On Wednesday morning, the Philadelphia 76ers were a pathetic basketball team with a bright light at the end of their tunnel. Sam Hinkie, their one-time savior, saw to that by stripping the franchise bare and -- more or less, in his words -- sewing their fields with reasons for optimism.
He led Philly in unchartered waters, with a daring but sensical long-term plan that was ultimately too big to swallow for everyone involved.
On Thursday morning, hours after Hinkie officially and shockingly resigned from his post as general manager, news broke that former Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo would take his spot (via The Vertical):
Relevant: Colangelo's father, Jerry, was appointed as the Sixers' chairman of basketball operations in December.
This is depressing news for professional basketball fans in Philadelphia who feel like the last three seasons of unprecedentedly embarrassing basketball was for nothing. In a way, that's more than reasonable. No, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, the Los Angeles Lakers top-3 protected 2016 first-round pick or (eventually) Dario Saric aren't going anywhere, nor is Philly's envied financial flexibility.
But, as contentious and controversial as it was, Hinkie will not get to see his vision through, and that's a shame because he's really smart and clearly knows what he's doing. Instead, the Colangelo family now has hold of the steering wheel.
Is Bryan Colangelo the right person for this job? That simple question can inform those (like us) who want to rank him among the worst general managers in the league:
Let's start with the good, because any résumé as long as Colangelo's can't help but have numerous peaks and valleys. He's a two-time Executive of the Year who was Phoenix's GM when Steve Nash won his first MVP. The mid-2000s Suns were transcendent, and Colangelo helped write their prologue. It wouldn't be right to gloss over his contribution -- however difficult that might be considering his four-time Executive of the Year father owned the team.
But moving past that, Colangelo's fingerprints are visible on this year's second-place Raptors. He hired head coach Dwane Casey, drafted Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, and, in one of the three best moves in franchise history, traded a first-round pick for Kyle Lowry.
(Funny enough, when Colangelo acquired Lowry from the Houston Rockets in 2012, Hinkie was their Executive Vice President.)
But the last significant move of his tenure was the exact act of desperation that should send Sixers fans scurrying under their beds: he traded for Rudy Gay. At the time, it was at best viewed as a questionable decision. Some people still thought Gay had All-Star potential, but detractors (correctly) pointed to his inefficient shooting and inability to make any of his teams better.
After shedding Gay mid-season, the Memphis Grizzlies made an immediate trip to the Western Conference Finals. Meanwhile, the Raptors failed to the make the playoffs, and Colangelo's replacement, Masai Ujiri, shipped Gay out the following year.
This was rough, but doesn't stand as the darkest mark on his resume. Oh, no, not even close. For that, we must journey all the way back to 2006:
Yes. Colangelo selected Andrea Bargnani over LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, who went second and sixth, respectively. It's unfair to look at a multi-decade career, extract one decision and hold it up as evidence to say someone is incompetent. But that doesn't mean this wasn't a backbreaker, either. Fair or not, a pick that bad allows an ocean of criticism to be poured on Colangelo's head as he takes a job that's mostly dependent on his ability to make smart draft picks.
Hinkie has no guaranteed star to show from the three drafts he ran, but he also never had the ping-pong balls fall in his favor. He needed luck, and didn't get it. Colangelo has had plenty of luck, and has either squandered it or achieved mediocrity.
But this isn't about comparing Colangelo and Hinkie. It's about stacking Colangelo up against his current peers. By almost any measure, Sacramento Kings GM Vlade Divac is 30 out of 30 if you're trading snacks on a playground. He hardly grasps the Collective Bargaining Agreement's rules, let alone understands market value, league trends and why pouring gasoline on fire is a bad idea.
Beyond him, the Michael Jordan of bad general managers left his post when Billy King was fired by the Brooklyn Nets. But that doesn't mean there still isn't a wade pool of brutal decision-makers around the league. For whatever reason: Doc Rivers still has final say over the Los Angeles Clippers, all signs point to Ernie Grunfeld staying put with the Washington Wizards, Phil Jackson might hire Kurt Rambis on a full-time basis and, for Anthony Davis' sake -- please basketball gods, please! -- Dell Demps has to go.
It's safe to say a few other guys are struggling to execute beneath the burden of bad ownership, but very few have seen the league pass them by. That may very well be the case with Colangelo. Right now he's looking at a blank canvas, with plenty of draft picks, young talent, cap flexibility and spineless ownership to play with.
Hinkie was on a promising road before Philly pulled the plug. Instead of staying on path and using the map that's staring him in the face, don't be surprised if Colangelo pulls over, gets out of his car and realizes he doesn't know how to drive.