image

Josh Harris, Bryan Colangelo and the Sixers’ new (bad) look

Bryan Colangelo may be a good fit for the Sixers. Colangelo may be a good basketball man from a great basketball family who can lead Philly’s once-proud franchise into this next era with swift success. The younger Colangelo probably deserves a benefit of the doubt and, like Sam Hinkie before him, should get the support any new team executive in charge of reshaping a franchise deserves. Our basketball future is in his hands, now officially, so let’s embrace that and, in turn, him.

His boss, however, doesn’t deserve this clean-slate approach. Fans should be doubting Josh Harris and the Sixers ownership group right about now. Harris has done far more wrong than he has right in his time as a professional sports owner in Philly, and Colangelo’s introductory press conference on Sunday did nothing to change that perception.

Optics is an overused term in our industry, but the optics of this press conference were a disaster for Harris. If he cares about rejuvenating the fan base that dwindled during the Hinkie era, or placating those who stuck around and bought into the Process, this was not the way to do it.

Harris started Colangelo’s introductory presser by reading a prepared statement with all the passion and vigor of a grade schooler on stage at an assembly on the importance of recycling. Those heart-felt words included this about outgoing GM Sam Hinkie:

“I want to personally thank Sam Hinkie for his contributions over the last three years and say that, without question, he has positioned us well for the future with a roster of young and developing talent, cap space and a significant amount of draft picks. We are truly thankful for what he has done, and I’m sorry he is leaving.”

Harris then flipped to the second page of his speech, obviously written by someone else and handed to him as he walked into the room, while Colangelo literally pointed to a member of the audience, smiled and fist pumped.

Yes, they are really sorry Hinkie is leaving. Terribly sorry.

In his defense, Colangelo wasn’t listening to whatever nonsense Harris was spewing, because he already knew it was going to be utter bullshit. It was just the timing of it all that looked so horrible.

The optics.

And yet, the timing of all of this looks horrible. Harris all but admitted the had Colangelo pegged for this job since January. He repeated ad nauseum that he and Hinkie had agreed to bring in a “face” of the team so the analytics guru could be a stat hermit without deal with the public backlash. Harris admitted, though, that they “couldn’t decide” on who that person should be. When it was Colangelo, Hinkie was out.

Hinkie didn’t want his new boss to be the son of his…new boss. Jerry Colangelo was forced upon the franchise, and while Harris was ecstatic the NBA all but made the elder Colangelo take the job with the Sixers, it allowed him to open the door for Bryan’s hire.

But not if you ask Harris.

When CSN Philly’s John Gonzalez pressed him on why he would have been surprised that Hinkie left the team after it was clear Colangelo was coming in to, ahem, “collaborate”, Harris bungled through two attempts at an answer, finally settling ‘you’ll have to ask Sam’ before Colangelo swooped in, again, to try to save the situation by explaining that he thought all along that Hinkie was going to be with the team when he came on board.

“I understand the optics of it,” Harris interjected. “But the reality is, Bryan was head and shoulders above every other candidate. So, the reality is, the optics were something we were now managing with you all, but the reality is, you know, I went with Bryan because he was the best guy for the job.”

The reality is, Harris thinks people will believe him when he says “the reality is.” And the reality is, the optics are horrible, not for the media, but for his paying customers.

When Harris says things like, “look, it’s been a tough three years, but I think…we’ve been very honest with the city and the fans and fans have been very patient with us,” that’s true with regard to the process of rebuilding, generously. But when he tells the media (and the fans) that he has faith in the way Hinkie has done things, then brings in Jerry Colangelo (whose team building methods are anything but highly analytic) that hard-fought fan patience runs thin. That, honesty… seems patently dishonest.

Harris may be telling the truth, or at least a version of events he genuinely believes, but it’s impossible to believe him when the optics are this bad.

This bad: Harris went out of his way to make sure we knew that Colangelo wasn’t hired because of his father—nepotism is the worst optic—even though everyone on the planet knows he was. For no reason other than he lost his cool, Harris offered this, um, defense of the hiring process.

“And Jerry, truthfully, to be fair to Bryan and to be fair to himself and to be fair to us, recused himself from the entire process.”

That’s where I cut out. There’s no sense in listening to an owner if he’s just going to lie. To suggest that Jerry Colangelo recused himself is one thing (and given what he did to undercut Hinkie’s authority when he was hired, plus his history of hiring his son, the recusal shouldn’t mean much of anything) but how would such a recusal be fair to ANYONE involved in this process?

Jerry Colangelo was brought in as a consultant with one job in mind, so how is recusing himself from the process of hiring an executive to run the franchise in the Sixers’ best interest?

If someone is incapable of giving a fair assessment of the candidates for the job he was brought in to help fill, why was he brought in? And if Jerry’s opinion on Bryan can’t be impartial (how could it be) why would that be unfair to his son? The only thing that could hurt Bryan was if his father stepped aside and refused to give his opinion on a man who has worked for him in the past and, you know, shares his DNA.

Really, the only person Colangelo was being fair to was himself, if only to avoid being accused of getting his son another job if he fails. Hell, even if he doesn’t.

So if Harris cares about optics—or at least he cares about us caring about the optics—the optics for this are horrible. They’re just horrible, as they have been the entire time he’s been in charge of the Sixers. They will only get better if he sells the team, or at the very least, completely stops talking.

That’s where Colangelo can help the most. Colangelo is everything Hinkie is not. He’s an excellent communicator. Witness how he commanded that press conference, several times cutting in to save Harris from a bad answer. While his answers aren’t necessarily what Sixers fans want to hear, the guy knows how to look when delivering them, for sure.

And because the optics matter so much, someone—the other owners, Colangelo himself, Brett Brown, someone—needs to tell Harris to stop talking, and certainly to stop lying, and let Colangelo do what Hinkie never felt comfortable doing. The Sixers need a new face, an if Colangelo can give them that, it’s a step in the right direction. We really have no idea if Bryan will be a success in Philly, as his hits are as big as his misses. We have no clue if Jerry’s involvement in this process led to the end of the Process and if that will lead to progress. But at least with Colangelo doing the talking, the optics are better than anything Harris has been saying.

Fist pumps notwithstanding.

×