On the Beat: Colangelo Upbeat about Roster, Brown, & Sixers' Plan
Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry Colangelo has been with the 76ers nearly a month, and since his term as Chairman of Basketball Operations formally began on December 7th, the organization has steadily built momentum. Collaborating with President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Sam Hinkie, Colangelo has overseen several significant changes, such as bringing innovative NBA Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni to Brett Brown’s staff, and reacquiring spunky point guard Ish Smith. Most recently, another respected veteran, Elton Brand, was added to the roster to offer the young Sixers with more guidance.
What’s been the result of these moves? First and foremost, the Sixers, before even accounting for final scores, have played like a more spirited, rejuvenated club the past two weeks. On top of that, they’ve won three of their previous six games, following a 109-99 triumph over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday.
During portions of the Sixers’ recent five-game Western Conference road trip, Colangelo accompanied the team, doing so in Phoenix, his town of residence, and also in Los Angeles, where the Sixers had a back-to-back set versus the Lakers and Clippers. When the Sixers faced the Lakers on January 1st, Colangelo spoke with Sixers Radio Network broadcaster Tom McGinnis about the progress he’s observed in the group.
“It’s exciting to see a bunch of young guys enjoying playing again,” Colangelo, a four-time NBA Executive of the Year award recipient, told McGinnis. “It’s also very amazing, just bringing in Ish to put something into the backcourt in terms of distributing the ball and raising everyone’s expectations a little bit, it’s made a big difference for sure.”
Smith’s impact has been difficult to ignore. Aside from Smith contributing directly to wins, the offense has experienced a substantial spike with him manning the point guard spot. The Sixers are generating nearly 101 points per game since Smith’s arrival, almost 10 points higher than their average before his return. Additionally, the Sixers’ pace rate (possessions per 48 minutes) has jumped from 99.5 to 101.8. Furthermore, the squad’s turnover average has been trimmed by about 2.5 per game.
Colangelo said, “I think whenever you have a point guard that can break down a defense, and be a real distributor when required, and his scoring seems to have gotten better from what I remember of him in the past. So, collectively, he’s made great contributions as we move along on this journey.”
So far, part of Colangelo’s mission, it appears, has been to use his league-wide connections to bring to the Sixers a diverse collection of seasoned voices, whether within the front office, on the coaching staff, or the actual roster. A former guard at Kansas and Illinois before he broke into sports management with the Chicago Bulls in 1968, Colangelo has taken a proactive approach to becoming more familiar with the Sixers. He met with several players in Phoenix and Los Angeles. One of them was Joel Embiid, who travelled to California to continue rehabbing his right foot.
Colangelo talked to Embiid about their shared connection to the Jayhawks, and Colangelo’s first collegiate season in Lawrence alongside Wilt Chamberlain.
“He didn’t know that but I did share that story about being there with Wilt for a semester, and lockering next to him,” said Colangelo. “Wilt Chamberlain, of course, is a legendary in Philadelphia, let alone Kansas. We had a chance to visit, and I’m trying to get to spend a little time with each player so there’s a relationship that we can share, and I’m pretty excited about him. If we can get him healthy, we’re going to have something very special.”
Brett Brown felt that Colangelo provided a positive presence on the trip.
“You’re just always talking about big-picture directions, how you hope to form the team,” Brown explained. “You’re always grounded by the cultural values that are most important to me, and to the program of how you want to design the whole program. We start from ground zero. It was the exciting part about accepting this job. Where else in life do you get a chance to put your thumbprint on something as special as an NBA program? And so you treat that with a tremendous amount of responsibility. And people like Mr. Colangelo, with his experience, four decades in the sport, you get him in the program, how can you not be excited to say, ‘What do you think?’ And, ‘What would you do?’ And it just adds to all the layers of trying to build something special in the city of Philadelphia.”
In his interview with McGinnis, Colangelo himself was bullish on Brown.
“I love his enthusiasm,” said Colangelo. “I love his confidence. He’s as hard a worker as you’re going to find. And he keeps everything in perspective in terms of where the team is now, and what the goals and objectives are long-term. I don’t think the club could be lead by anyone better than Brett Brown right now.”
As the Sixers near the midway point of the current campaign, Colangelo sounded as if his objective is to expand upon the foundation that Hinkie and the basketball operations department have established.
“People have asked, ‘Well, what about the plan?’ Are we going to stay on the plan?,” Colangelo said. “Nobody said the plan is going away. The point is, by bringing in people like myself, who have had experience in basketball for a long time, you can get a different perspective, a different point of view. What I keep saying is, you tweak or you need to be tweaking. You can stay on plan.”
“We just want to take it game-by-game, see how we’re doing, take inventory say, the next time, at the All-Star break, to see what’s been accomplished between January 1 and the All-Star break. We’ll have a better feel then.”
“As I see the future of this team and franchise, this thing could flip reasonably soon, if the stars get aligned, as people get healthy. We have a high draft pick. The young players continue to develop, and we’ve got some good young players now on this team. Very athletic, long, they get up and down the court, and I’ve seen that in the last couple of games, and that’s exciting.”