What do you like about each portion of what the basketball side of the operation has done?
JH: Obviously, starting with Brett (Brown), he’s the soul and the heart of our team – the values that he brings in terms of transparency and hard work and development and the way he handles the media and players. Truthfully, now some of his on-court tactics. That was a real test for him. He’s brought tremendous value and we think very highly of him.
Bryan has added a lot of pieces. He’s the right person for the job we have right now in terms of both building a great staff around him and being very consensus oriented and getting a lot of people involved as well as adding on the court – (Marco) Belinelli, (Ersan) Ilyasova, Amir Johnson. J.J. Redick. He’s added a lot of value to that.
The environment in the arena is electrifying. We’ve been sold out since the beginning of the season. That obviously matters to the players and the fans. It all comes together.
David and I have a partnership – we have some other people as well (in ownership) – everyone’s been a part of the same thing.
DB: The only thing I would add and Scott hears me say this all the time. We have very high bars as you could imagine. What Josh does in his day job and what I do in my day job is basically backing tremendously talented people to drive the businesses forward. Given that bar across the organization – the sporting side and the business side – we have top-class talent everywhere.
What are the lessons you’ve learned from owning an NBA team?
JH: The lesson is patience. The similarities to what we do in our day jobs in private equity and investing in companies, you have to have an incredible franchise which we think we have. The Sixers are a storied franchise. Then you put the best people in the key positions and then you hold them accountable and support them. … Everything plays out in the press. In the companies we own, no one cares about the price of polypropylene. Everyone cares about the starting lineup. In many cases, there can be a lot of short-term orientations in making decisions which might impact the short run quickly but might not necessarily be the right thing to do for the long run. Being able to stay the course and keep to your ideals and keep your eye on the goal, which in our case is to be elite, that’s the biggest lesson for me.
How did you get through the difficult seasons earlier in your ownership?
DB: The reality was when we invested in the team we had a view that there were no shortcuts. You can listen to Josh in fall of 2011 talking about creating a sustainable and excellent business on and off the court. We knew there weren’t shortcuts. That said, sports are different and we came in a shortened (lockout) season. We were just trying to learn in a lot of ways in the beginning. If you really go back, you can see what the team performed at in 2011-12. If you remember the dynamics of the playoffs with Derrick Rose getting hurt and suddenly we’re in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with Boston and winner of that game going to play Miami.
We also realized that summer that that was not the team that when you’re thinking about the long term, (it) wasn’t quite there. We then made a trade for Andrew Bynum having played 79 of 82 games the prior year (and) never played in a game (for the Sixers). That obviously set the organization back quite dramatically. We just buckled up and said we’ve been consistent that we want to create a sustainable organization. We want to make great decisions for the long term rather than the short term. That’s how we saw it through.
Did you trust the process?
JH: There are three ways to build a winner. It comes down to players. Having the best players, front office and coaching staff, you’re going to win. You can build through the draft, build through free agency or make trades. Building through trades and free agency comes down to being opportunistic. Generally, those are more difficult ways to build.
Really, it’s a big advantage to have a good core. So, when we found ourselves after the 12-13 season, we made a decision to build over the long run and build through the draft. That just takes longer and is more arduous. Having said that, we felt very strongly if we made smart decisions that eventually we would build something we and the city of Philadelphia could be proud of. That vision and that commitment helped see us through. We tried to communicate that as best we could. By and large, the city of Philadelphia was quite supportive of what we were doing for the most part.
DB: We were just very consistent, and we did not want to veer off path because of a bad article on X, Y, Z game. We wanted to build something sustainable across that organization and that just takes time. It’s hard in the public eye, back to difference between this business and many other businesses. That is very hard to do.
JH: When things don’t go exactly right or go wrong, there’s a lot of scrutiny publicly. There’s incentives for actions. Change this, change that. A lot of times I find these strategies take a long time to play out. The immediate gratification doesn’t necessarily occur. You need commitment to your people, to the organization, to your players and not make decisions in that moment because it’s easier to allay criticism. Make decisions that you think are right.
DB: Making poor decisions on players can last a very long time. If you make a real mistake on a five-year deal. It’s not like, ‘I made a mistake. Let me go fix that.’ The cap system can be punitive.
Where does former GM Sam Hinkie get credit in all of this?
JH: Sam is a smart guy. He’s a great strategist, and he certainly positioned the team, as best he could, to achieve success through the rebuild process. He also brought in some good people who are still with us. We continue to have a good relationship with him. We’re glad he was a part of it.
Bryan is the right guy for the mission we have right now which is not rebuilding but building to an elite status. We’re now at a point where we’re attracting free agents. We’re now at the point where we have a different situation than we did when Sam was here. We have a great core and now it’s going to be about adding pieces that create balance and create a certain type of playing style. Bryan is great at that. It’s also about continuing to push the envelope in the front office in terms of innovation around sports science and analytics and attracting a team that can work together and deliver and keep raising the bar against 29 competitive other teams.
Do you have timeline to win that championship? Is the timeline accelerated now based on what you’ve accomplished this season?
JH: I would say we’re always in a hurry. People’s life circumstances change, but David and I have no interest in ever selling the team. We have a longer time in one sense. But in terms of actually winning a championship, we want to do it as fast as possible. We’re obviously in a hurry, and but we’re not going to make decisions that sacrifice the long-term strategies. That’s the balance. We’re in a hurry. We’re willing to spend the money if the right players come up. We’re also willing to be patient and continue to build brick by brick if we have to with our eye on being an elite team that’s consistently trying to compete for an NBA championship.
DB: The only thing I would add is the unpredictable nature of this. You could have this wonderful plan laid out that says you’re going to win between X, Y and Z games. We’ve had tons of models on all sorts of things. Then you actually face the reality of competing in an incredible league where things happen. We’re good at reacting to what’s happening and obviously we’re super pleased with the way this team has come together. Did we expect Joel to go down on a freak accident? You just can’t predict these things.