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Adam Silver Is Not A Fan Of The Sixers’ Strategy

The Sixers are a mess, and Adam Silver is not happy. The NBA commissioner joined our sports podcast, Hot Takedown, for a conversation about the structure of the draft, the perverse incentives that it creates and how his office can try to “cajole” teams like the Philadelphia 76ers into being more competitive. But he admitted that ultimately, he may not be able to reset the competitive balance of the league by tweaking the draft rules.


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Several months ago, Hot Takedown crowdsourced ideas from listeners about how to change the draft to stop teams from tanking. After we sent him the winning idea, Silver wrote that there is a “growing consensus that we should reform the draft lottery.” But on this week’s Hot Takedown he said that after team owners voted down a proposal for change last year, the league has decided to “park the issue” for the foreseeable future.

Silver argued that the marketplace is providing the biggest pressure on teams like Philadelphia, which he said are realizing that “losing comes at an enormous cost.” Silver sees a “resetting of sorts” with the team. And he denied that he intervened and asked the Sixers to install Jerry Colangelo as special advisor.

Watch a video excerpt and stream the full audio of the interview above. We’ve also provided a lightly edited transcription of the highlights below. This interview was conducted Friday, Dec. 18.


Silver not a fan of Sixers strategy

Neil Paine: Are you personally, as the commissioner, OK with the way that the 76ers have run their franchise the past three seasons?

Adam Silver: I don’t want to answer that directly. As I said, there’s a marketplace of ideas and approaches that go into managing a franchise.

Am I fan of that strategy? Put it this way: No. But does that mean that it’s not acceptable under the league rules? It doesn’t.


The Sixers are “resetting”

Adam Silver: There’s a resetting of sorts going on with the 76ers right now. And I think that ultimately may speak louder in the marketplace of teams than any tinkering we do to the draft lottery.


Is it time to step in and stop tanking?

Chadwick Matlin: I’m interested about when you do step in as a commissioner. You’re basically the CEO of a big multibillion-dollar corporation. At what point is it your responsibility to intervene if one of your franchises is not performing in a way that represents the league?

Adam Silver: Well, I would say that there’s lots of different ways of so-called “stepping in.” There’s also cajoling and ongoing conversations that I have with owners, with team presidents, with general managers, where I’m expressing my opinion.


Truth to rumors that he intervened with Sixers?

Chadwick Matlin: Anonymous reports suggested that [you stepped in and pushed for the hiring of Jerry Colangelo] due to owners who wanted the situation in Philadelphia changed. Are those reports correct?

Adam Silver: Those reports are not correct. Josh Harris, who’s the principal owner of the 76ers, decided on his own that he needed to change course. He and I had many conversations along the way about the utility of the strategy that he was following. And he came to the conclusion once this season began, and he saw how his team was performing on the floor, that he needed to change his strategy.

Other owners were not pressuring him at all. In fact, it’s a weird dynamic in the league that while all the owners would like to see teams well operated, other owners just want to win (laughter). And so nobody was calling me and saying go call the 76ers and tell them how to beat us.


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Jody Avirgan hosts and produces podcasts for FiveThirtyEight.

Chadwick Matlin is FiveThirtyEight’s senior editor for culture.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

Joe Sykes produces our weekly sports podcast Hot Takedown.

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