Unterberger: A Bryan Colangelo Twittergate FAQ
What the hell is going on here?
Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and is now writing for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
Last night should've been an uncomplicatedly (and largely unmemorably) great night in Process history: Brett Brown finally got his contract extension! Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Sixers had tacked on an extra three years to Brown's current deal, which commits to him as the Sixers' shepherd until 2021-'22. It's huge validation for a coach who lost more than any other coach in NBA history through his first three years, and who helped turn the Sixers around to a top-five team in the league this season, as well as for those of us who'd long defended him against the many fans calling for his job every time Robert Covington and Dario Saric missed a couple shots in a row.
And of course, by the end of the night, a separate story had broken that overshadowed that news like the asteroid in Armageddon. As reported by The Ringer, and The Process' very own Ben Detrick, a series of seemingly linked low-follower Twitter accounts are alleged to be the joint property of one Bryan Colangelo, who uses them to air his personal grievances about Sixers players and management, occasionally divulging private team info or strategy in the process. Within minutes of the article posting, Sixers Twitter turned into The X Files at Mardi Gras, digging deeper and deeper into the mystery while simultaneously toasting the potential demise of a Process enemy who may have been far more villainous than we even thought.
A lot to unpack here, obviously, so let's take some (imagined) questions from the audience and try to figure out what's going on.
So how likely is it that these accounts are actually Colangelo? Well, let's start with the wider question of if it's either Colangelo or a close associate from within his circle, maybe even a relative. The likelihood of the accounts coming from totally outside of BC's camp would seem to be pretty low at this point: Even aside from the commonalities observed by Detrick and his anonymous tipster, the fact that Colangelo himself owned up to owning one of them, and that three of the accounts were reportedly shuttered when Detrick asked the Sixers about the other two, the confidential nature of some of the gripes (particularly about Jahlil Okafor around the 2017 trade deadline) seem too plugged in to come from someone totally outside the team's front office.
Godner himself acknowledged that many of the details from the tweets jibed with un-public info he'd previously heard off the record, and Woj, the NBA's omniscient narrator, even confirmed that whether or not it was Colangelo himself voicing those opinions, they matched pretty clearly with sentiments he'd expressed previously, inside and outside the organization. The idea that these seemingly connected accounts -- and Internet research, led by @OhWowHmm, has uncovered that several of them appear to have the same recovery phone number -- could come just from a passionate but unrelated Colangelo supporter (as if such an NBA fanboy existed in the first place) seems like a stretch.
Personally, I'm more likely to buy that it's someone with very close personal and/or professional ties to BC than the man himself. Although Kevin Durant has taught us there's no real ceiling on NBA Internet pettiness, at least when KD goes Dark Knighting through Twitter's gutters and dark alleyways, he isn't really risking anything more than personal humiliation if he gets caught. Woj also reported rival execs' disbelief that Colangelo could be responsible for the accounts, because it seems impossible he would be so reckless -- and as much as we might want to believe it, I mostly tend to agree. BC might just be a shirt collar, but he seems a relatively professional shirt collar. As aggrieved as he's been as the Sixers' GM the past two-plus years, I'm just not sure I can see him firing up the burners and throwing caution to the wind just so he can yell about Joel Embiid taking his shirt off at a Meek Mill concert.
The tweets appear to me to be coming more from a place of protectiveness, anyway: Someone who's heard Bryan rant about his professional frustrations, feels powerless to help him through one messy PR situation after another, and takes to the Internet to avenge his good name. A family member or close friend of the Colangelo clan, perhaps, or perhaps a low-level protege within the organization, or some other professional confidante with less direct ties to the team. (Jerry Colangelo would of course make for a hilarious reveal -- not impossible, perhaps, but how many 78 year olds even understand what a burner account is?) It seems plausible to me that Colangelo didn't know the person who owned the accounts was tweeting this stuff, but figured it out shortly after getting contacted by Detrick, and had them shut down the accounts immediately after.
We may not know for sure yet, but I have to imagine we will shortly: Now that this story is out, the collective brainpower of NBA Twitter will be on the case, and there's too much public info already available for the truth to remain forever hidden.
How bad for Bryan Colangelo is it if it turns out to be true? Pretty bad? If it's proven to be BC himself, I'd have to believe that's it for his time on the Sixers, and likely in the NBA at large: To share private team info and disparage current and former players via anonymous Twitter account just to feed his ego and misguided sense of moral righteousness would be just about the definition of unprofessionalism. There's no way Sixers ownership could trust him again, nor any of the players or staff. If in the next week or so, incontrovertible evidence comes out about Colangelo's association with these accounts, not even Papa Jerry would have much shot at saving him: Someone else would almost certainly be handling the No. 10 pick by draft night.
If it's merely an associate of Colangelo's... that might not be all that much better. Even if it's just someone caping up on BC's behalf, it's still someone that he clearly shared confidential franchise info with and failed to properly ensure that info wasn't further shared from there, which is nearly as irresponsible as publicly sharing the info himself. What's more, now that all these frustrations with Sixers players and staff, many of whom are still important members of the franchise, have been voiced, and the NBA's most connected scribes are confirming that they reflect Colangelo's own views, that should sour his internal relationships to a fairly untenable degree. (Not great for a guy who famously referred to NBA exec'ing as "a relationship business.")
If it's proven to legitimately have nothing to do with Colangelo personally, and all amounts to just a series of bad coincidences? Well, it's possible he could shake this off, but it feels close to impossible that he'll ever totally be rid of association with this story in some way, shape or form. In any event, it's about to a very long June for Young Bryan.
