Unterberger: What's Taking Them So Long? Ranking The Possible Explanations
Ok, what’s actually happening 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.
When the Sixers announced a week ago that they'd be launching a probe into whether or not Bryan Colangelo (and/or his wife) was involved in the bizarre social media controversy come to be known as Woodergate, I don't think any of us expected that we'd still be here, a week later, still without resolution. Colangelo's dismissal seemed a matter of time -- and maybe it still is -- but as that time stretches on longer and longer, the conclusion seems less and less predetermined, and we can't do much but worry about what the Sixers' feet-dragging might ultimately mean.
This all may seem beyond explanation at this point, but I don't think we're totally out of the realm of reason yet. Far as I can tell, there's still a half-dozen possible reasons the Sixers could be entering Day 9 of Colangelo deliberation without a clear end in sight. Here they are, in increasing order of likelihood.
Very Unlikely: They're ignoring the problem completely at this point and hoping it just blows over.
Nah. Not even the Sixers could have that miscalibrated a read on the local and national mood at the moment. This was a big enough story that it basically overshadowed the beginning of the NBA finals, and now that the Warriors are up 3-0, may very well loom large over the end, too. Even if this wasn't the Sixers, whose fans are on average still mad about a variety of real and perceived slights dating back to at least the Shawn Bradley era, this is too big an NBA-wide story at the moment for anyone to expect that rug-sweeping is a possibility.
There will eventually be some degree comment offered about the Sixers' plan of action here. It may come late, be unsatisfying and ultimately reflect poorly on everyone, but it'll come. That much I feel decently confident about.
Relatively Unlikely: They don't have the facts straight yet and are still investigating the situation.
At the risk of echoing the general sentiments of NBA media too closely here, do the Sixers really need over a week to solve a case that Sixers Twitter essentially worked out in 24 hours? Yes, there are some finer points to be hammered out -- if it was indeed Colangelo's wife with the burner accounts, how much the GM knew, when he knew it, what if anything he did about it when he knew, etc. -- but this isn't exactly the Inside Man crew the Sixers' investigative team is trying to work over here. A couple days with these two should be more than enough to figure out as much as there is to figure out, and given that BC is now apparently back onto draft workouts, clearly they're not grilling him underneath a swinging lightbulb while the Paul/Weiss firm observes from behind a two-way mirror.
(And as long as we're talking about consensus NBA Twitter sentiments, here's one I can't get with: That it doesn't matter if or how much Colangelo knew about his wife's involvement, assuming it indeed was her. Of course it matters. That's not to say that if he didn't know that he should be absolved from all responsibility in the situation by any means, but it's obviously much worse if he knew of his wife's burner proclivities and didn't stop her, or lied initially about not knowing the source of the tweets, or otherwise went out of the way to help her cover her tracks. Those are important factual distinctions to be made, and if getting to the bottom of them tacked an extra day onto the investigation, that makes sense to me. But a week-plus is stretching credibility.)
Moderately Unlikely: They've decided to retain Colangelo and are just trying to figure out the best way to break the news.
Not impossible, but I'd still bet against it.. Naive perhaps, but I continue to believe we're past the point of no return here, and I don't see how the Sixers spin this in any way that saves enough face for Colangelo without reflecting back poorly on the entire organization. Even if they isolate the wife and have BC deny the rest, he still stays a punchline in local and national media, among free agents, and in his own locker room; enough credible reports from the NBA's most plugged-in mouthpieces have already said as much that it'd be pretty hard for them to deny. Whether or not Colangelo strictly *deserves* to be fired for his actions or lack thereof at this point seems somewhat moot; he's simply a liability to the team at this point if he stays.
Could the Sixers still see all that and determine they're better off holding onto their incumbent GM? Maybe; perhaps the team is scared enough at the prospect of entering the draft and free agency without an experienced front-office general leading the charge -- and perhaps other league retribution for ousting a Colangelo -- that they're at least willing to humor the possibility. But as many have already pointed out, for an organization that has demonstrated countless times over the years that public perception is still as primal a motivational force for them as winning to so completely ignore the PR side of this equation would be out of character, to say the least.
