There’s a chance this all works out perfectly for the Sixers. They could hire a head coach who extracts the most from Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and the team's supporting cast, make savvy front-office moves to help general manager Elton Brand, nail the NBA draft on Nov. 18 and strike all the right notes in roster reconstruction through free agency and trades.
It’s hard to trust the process at the moment, though.
Over a month ago, Brand spoke about recognizing the need for changes and noted “the collaboration days didn’t work too well.” As Brand and the Sixers continue to search for Brett Brown’s replacement, the organization has not announced any changes to front-office personnel.
With so many items to address this offseason, the priorities seem jumbled. There are a lot of moving pieces, no doubt, but having the same front office intact at this stage is far from ideal. While the notion of a “new voice” is one of the classic, cliched reasons for hiring a new coach, surely it would be valuable to have new voices present in the front office for pivotal decisions.
The focus of the front office’s search, according to PhillyVoice’s Kyle Neubeck, is hiring underneath Brand. A team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia last week that Brand is leading the coaching and front office efforts.
The apparent faith in Brand isn’t difficult to figure out. He’s evidently well-liked by managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer, and he portrayed some of his mistakes over the past two years as errors attributable to the collaborative setup and his inexperience as an executive.
“I’d say it grew,” Brand said on Aug. 25 of how much control he possessed. “I was a rookie thrust into the position to lead a team with championship aspirations that the fan base sacrificed and struggled for for some years. My understanding of the game grew and how to manage and how to lead. I’ll admit I didn’t know a lot, but now, I do know a lot more and I’ve been through almost every situation there is, so I’m looking forward to leading this offseason and figuring out how to get us back on the right path.”
Regardless of the somewhat murky details regarding who has held power (and how much) in the front office with Brand, executive vice president of basketball operations Alex Rucker and assistant general manager Ned Cohen, the Sixers are in a worse position now than when Brand assumed the job. They just finished sixth in the Eastern Conference and were swept out of the playoffs, albeit without one of their All-Stars.
The team is hamstrung by expensive, long-term contracts given to Al Horford and Tobias Harris and would be wise to avoid a blend of desperation and fixation on certain trade targets in an attempt to swiftly rectify the situation.
In July of 2018, Josh Harris said the following to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Amy Fadool about his search for a GM to replace Bryan Colangelo:
"It’s very consensus-oriented, there’s a lot of people in the dialogue, and we want to make sure we find the right fit for that,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy. My guess is it’s going to take a while."
That comment is still quite relevant, of course, in tracing how the Sixers reached this point. Harris ultimately hired Brand and retained Rucker, Cohen and other members of Colangelo's regime.
So, here we sit two years later, and while neither of the Sixers' searches is yet anywhere near as long as the one that settled on Brand — Colangelo left in June and Brown served as interim GM until Brand was hired in September — it’s true again that these important decisions aren’t easy and haven’t been made rapidly.
Fortunes can fluctuate in the NBA, and perhaps the Sixers are due for an excellent offseason after last year’s missteps. The team’s approach, though, is certainly not that of an organization with a clear, well-worn route to success.
“It’ll make sense soon,” Brand said after last year’s draft in explaining the team’s decision to trade away second-round picks.
Maybe that sentiment will ring true and everything will eventually click. It sounds a bit dubious right now.