What's the low-key funniest part of this story? Plenty to choose from of course, from the Twitter defense of BC's choice of collars to the haranguing of current Raptors GM (and Colangelo replacement) Masai Ujiri, but if only for personal reasons, gotta go with this passage from Detrick's story:
The accounts claimed that Ben Simmons wouldn’t have come to Philadelphia if Colangelo hadn’t replaced Hinkie in the front office, accused Sixers bloggers of being biased Hinkie loyalists, and boasted that the critically panned December 2017 trade of Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas, and a second-round pick for Trevor Booker “sounds better and better.”
The idea that Simmons was a stroke of Colangelo genius at the No. 1 pick is a great start, and the description of the Okafor/Stauskas trade as "critically panned" is just [chef kiss]. But man, that trade sounding "better and better"? When exactly does the part where we traded two former top 10 picks and a free second-rounder for a guy who we dismissed from the team two months later, saving no cap space in the process, turn out to be a grower?
Who would be the best reveal as Detrick's anonymous tipster? Well, the most obvious and perhaps most correct answer would of course be Sam Hinkie, getting his long-plotted vengeance on the Colangelo regime from beyond the grave. I'd also enjoy a denouement of Rockets GM Daryl Morey -- who, along with Mavs owner Mark Cuban, was essentially cackling about the situation on Twitter last night -- turning out to be responsible, getting justice for his former assistant in Houston and perhaps settling some analytics-vs-relationships score of his own with the Colangelos.
But hey, let's get really wild here: What about Brett Brown, or someone from his camp? Could it really be a coincidence that the Ringer story went live just minutes after news of Brown's extension was released? How was our coach feeling about the tweets that implied he was keeping Fultz sidelined just to have an excuse for losing more? Is it possible that Brown's team used knowledge of the Twitter accounts as leverage in contract extension discussion, finally secured the deal they were looking for, and then burned Colangelo anyway just because you don't mess with Brett motherfucking Brown?
Probably not. But with a story this wild, nothing seems totally off the table.
Is this really the weirdest thing to ever happen to the Sixers? Some have suggested that within a couple hours of the story breaking, this is already the weirdest story the Sixers have ever been connected with. If it turns out conclusively to be BC himself behind every bit of this, I may have to reassess, but for now I'm still giving Markelle Fultz's rookie year the edge. C'mon friends, are we really ignoring that the fist half of the Sixers season was defined by a drama that essentially amounted to "Nobody can agree on why our No. 1 overall pick has forgotten how to shoot"? That it still hasn't totally been explained and resolved, and may never totally be? Sorry, but I firmly believe we'll see another exec get in trouble for (maybe) anonymously bitching about his job over social media well before we see another situation like Fultz.
Oh, and let's not forget about the Year of Bynum, either. The haircuts, the bowling, the salsa dancing, the neighborhood complaints, the general trolling -- and like the Fultz mess, that lasted an entire season. And of course, we're not even getting into Allen Iverson's own personal top 10. We're really gonna give this nonsense the WOAT crown before even hitting the 24-hour mark? Give this franchise a little credit for its long-term dysfunction, please.
Did Brett Brown get a three-year extension that he richly deserved? Yes. Yes he did. Let's not totally lose sight of this positive development amidst all the confusion and schadenfreude here.
Is this the biggest victory for The Process imaginable? Well, we'll have to wait to see exactly how the fallout shakes out from all this before Process Trusters take a long, leisurely victory lap. But if Colangelo and/or his family is revealed to be the all-time snake in the grass that this story seems to paint them as -- and if it's friggin' Detrick, Fresh Prince of the Alt-Process, who's wielding the brush -- that's definitely one for the TTP books, and until Hinkie himself grabs the mic at the Sixers' championship victory parade, it's probably the Process W to beat.
Is it worth the franchise embarrassment? This is maybe the toughest question for me to answer. There's a lot of snarking and a lot of gloating going around amongst the Process Faithful today, and understandably so: For a fanbase faction that cares about being right above essentially all else, this is about as right as it gets. But unfortunately, this is still the Philadelphia 76ers we're talking about, and these are still the men in charge of the franchise -- the ones, for the moment at least, still responsible for seeing this team through one of the most pivotal upcoming summers in team history.
Whether or not Colangelo is still around when draft season gives way to free agency, this controversy will be hanging over the franchise. If he is dismissed -- and it was announced via gravely serious press release this morning that the Sixers are launching an investigation into these allegations-- then we need to find someone new pretty straight away, who'll have to not only immediately make a series of difficult decisions going into the summer, but may also have to make some of the most critical sales pitches the franchise has ever had to deliver, to the free agent likes of LeBron James and Paul George. And if he's still around, even if the allegations are cleared, the franchise will have the thick whiff of general fuckery surrounding it -- and with LeBron in particular just coming from a franchise with such front-office malaise, he might not relish the opportunity of jumping into a new one that's just as discombobulated.
It's bad timing no matter how you look at it for Philly, and it may require drastic and quick action to even begin to course-correct. Woj reports that Colangelo has been personally calling the personnel called out in the reported tweets to insist on his lack of involvement, and while that certainly seems smarter than sitting back and hoping this all blows over, it feels more like the beginning than the end of the damage control needed here. The Sixers' investigation is underway, the draft is in three weeks, and free agency starts on July 1. So let's laugh all we can, while we can here -- because the last laugh from this entire mess might not end up being ours.