Marginally Likely: They're still figuring out a plan of succession.
I don't know important it is for the Sixers not to go a single day without a clear front-office head, exactly, but I could buy that the answer for Josh Harris & Co. going into a pivotal summer is "Very." It's possible that the organization has decided to move on from Colangelo, but in the interest of presenting themselves as an organization that still has their shit together, wants to announce BC's dismissal in the same breath as they swear in a new commander in chief. Maybe it's assistant GMs Marc Eversley and/or Ned Cohen, as somewhat alluded to in this week's Woj Report on the situation, or maybe they're trying to quickly lure in a newer, bigger name to help steal back some good will, to hopefully lesser the major hit the entire Sixers franchise will take from all this.
Would it be worth it for the Sixers, objectively speaking, if it took more than another couple days from here? Probably not. But I'm willing to buy that it's something the ownership may be trying for, at least.
Decently Likely: They simply don't know what to do yet and are procrastinating on the decision.
This would hardly be the sexiest explanation, but it's a sadly plausible one: that the Sixers haven't yet found a resolution they've deemed acceptable, and are shuffling their feet until then.
Of course, you might read this and think, "What decision? Fire Colangelo!" Yes, sure, but easier for us to say than for them to do: As much as they may realize firing BC is their only way out, it's still a lemon-flavored-and-sized pill for them to have to swallow. Not only would it mean they have to replace their GM weeks before a pivotal draft, and not much longer before the most important free agency period in recent franchise history, but they'd have to do it by firing the son of their team president, and one of the most powerful figures in the NBA, and the guy essentially installed personally by the friggin' commissioner. Not to mention all they'd have to hear about it from us Process Faithful forever if they essentially put a dunce cap on the guy they put in charge of Cleaning Up Hinkie's Mess. It's not hard to see why they'd want to avoid having to make that call if at all possible.
I'm hopeful, at least, that they'll still look at the facts of the matter and realize they just have to eat shit on this one. But I can't say it's shocking to see the organization take longer to arrive at that conclusion than the rest of us would like.
Most Likely: They're negotiating terms of surrender.
Really, we probably should've seen this coming. The Colangelos have NBA resumes that are at least half-impressive, but they didn't get to where they are simply for the acuity of their basketball genius -- mention the Andrea Bargnani or Hedo Turkoglu contracts to any Raptors fan and see how many adjectives they start hurling at Bryan before the G-word comes out. Rather, they're expert politicians: They know people, they know the system, and they know how to get what they need. Even if the Sixers decided on Monday that Colangelo was a goner, there's no way you'd see him doing the perp walk for NBC Sports Philadelphia on Tuesday. He and Father Jerry would use all the tools, connections and compromising information at their disposal to maximize their own leverage in the situation, and make sure that they got to leave as close to on their own terms as possible -- if they even had to leave at all.
I think when the details shake out from all this, that's probably what we'll find out the holdup was: Bryan (and by extension, Jerry) simply refusing to go gentle into that good night. Maybe he's negotiating his buyout terms, maybe he's trying to control the message when the team makes the announcement, maybe he's still making one last stand to somehow keep his job. (If the latter, I turn to the relatable words of Jim Adair: "None of this Colangelo stuff makes any sense to me personally because if I was one tenth as publicly embarrassed as he has been I’d have already changed my name and fled the country.") But because it's in their own best interest for Colangelo to walk out the door on his own volition rather than getting dragged out kicking and screaming, it'd be far from surprising to find out the Sixers were spending this time working out terms of dismissal that their now-disgraced GM could live with.
Eventually, I think this holdup will be a lot less of a big deal than it feels like in the moment. The Sixers will come to their decision, and assuming it isn't made one made out of extreme ignorance and laziness, it's one we'll all move on from fairly quickly as the offseason rapidly approaches. Just hope we all remember to keep our cell phones charged and our portable batteries nearby until then.