs to guard Jerryd Bayless, Colangelo's first addition in free agency, who fell out of Brett Brown's rotation after playing at a sub-replacement level last season.

If the 76ers can trade Bayless (making $8.6 million in the final season of his contract) to one of the handful of rebuilding teams with enough cap space to take on his salary without sending Philadelphia a player in return, they'd be up to a projected $33.8 million in cap space, more than enough to make a max offer to a player with 7-9 years of experience (like Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder) and putting them within striking distance of the max salary for players with 10-plus years of experience like LeBron James (a projected $35.4 million, which the Sixers could reach by trading backup forward Justin Anderson into cap space).

Alternatively, if Philadelphia doesn't want to give up the picks that would surely be required to dump Bayless' contract, the team could stretch his salary and still get to George-level max salary space.

These decisions are complicated by the number of alternative paths the 76ers could pursue. A trade for an unhappy superstar (perhaps Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs, whose treatment for a quadriceps injury has been overseen by a doctor affiliated with the Philadelphia organization, as reported by ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright) is one possibility. Or the Sixers could decide to run it back with a similar cast to last season, re-signing their own free agents (or others) to one-year contracts, putting them in position to have ample cap space again in the summer of 2019 -- the last year of Simmons' rookie deal.

Since Philadelphia will likely be out of the running for max free agents once Embiid and Simmons are both on extensions, the decisions the 76ers make over the next 14 months will largely determine what their core looks like for years to come. And now, because of a series of ill-advised tweets, it's unclear who will be making those decisions.

Who replaces Colangelo?

Inevitably, Colangelo's departure -- particularly in this fashion, given many of the tweets from accounts his wife admitted posting were critical of his predecessor -- will spark calls for Hinkie's return to complete the process he started. While Hinkie has taken care not to burn bridges with Philadelphia ownership, that Hollywood-worthy outcome seems exceedingly unlikely to transpire.

The 76ers placed head coach Brett Brown in charge of basketball operations on an interim basis, which will surely put the draft process in the hands of Marc Eversley (VP of player personnel) and Ned Cohen (VP of basketball operations and chief of staff). Eversley, who recently interviewed for the Charlotte Hornets' GM job before they hired Mitch Kupchak, would seem to have a better chance of being Colangelo's long-term replacement.

Ideally, Philadelphia would have a new GM in place by the draft, leaving a tight timetable to hire an outside candidate. The Milwaukee Bucks went through something similar last spring, when GM John Hammond left to take the same job with the Orlando Magic in late May. While the process was complicated by internal dissension among ownership, the Bucks didn't name a replacement (internal candidate Jon Horst) for three and a half weeks. A similar timetable would put the 76ers near the start of free agency.

Assuming Philadelphia looks outside the organization, former Cleveland Cavaliers GM David Griffin is a natural first choice. Griffin has experience navigating the path from rebuilding to contending, having done so in one offseason when the Cavaliers signed James in 2014, and his ability to connect with star players could help mend any fissures created by the Twitter criticism of Embiid and 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz.

When the Sixers hired Colangelo in 2016, they also interviewed Danny Ferry, who subsequently joined the New Orleans Pelicans as a special adviser. Hiring Ferry would bring questions about the scandal that caused him to step down as Atlanta Hawks GM after quoting from a scouting report that contained a culturally insensitive characterization about free agent Luol Deng.

Before even hiring Hinkie, Philadelphia attempted to promote Boston Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren. However, Zarren withdrew from consideration for the search and may be reluctant to leave his native Boston.

Another possibility would be bringing back Brandon Williams, who served as the 76ers' VP of basketball administration before joining the Sacramento Kings as assistant GM last summer. Williams was one of the few holdovers from Hinkie's staff who continued under Colangelo and would offer continuity from both eras as well as the perspective of a larger role in Sacramento.

Whoever ends up in charge must be prepared to get started immediately. Big decisions are coming for Philadelphia, and they're coming soon -- whether the Sixers' front office is ready or not.

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