It was an interesting exchange. On Sunday, Joshua Harris and the Sixers introduced Bryan Colangelo as the team's new president. It wasn't a particularly good showing for Harris, who spent most of his time trying to dodge an unyielding fusillade of questions. To Harris's great fortune, Colangelo was willing to step in front of his new boss and serve as a human shield. It wasn't so much a selfless act as an important one for the organization and the attendant optics. Colangelo gave a smart answer. Necessary, too.
The set-up was fantastic. Howard Eskin - who might have done actual cartwheels after Hinkie quit if he were capable of such acrobatics - did his Eskin thing and pressed Harris on whether he thought the last three years were "a success." It was a nod to Harris' (in)famous remarks about the Sixers' first season under Hinkie, in which they won 19 games, being "a huge success." Harris sidestepped the trap this time, while admitting it's been "a tough three years" and "a hard three years." He added it's not easy to build a winner before Eskin cut him off and pushed a little more about whether the owner considered the ordeal a success. Whatever you think of Eskin, he's great entertainment at a press conference.
That's when Colangelo rescued Harris from the mean media mob. The timing was excellent. The answer wasn't bad, either.
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"I do think it's been a success," Colangelo said. "And the reason I say that is, we're at a jumping off point now where the organization is poised to take a major leap forward because of what's transpired over these last few years with what I'll call a measured rebuilding process. When we move forward, you're going to be excited about the pieces that come to the table. Again, there's been a process involved. Everyone knows about it. Everyone talks about it. But it's led to the results and led to this platform that we can now move forward."
This is a tough and tricky time for the pro-Process people. Hinkie's advocates believed in him and his plan. There was a real attachment to him, maybe even more than to the team itself at times. Now he's gone. The lottery party people, the ones who know what RTRS stands for, reacted the way you'd expect. There was an immediate an understandable backlash to the front office shakeup. That's part of what made Colangelo's answer so deft. It seemed to be an honest appreciation for Hinkie's prep work, but it was also a masterful PR hat tip to his predecessor's acolytes. I understand he was your guy, and now your guy is out, but I like what your guy bequeathed.
"To Sam's credit, he went through a very difficult slog through that," Colangleo said. "Whether or not he's moving forward with it is irrelevant. The fact that he put the effort forth, he deserves credit for it."
As Colangelo admitted, the front office upheaval is "something that's not going to sit well with everybody." Shy of wearing a different shirt to the press conference or shouting out Liberty Ballers, it was all you could have expected on the fan service front.
It was a nice nod to everything that unfolded between 2013-2016 B.C. (Before Colangelos), but the only real way to win over the Hinkie holdouts will be to continue what he started. Here, again, Colangelo hit the right notes, whistling all the sweet songs Process fans wanted to hear about how the next step in the rebuild won't be a deviation from what Hinkie put in motion. Colangelo - who maybe wanted a different gig - called the Sixers "one of the best jobs in basketball" because of the draft picks and cap flexibility. They have quite a lot of both. The Sixers could have as many as four first-round picks in the upcoming draft. And while everyone in the NBA will have a lot more salary to spend with the cap set to jump, the Sixers are one of just four teams projected to have $50 million or more available.
Which doesn't mean that there aren't problems for Colangelo to solve. What will he do with the point guard position, a major point of contention for the anti-Process truthers? How will he handle the Jahlil Okafor/Nerlens Noel conundrum - let alone the Okafor/Noel/Joel Embiid tangle? Can he convince Dario Saric to opt out and come over, even though waiting another year would free Saric from negotiating on the rookie pay scale, which would put him in line for considerably more money as the cap escalates twice in the next two years? How will he integrate all the new players next season, and what sort of veterans will he put around them? And after all that, what will success next season even look like? Will it be defined by wins, and if so how many? Or will it be defined by player development, and if so to what extent? And will he be graded on a public relations/optics curve, where positive marks are awarded for polishing the Sixers' smudged image?
This was always going to be a critical offseason for the Sixers. As Hinkie noted in his 13-page farewell manifesto, the Sixers are set up better for the draft than they ever have been – better than any team ever has been, actually. They have roughly a 30 percent chance at landing the top pick, which are the best odds in league history. They have roughly a 50 percent chance at landing a top-two pick, which are the best odds in league history. And they have roughly a 50 percent chance at landing two top-five picks, which would be the best-ever yield on lottery night. That doesn't guarantee anything, of course, and as Hinkie always stipulated they'll need some luck, but everyone needs luck. And now, thanks to Hinkie, Colangelo needs less than the other 29 general managers to make lottery night and draft night big events for the franchise.
Some league sources wondered this week what Colangelo would do with all those upcoming picks and speculated that he might try to turn one or more of them into a young veteran via trade. And nearly everyone expects Colangelo to push hard for talent in free agency. The 2016 free agent class has some quality players at the top, but it gets thin quick. Colangelo called the NBA a "relationship" business. He was hired in part because he supposedly has good relationships with agents and players and other general managers. It will be especially interesting to see if Colangelo can leverage those relationships to land a player who otherwise might not have considered the Sixers or whether he'll have to overpay to get someone attractive to even notice them.
There are a lot of different directions this can go now. That was always true heading into this offseason, but now Colangelo will act as the organizational GPS instead of Hinkie. It will be fascinating to see what kind of course he plots.