Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo reported yesterday the Sixers interviewed San Antonio Spurs executive Danny Ferry over the weekend to discuss a president/general manager position. As if a potential front office shakeup isn't enough news, Woj also reported a deeper motive for all of the action. Namely, Thorn's departure from the President of Basketball Operations position is directly tied to Doug Collins' pleas for autonomy when it comes to player personnel.
With apologies to Ferry, the major part of the report is the unearthing of the Collins-Thorn relationship. Many local reporters probably had knowledge of the situation and some fans may have been able to read into what was going on, but now it's out there for everyone to know. Woj has some of the best intel in the league and has made a career out of being able to provide context for his readers by delving into the thought process of the league's movers and shakers. So now, what to do?
Well, first, try to step back and gain some perspective. Obviously, when the intentions of the coach and ownership are brought to light, something that rarely happens when a regime is still intact, strong reactions will follow. As a result of some of his reports, Woj sometimes unintentionally supplies narratives for people depending on how they feel about the subject matter (I had a few rolling around in my head initially for sure). In this case, it's the Sixers instead of say, some guy in Miami.
After letting it sit for a few hours, the first question that comes to my mind is simple: What's the plan? Further down the report, there is a troubling nugget on the ownership-front office-Collins dynamic:
"Ownership is still torn over how much power to give Collins, and his insistence for player personnel autonomy could limit the pool of GM candidates interested in the job. With Josh Harris' new ownership group taking over a year ago, they've learned quickly that Collins' coaching genius is tempered with a need for constant reassurance and maintenance. Nevertheless, Collins did a masterful job with the 76ers this season, reaching the seventh game in the conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics. Ownership considers him a valuable asset."
While Thorn has been lightly mocked by fans for his lack of activity, the report on the relationship between him and Collins possibly explains the difficulties Thorn may have faced in trying to get anything significant done during his tenure as Team President. If the two presumably most important people making basketball decisions rarely see eye-to-eye in how to run the team, well, it's not a good situation.
Now with the ownership seemingly in love with Doug Collins the Coach and unsure about Doug Collins the Talent Evaluator, Josh Harris seems to be in a difficult predicament.
Why is this important? Because good organizations have coaches, front offices, and owners that are on the same page. The two teams in the finals are solid examples of that. Within the division, Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers, and Wyc Grousbeck all work together while the Knicks, for example, have been a mess in this department. Everyone knows the Spurs, a team so well run that Ferry's sheer employment makes him an attractive name, employ a great working relationship in running their team between R.C. Buford, Gregg Popovich and Peter Holt.
All of the well-run organizations have gone about building a team in different ways. In fact, the only real common thread amongst these organizations is that they have a plan itself. Right now, you do wonder what the Sixers' plan is to build a team. I wrote this last week, and it still remains true: "It seems as if Collins' interests will drive the Sixers this offseason. At the very least, I hope these interests have a plan, one that Collins will stick to when coaching the team."
More than anything in the offseason, this team needs a direction to head into the future with. Now with Woj's report, it's easy to feel unsure of that direction, if you haven't already. Why? Because a team can't accomplish anything with competing visions of where the team should be headed amongst the decision makers. Seriously, they won't be able to do anything, good or bad. That would be especially problematic for the Sixers, because they are a team that has glaring holes and a few quality pieces that don't fit together. With what is being reported, Thorn and Collins have not been on the same page since Ed Stefanski left town. Maybe this explains why the team has been relatively stagnant, for better or worse, over the last two years.
One thing that is fairly easy to assume is that Danny Ferry won't come into a situation where he doesn't report directly to the owner, as Woj hinted at. Ferry left a situation in Cleveland where LeBron James' free agency dictated pretty much every personnel move. It even prompted Cavs Owner Dan Gilbert to fire head coach Mike Brown. Ferry reportedly advocated the retention of Brown, who had won 127 games over the two seasons prior to his dismissal.
From everything I've read about Ferry, it seems as if he doesn't seek total autonomy, which is why he is probably doing his due diligence and research on the Sixers organization. He had a solid working relationship with Brown in Cleveland, and sees how Buford and Popovich work together on a daily basis. If he doesn't feel that type of partnership would be possible with Collins, Ferry will not take the job. I'm fairly sure of that.
Still, anyone from the Spurs organization is definitely intriguing as a GM candidate. They are probably one of the two best organizations in sports along with the New England Patriots. In fact, I still find it impossible how Mike Budenholzer hasn't gotten a shot at an NBA coaching gig yet. What can we expect from Ferry if hired?
All and all, it's pretty hard to tell. Ferry probably can't be judged too critically by what happened in Cleveland. While he was unable to build a championship team around LeBron James, those teams were very successful. Also, hanging over his stay with the Cavs at all times was LeBron James' impending free agency and the need for the team to win a championship in Cleveland before his contract expired. Short-term moves were made and James' supporting cast fell short in the playoffs twice, himself once. If LeBron had re-upped in 2009 then Ferry probably handles the team differently. Obviously the Sixers have no such otherworldly talent on the roster. Ironically, one could argue Collins would need to be appeased with short-term moves if he were to stay. I say ironically because for all the good Collins can do coaching a basketball team, he isn't getting you 29-8-7 every night.
It says something to me that the Spurs took Ferry right back in. He reportedly was a major part in bringing little known Danny Green over to San Antonio from Cleveland, where Ferry drafted Green in the second round. One could argue these are the types of moves Ferry could make building a team in a lower-pressure and more patient environment. You just don't know though.
Finally, back to Collins. After thinking about it for awhile, he may be misguided in thinking he can be the de facto GM, but you can see why he would want those powers. He didn't have a very good team on the floor, especially in the frontcourt, for the past two years, and yet he took them to the playoffs. Collins knows the team needs better players and he wants to be the one to bring in guys to make the team better. It's fairly understandable, actually.
Still, it's easy to wonder if Collins' coaching style, which tends to be very emotional, would suit him as a decision maker. There are rarely any quick fixes in building a team as simple as deciding to double-team a scorer after a hot first half, which we know Collins can do. Would he make moves both wise in the present and future? I don't think it's wise to have a coach also running the team just because executives are paid to see the bigger picture, but that's me.
No matter what happens in the GM search, the candidate will likely at least need to have a shared philosophy with Collins. Heading into the offseason, what the Sixers are doing isn't just intriguing. How they are doing it is also a hot topic.