Sixer Off-season Compendium: Potential General Manager candidates

Now that Colangelo is out of Philly. The Sixers are in the search for a new GM. Is David Griffin the answer? Should the Sixers go with an up and coming GM?

The Sixers are now in the hunt for a new General Manager and President of Basketball Operations following the "resignation" of Bryan Colangelo in the Burner Gate aftermath.

In the meantime, Head Coach Brett Brown will be the interim GM, a role he openly admitted in last week's press conference that he did not want to have the role long-term. The choice makes a lot of sense, for the time being, considering that through all the tanking, GM changes, and weird and borderline insane stories that have developed in Sixer land, Brown has been the main constant withstanding it all. He is the perfect face to lead the Sixers temporarily as they head into the most important off-season in the franchise's history, even if they don't find a GM until later in the summer. 

If you can actually believe it, Josh Harris and the ownership group interviewed "other" candidates in the span of 3 days after Hinkie resigned on April 7th of 2016, and then three days later hired Bryan Colangelo, who was "head and shoulders above every other candidate" according to Harris. Whether or not this was obvious signs of nepotism --and it clearly was-- because Bryan's dad, Jerry, just so happened to be hired as the Special Advisor for the team in December of 2015, is now a moot point. But one lesson to take away from the last interview process is that this current GM search has to be thorough, calculating, and well researched. 

There are a lot of things that come with this job opening which might be the most attractive job opening in the NBA at least since the turn of the 2010 decade. Woj said on Sportscenter that even current general managers are talking with their agents to see if there is a way out of their current contracts to get this job. What comes with this job? Well.....

  • A team that just won 52 games and has two of the best age 24-and-under stars in the NBA in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons
  • A complement of role players in Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and TJ McConnell under valuable cheap contracts.
  • A top 10 lottery pick, with another possibly coming next year if the Kings pick becomes the first overall pick (gotta list all possibilities here no matter how slim the chance)
  • A good coach in Brett Brown
  • Can have the ability to sign a free agent to a maximum contract (35% of the salary cap) either this summer or in the 2019 Summer. 
  • Another former number 1 pick, Markelle Fultz --yes despite the weirdness that surrounded his rookie season-- will be looking to show why he was the consensus number 1 pick in the 2017 draft. 

As The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor put it in an article last week, Sam Hinkie came in as the starter, Colangelo came in as the relief pitcher --if that relief pitcher blew an 8 run lead and left you with a 2 run lead going into the 9th inning-- and now the Sixers need a closer. Someone who can oversee this franchise for the next decade-plus if possible. The Sixers would be doing a disservice to themselves if they didn't do their due diligence and found the right guy.

So who could the Sixers possibly look at? From the content that I've consumed and researching potential up and coming executives, I've compiled this list. 

Mike Zarren

Mike Zarren is the current Assistant General Manager of the Boston Celtics. He is a lifelong Celtics fan basically living out the dream of being one of the major reasons this team is succeding. He is in charge of salary cap stuff, analytics, and player evaluation, among other roles. He was reportedly offered the Sixers GM job in 2013 but turned it down, and in turn that led to the Sixers hiring Sam Hinkie. 

Justin Zanik

Zanik is the current Assistant General Manager for the Utah Jazz, he returned to the Jazz last summer after the Milwaukee Bucks opted to replace former GM John Hammond with Current GM Jon Horst. Zanik was expected by many to replace Hammond when he left to take the General Manager job with the Orlando Magic, but according to Woj, there was "contentious disagreement" amongst the ownership group, which led to the hiring of Horst.  

Troy Weaver

Weaver is the vice president of basketball operations with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was hired by Thunder GM Sam Presti in 2008, and was considered in the running for the Hawks GM job last year but that eventually was given to Travis Schlenk. 

Gersson Rosas

Rosas is the vice president of basketball operations for the Houston Rockets, which is obviously headed by one of the best General Managers in the NBA in Daryl Morey. Rosas has also been the General Manager of the Rockets' G-League affiliate and in 2013 was the General Manager of the Dallas Mavericks for a short period of time and returned to the Rockets afterward.

