The Philadelphia 76ers — one of the most promising franchises in the entire NBA — have decided to promote Elton Brand to the team’s general manager position, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Brand had joined the Sixers front office a little over two years ago straight from the court, for a time running the G League team and most recently serving as the vice president of basketball operations.
Now he runs the show for a 51-win team with championship aspirations. It’s a whole new world for him and the Sixers.
Woj reports that the Sixers also gave a promotion to Alex Rucker, a former Raptors analytics genius who will now be the executive vice president of basketball operations. Ned Cohen, considered a rising star throughout the league, remains the assistant general manager. Marc Eversley, once considered with Cohen as a top internal candidate for the GM spot, remains senior vice president of player personnel.
Having trouble making sense of those titles and the organizational chart? Join the club.
What’s clear is that Brand was chosen to be the general manager over Cohen and Eversley, and that Rucker is under Brand, and that coach Brett Brown — serving as the interim general manager since Bryan Colangelo’s family’s Twitter fingers blew up his career — will remain involved in the front office. It’s kind of a mess.
But it’s also a mess that upsets the current stasis of the apple cart the least. One of the risks the Sixers ran by recruiting outside the franchise for a Colangelo replacement was bringing in someone without strong relationships with and trust of the existing front office personalities. To bring in a new voice risked destroying what Philadelphia had created, which is a collaborative, talented decision-making body. By promoting internally, you avoid that.
What you risk is seeding hurt feelings as the former NBA star leapfrogs candidates who were (in some fashion) in superior positions to Brand before this decision. We know rather little about these executives’ personalities and personal relationships with each other. Human nature suggests, however, that ambitious people like to get promoted into greater positions of power. Brand jumped over at least Cohen and Eversley here.
The other risk is Brand’s lack of direct experience. He was playing basketball two and a half years ago. He was running a G League team a year ago. Now he’s the presumptive voice of power on Joel Embiid’s workload, Markelle Fultz’s timeline, and any big trade that comes along leveraging Philadelphia’s prime future assets for a quick infusion of star talent.
Brand is smart and clearly inspires trust in those that employ him. But this is a heady rise for anyone.
Put it all together and Brand is both safe and a big risk. We have no idea how this will go.
You can flip it all upside down again by noting, of course, that anything would have been a risk. The Sixers’ last general manager immolated himself in spectacular fashion in the run-up to the biggest offseason of the past decade for the franchise. He, Colangelo, did this two years after the previous GM, Sam Hinkie, was essentially pushed out of power with some amount of pressure from the league office because his tanking plot (signed off by ownership!) was too successful and controversial.
The Sixers’ management situation has been incredibly weird for years now. There was no easy win to get it back on track once elite executives the Sixers chased declined to climb aboard. Elevating Brand is a risk, but then anything would have been a risk.
As long as Brand, Eversley, Brown, Cohen, and Rucker can work together amiably, and as long as Brand learns quickly and gains comfort as a decision-maker, and as long as ownership keeps its nose out of day-to-day operations, this could work out. There is good evidence of collaborative front offices with non-traditional lead actors working well. Consider the Warriors, who put Bob Myers — a former agent — in charge but had lots of voices involved in decision-making.
Mimicking the Warriors is a tricky business because of their unique advantages (especially one named Stephen Curry), but there is a precedent. There is also precedent for a tremendous flame-out. The future will likely play out somewhere in between.
And hey, if there is a tremendous front office flame-out, the Sixers and their fandom are well-experienced in handling them.