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76ers part ways with president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo after, well, you know

Philadelphia is burn(er)ing.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers-Press Conference James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers have parted ways with president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo. The veteran executive’s resignation was first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Head coach Brett Brown will fill Colangelo’s role as de facto general manager until the team can hire a proper replacement. 76ers managing partner Josh Harris anticipates a full-time hire will be brought on board by the end of June, which means Brown may ultimately be culpable for handling the team’s picks at the 2018 NBA Draft.

A post-resignation press conference question about whether the franchise could turn to former GM Sam Hinkie in its search failed to receive a clear yes or no from the team’s executives.

The move comes after a story by The Ringer’s Ben Detrick exposed a handful of Twitter accounts allegedly tied to Colangelo that leaked sensitive team information and hurled criticism at Sixers players. His wife, Barbara Bottini, has since been determined to have been behind the tweets. Colangelo has repeatedly denied any involvement with any of the accounts.

Colangelo came to Philadelphia to streamline Sam Hinkie’s process and wound up leaving behind a mess of his own. The Twitter accounts reportedly linked to the longtime executive cast often-misspelled barbs at 76ers players like Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor — the latter two since traded by Colangelo. That cast a strain on the relationship between players and the 76ers’ front office, raised questions about Colangelo’s handling of confidential information, and forced the team to conduct its own internal investigation on the matter, leading to Thursday’s ouster.

76ers’ ownership met Tuesday night and even considered retaining Colangelo while pushing head coach Brett Brown and new lead assistant Monty Williams as the faces of their free agent effort, according to Wojnarowski. In the end, though, they determined the relationship between the team and its lead executive was too fraught to continue.

It’s a sour end to the 76ers’ most successful season in more than a decade since 2001. But the scandal broken by Detrick cast a dark cloud over the franchise that could only by cleared up with the veteran executive’s removal.

How did the 76ers and Colangelo get here?

Colangelo came to Philadelphia with an established pedigree as a team builder. He’d served as general manager of both the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors in the 2000s, winning the league’s 2005 and 2007 Executive of the Year awards after shaping those teams into postseason contenders.

That kind of resume was just what owner Joshua Harris (and arguably the NBA itself) wanted to re-establish the Sixers after a three-year rebuild under former general manager Sam Hinkie. Commonly referred to as “the process,” Hinkie sold out his team’s 2013-14, 14-15, and 15-16 seasons in order to amass draft picks and future assets. That brought young players like Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric to town, but it also led to some borderline unwatchable games at the Wells Fargo Center. That eventually created the pressure that forced Hinkie’s resignation in 2016.

On the league’s recommendation, Philadelphia hired Jerry Colangelo as the team’s chairman of basketball operations and then added his son Bryan weeks later to serve as the team’s general manager, making him Hinkie’s superior until Hinkie’s 13-page resignation letter later that season.

The younger Colangelo didn’t have to do much to build off Hinkie’s foundation. He drafted Simmons with the No. 1 overall pick Hinkie left behind, then jettisoned Noel and Okafor in limited-return trades.

His biggest — and until May 29, most controversial — move came before the 2017 NBA Draft. Colangelo traded up to Boston’s top spot in the draft to snag University of Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, giving up his team’s No. 3 overall pick and a future first-rounder from the Sacramento Kings in the process.

That trade came back to bite the franchise in 2017-18: while Fultz played just 14 games this season, Jayson Tatum, the player the Celtics selected at No. 3, developed into a young star, scoring nearly 24 points per game as Boston knocked Philadelphia out of the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

How did Twitter get Bryan Colangelo fired?

The basic gist of the story is this: Colangelo or someone closely related to him — his wife, Bottini, was reportedly the culprit and even performed a factory reset of her phone to eliminate any additional evidence — had been using up to five different Twitter accounts to anonymously air their grievances with the team. The accounts criticize former Sixers big men Noel and Okafor, and a few of the tweets included in the report even scrutinized all-star center Embiid.

Other times, Embiid was described as “a bit lazy,” “selfish,” and “acting like a tool,” and accused of partying too much. “Ben is going to be better than Joel@snd less distracted by models and social media,” Still Balling wrote in October 2017, in response to Sixers Nation.

But some of those Tweets went beyond just typical unaccountable trolling and delved into sensitive medical information. One account prodded at the idea that an Okafor trade had been scuttled thanks to the young center’s failed physical. That information hadn’t been reported elsewhere.

When Okafor rejoined the Sixers in Boston on Feb. 15, Colangelo was criticized for creating an embarrassing situation for the second-year center. From that point onward, Eric jr (and other accounts) consistently claimed, dozens of times, that a deadline deal involving Okafor was derailed by a failed physical. A source tangential to the prospective trade told me that he wasn’t sure why the transaction never went through, but necessary paperwork had been drawn up and “the expectation was that the trade would be completed.”

That would be a serious breach, and it threw Colangelo into the fire. The longtime NBA executive was quick to deny Detrick’s reports — to both the press and to Embiid himself.

Despite those denials, the story was too big — and too bizarre — to dismiss. On Friday, ESPN reported Colangelo was cooked even if the ongoing team investigation revealed it wasn’t the executive running those accounts but someone close to him:

So far, Philadelphia ownership has shown little, if any, inclination to separate Colangelo’s culpability in the matter should a family member or close associate be proven responsible for the postings, league sources said.

While many of Colangelo’s staff with the Sixers are bracing for his dismissal, some are still holding on to hope that he can somehow survive this firestorm with this job, sources say.

With a pivotal offseason coming and enough salary cap space to land at least one superstar, keeping Colangelo was no longer an option. Instead of overseeing one of the league’s most exciting young cores, he’ll have to pack up his alleged burner accounts and leave Philadelphia behind.

The 76ers are now in the market for their third general manager in fewer than three years, but with players like Embiid, Simmons, Saric, Covington, and Fultz in tow, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find qualified candidates to replace Colangelo.