David Griffin

Griffin is considered by many to be the top candidate for the job. Griffin is best known for making trades and crafting a roster to fit around LeBron James since he was hired in 2014. Griffin was expected to take over a young team with a young coach in David Blatt but LeBron deciding to return to Clevland in 2014 changed everything, and Griffin built a team to win a championship in 2016 while making it to two other Finals appearances in 2015 and 2017.

Brian Wright

Wright is one of the younger candidates that could be looked at. He is 36 years old and has been considered a fast riser going all the back to his time with the Magic, and even became an assistant general manager with the Detriot Pistons in 2014. He is currently the assistant general manager for the San Antonio Spurs which is one of the best-run organizations in sports, not just the NBA. 

My opinion/verdict

My main problem was heading into free agency with a compromised general manager like Colangelo being the face of the organization. Brett Brown, who has been through everything that has gone on the last 5 years, is a very capable face for the franchise heading into this juncture.

It goes without mentioning it one more time, that the Sixers' brass really needs to take their time with this. Even if the search goes past the draft, Brett Brown can handle the draft night stuff. If it takes until just before free agency it gets a little dicey but even then, I'm not too concerned. I'm skeptical at how much stock free agents put into whether a general manager is in place or not when making their decision. I have no doubt it matters, but to the degree everyone is making it out to be seems a little overstated. 

It's why I have come to realize, after thinking about it, that Griffin would not be my top choice as the next general manager. In fact, he would be far fown my list. Everyone is pegging this guy as a no-brainer pick and I just don't see it, nor want it. 

Griffin was a fine general manager during his time with the Cavs, and as mentioned, his plans were probably shifted to a large degree because he did not expect LeBron James to return to the Cavs when he took over as the general manager in 2014. He had to make a roster to win now, and it worked. They won a championship. But even then, his transaction record is really spotty. Everyone also parrots the same thing about how Griffin has a relationship with LeBron and how crucial that factor will be when the Sixers go big game hunting in free agency to lure LeBron. I'm sure that relationship matters, but how much does it actually matter? 

LeBron is going to make a decision based on a lot of factors, I assume. None of us really know the factors going into his decision, but if his presser after game 4 of the NBA Finals was any indication, he wants to remain "in championship mode". That will require talent, good coaching and figuring out which conference to stay in, not to mention that he has already said his family will play a big factor in his decision.

I seriously doubt LeBron is going to care too much about whether the team that's recruiting him has a General Manager in place that he has had success in past. Especially if other suitors, like the Lakers, Rockets, or even the Spurs have executives he is not familiar with anyway. It didn't factor in his decision when he was a free agent in 2010 and 2014. Why would it matter now?

I do want to see Griffin get a clean slate somewhere else to prove that he can be a good GM in any situation but this isn't the team to do it nor the fit.  

Mike Zarren is easily my top candidate. He has worked closely with Danny Ainge who is arguably the best GM in basketball. He has had a huge hand in constructing the roster the Celtics have now and overseeing what has grown in Boston over the last 5 years. He is also open to analytics and basically trying out new things by trial and error. He seems primed to be the Celtics General Manager when Danny Ainge retires. The question is when does Ainge retire? This Celtics team is primed to be good for a long time and Ainge has a treasure trove of assets to play around with, I doubt Ainge wants to step down anytime soon.

Zarren did turn down the Sixers job in 2013, but at the time that job came with a different set of circumstances. As mentioned earlier, the job this time around has a lot more perks and everybody wants this job.

My rankings in terms of preference and who I think the Sixers should be gunning for are Zarren, Zanik, Wright, and Rosas in that order.

The Sixers have a young, up and coming core, and so it should be paired with a young, up and coming general manager who is respected by their peers (not to say that Griffin isn't, he very clearly is). I can tell you, as a 49er fans, pairing a young coach and General Manager with a young team is working out really well so far more than a year in.

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