clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NBA owners pushed Adam Silver to meddle with the 76ers. That's a problem.

Other NBA owners reportedly convinced Adam Silver to facilitate the 76ers' hiring of Jerry Colangelo. This is a major conflict of interest, but is sadly par for the course in the league.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It is a well-known fact that the No. 1 pastime of NBA franchise owners is meddling. Ask any general manager or coach.

Now we have franchisees meddling in other teams' affairs. ESPN's Brian Windhorst reports that NBA franchise owners lobbied the league office to do something about the wonderfully tanktastic Philadelphia 76ers. That effort led to Adam Silver facilitating a connection between Sixers boss Josh Harris -- who has heretofore expressed complete confidence in Sam Hinkie's unique process -- and basketball lifer Jerry Colangelo, himself a former franchisee. (The NBA denies the owners' complaints caused any changes with the 76ers' front office.)

Why were other team owners mad about the Sixers? Well, probably the same reason everyone else outside of The Process Bubble is mad about the Sixers: This is a pretty egregious way to compete in the context of high-stakes professional sports.

But the team owners have a cover story, too. They reportedly argued that the Sixers' strategy to stink is sucking revenue out of the league. From our man Windhorst:

Owners routinely complained about the economic drag the 76ers were inflicting on the league as the revenues of one of the largest-market teams -- a franchise expected to contribute more robustly to league revenue-sharing -- sagged. For many teams, games featuring the starless and woeful 76ers as the visiting team have been the lowest-attended of the season, sources said.

For what it's worth, the Sixers have finished no worse than No. 20 in road attendance percentage during The Process, and are middle of the pack this season. That's not a perfect measure of draw -- season ticket holders are surely more likely to skip the Sixers over any other team, and that robs the home squad of parking and concessions income -- but it's something. The revenue-sharing bit is pretty funny considering a wide swath of the league fought tooth and nail against more robust revenue sharing in the first place. The teams that fought in favor of revenue sharing are largely complicit in The Process, having voted down draft lottery reforms that would have short-circuited Hinkie's grand plan.

This is the core problem: franchise owners had a chance to fix this problem the right way by changing policies, and they did not. Had the Board of Governors voted to even out the lottery odds in time for the 2015 or 2016 NBA Draft, the Sixers' incentive to be the worst would have been markedly reduced. That would possibly have led to the team spending some of its immense cap space on actual productive NBA players instead of dead weight. (The contracts of JaVale McGee and Gerald Wallace are on Philadelphia's books for $21 million of cap space even if the players are not. The entire active roster is earning $34 million combined. The actual salary cap threshold is $70 million.)

Why didn't NBA team owners vote to change the rules to prevent situations like this, situations in which it's in a team's best interest to eat the losses (on-court and on the books) for three years and rack up high draft picks? Because they were afraid they might need to do the same thing when they were down!

Brilliantly, the team owners have gotten exactly what they wanted. The option to tank shamelessly is still legal and available, but the Sixers are going to pull out of the gambit early. They have finally defeated Sam Hinkie by convincing the boss (Silver) to convince Hinkie's boss (Harris) to give Hinkie a new boss (Colangelo) who is not going to be pleased with more losing.

* * *

Here's a slight tangent. Some have argued in the immediate aftermath of the Colangelo signing that this is a PR stunt and Hinkie's Process still rules over Philly.

Here's Windhorst: "Despite Colangelo's affirming Hinkie will retain final say on personnel matters and Harris' saying this move was not a deviation from their plan, those who know Colangelo believe he will have major influence on significant decisions going forward."

Here's USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt, who was the first to report that Silver was involved: "Don't mistake this as a PR move or a consultation role. The 76ers hired Colangelo to rebuild the team faster than Hinkie."

Here's Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski: "Ownership short-circuited Hinkie's tanking process on Monday, inserting Colangelo, 76, as the special adviser to the managing general partner and chairman of basketball operations." Woj used the word "usurping" elsewhere.

This is not a PR stunt, y'all.

* * *

How this unfolded is reminiscent of another time NBA team owners agreed en masse to a problematic policy only to express outrage once it was carried out to its logical conclusion: The Chris Paul trade debacle. The Board of Governors unanimously approved the purchase of the New Orleans Hornets by the NBA, and thus, commissioner David Stern would serve as the de facto owner of the franchise.

CP3 requested a trade, the Hornets found a match with the then-dominant Lakers and the rest of the NBA expressed immediate and vociferous outrage. So Stern, as the de facto owner of the team but actual employee of the Board of Governors, rescinded his front office's agreement and traded CP3 to the Clippers. Those meddling NBA owners could have put systems in place to ensure the Hornets couldn't make major deals without some sort of firewall in place or without Board of Governors approval. (Which would have been insane, but that's basically what happened.) Instead, they went along with the status quo until it mattered enough to complain, and then they complained and got their way.

Silver caved to outside pressure and then guided the Sixers off-course instead of telling the whisperers in his ear to fix the damn policy that put the Sixers on this course. The league office has seemed rejuvenated when it comes to the health of the game since Silver took over, but the Sixers debacle shows that meddling among the team owners is still how business is done in the NBA.

It's not a good look.

* * *

SB Nation presents: Nets owner puts team through bizarre workout