On the Beat: Colangelo Sees Chance for "Big Things" in '16

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

When the 76ers welcomed Jerry Colangelo to the franchise on December 7th, the freshly-appointed Chairman of Basketball Operations emphasized the importance of the front office making a “collective effort,” and adopting a “collaborative” approach to identifying strategies that can best position the team for sustained, long-term success.  On Wednesday, a little more than a month after his hiring was first announced, Colangelo was back in Philadelphia, further pursuing that mission.  He began a two-day stay in town by attending the Sixers’ practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“It’s really getting more acquainted with all of the people and everything involving the organization,” Colangelo said about the purpose of his visit.  Later Wednesday, the four-time NBA Executive of the Year stopped by the Sixers’ business headquarters at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where he addressed additional employees.

Having joined the Sixers 21 games into the current campaign, Colangelo, who is based out of Phoenix, described a strong level of commitment to the latest assignment of his Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame career.  He and President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Sam Hinkie communicate on a regular basis, with Hinkie having already travelled to Arizona on several occasions.  Colangelo met with coaches and players when the Sixers faced the Suns at the outset of their recently-completed Western Conference road trip.  He then linked up with the club again in Los Angeles a few days later.

“I’m picking spots where I can be around the team, but I’m also on the phone every day, in terms of conversation on basketball business and Sixer business, so I don’t feel removed from it at all,” said Colangelo.  “Little by little, I’m feeling more and more comfortable.  My role is to make recommendations about what we could do better.”

Prior to his arrival in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Colangelo spent Tuesday evening in New York City, where he connected with Sixers co-managing owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer.

“As far as the plan, whatever people think the plan is, nothing is changing as far as a course,” Colangelo said Wednesday.  “The reality is, and I’ve come to understand this, that Sam has really done a great job of accumulating assets.  You look at the trades, you look at the draft picks accumulated, it’s all there in place.  And now it’s a matter of when do you pull the trigger on using all those assets, or any of those assets.”

Hinkie, within the past calendar year, oversaw transactions that could ultimately result in the Sixers holding as many as four first-round selections in the June 2016 NBA Draft.  In addition to their own pick, the Sixers could also receive the Los Angeles’ Lakers top pick, protected from slots one through three, as well as the first-round choices of the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The rights to Miami’s pick are protected from the first through 10th positions in the draft, while the Thunder’s selection is protected up to the 15th spot.  Colangelo’s vision of viability, however, is based on more than just draft possibilities.

“As I look at the board, I see some things that could happen sooner rather than later,” he said.  “If somebody gets healthy.  If the player from Europe [Dario Saric] comes in and is part of the rotation, and we will have a very high draft pick, and then using some of those assets, to do other things to consider, be it free agency, be it a trade, whatever.  This thing could flip a lot sooner than people understand.  So, I think this is not a situation where, when are we going to come out of this?  Or, when are we going to be able to compete?  I think that could be sooner rather than later.”

Colangelo’s belief that the Sixers have the potential to experience a swift reversal of fortunes was a theme that resurfaced throughout his near six-minute question and answer session with local members of the media.  In particular, he feels that the coming months could yield promise.

"‘16 is the year,” said Colangelo.  “It’s a big year, to look at all the assets and best utilize them.  What do we do here?  Do we take a couple picks and move up?  Do we make a trade?  Do you look at it from free agency, realistically, and see what you can do there?  It’s great to be in a position where you have the assets to use.  There’s a lot of teams in the league you can’t say that about.  They’re kind of locked in in terms of where they are.  There’s one way to go here, and that’s up. I’m very optimistic.”

As the Sixers continue to establish a foundation for the future, there are, of course, factors beyond their control.  Colangelo helped launch the Phoenix Suns in 1968.  The next year, they lost a coin-flip with the Milwaukee Bucks to decide which team would go first in the 1969 NBA Draft.  Consequently, it was Milwaukee that wound up with a 19-time All-Star, sky-hooking center going by the name Lew Alcindor.

“You’ve got to be a little bit lucky, too, in terms of all the things I’m talking about,” Colangelo noted.   “I use the expression, ‘the stars have to be aligned.’  And if we have a good alignment, it could happen in ‘16.  So we could have a turnaround in one year that would surprise people.  But the assets are in place to potentially make that happen.  There’s no guarantee, but the thing that you have to do is give people, I think, hope, that, listen, this isn’t like a five year, let’s look down the road and see where we are. No.  I don’t see that at all.  I see the opportunity here to get some big things done over the next year.”

Hinkie, who was the one on Wednesday that related the story of Colangelo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the 1969 draft, expressed a similar outlook.

“I think if you zoom out a little bit, the summary of what we’ve done is to plant seeds for a harvest, and it’s not out of the question that harvest might come in even this summer,” said Hinkie.  “Obviously, none of our picks from 2014 in the first round [Saric, Joel Embiid] have hit the floor yet, and that could change.  And only one of our two first-rounders in 2013 is still on the team, but there’s other opportunities for us there, and that’s outside of all the other what I call ‘smaller things.’  I think things could feel very different, very quickly with a different level of talent around our team.”

Colangelo will remain in the Philadelphia area until Friday.  

"I love it," he said of being with an NBA team again.  "To me, the sound of the bouncing ball, the squeaking shoes, the smell of the leather ball.  It’s all part of it.  It’s great to be back in it." 

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