Almanac Basketball: Trusting The Process In Philadelphia
The city of Philadelphia have suffered from atrocious basketball for nearly five years now, and for the most part of those five years, I’ve had nothing but sympathy for them.
The history of the franchise has been somewhat historic. Three NBA Championships, five division titles and nine Conference Titles and a long line of superstar players have come and gone, ranging from Wilt Chamberlain, Charles Barkley and Julius Erving to more recently, Allen Iverson.
But over the last five years, the Sixers organisation have become to basketball, what the Melbourne Demons were in the AFL were for the most part of the last decade – A walking, breathing joke of a franchise.
It all started going south for the Sixers at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, when they were involved in a four-team trade with the Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets and my team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Philadelphia offloaded young prospects Mo Harkless, Nikola Vucevic and their All-Star forward Andre Iguodala in exchange for an ageing shooter in Jason Richardson and an All-Star centre in Andrew Bynum. This was the big deal that centered around All-Star Centre Dwight Howard’s defection from Orlando to the Lakers, a defection that was only short-lived as Howard left Lakerland at the end of the 12-13 season.
For the Sixers it didn’t sound like a bad deal for them as they got themselves a centre to base their franchise around in Bynum, but the big problem with that was that Bynum was often injury prone and to no-ones surprise, his dodgy knees were playing up again and wouldn’t play a single game for the Sixers team that season. They finished the season with a win-loss record of 34-48 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
By the start of the 2013-14 season, the Sixers had a new coach in Brett Brown who had previously been a part of the successful San Antonio Spurs franchise as an assistant coach and had coached the Australian Basketball team to the quarter finals in the 2012 Olympics. They had a new General Manager in Sam Hinkie who had previously worked for the Houston Rockets and virtually, a new-look roster after gutting the roster and started to rebuild the roster.
On the night of the 2013 NBA draft, they traded away their best player in guard Jrue Holiday for a big-man in Nerlens Noel, but would not feature until the following season. Holiday had just had just come off a career-best season, averaging just under 18 points and eight assists a game and was rewarded with a spot in the Eastern Conference All-Star Team in the All-Star Game in 2013 and by the midway point of the season had traded away forward Evan Turner and center Spencer Hawes, both of whom were key players in the rotations.
They were tipped to struggle at the start of the season, but started 3-0 which included wins against defending champions the Miami Heat and a Chicago Bulls team that was tipped to go far into the Finals. However they fell completely off the wheels afterwards, losing 26 games in a row, which set a franchise record and tied the NBA record for most consecutive losses in a season.
They finished the season 19-63, but it wasn’t all bad. They didn’t have the worst record in the league, that moniker belonged to the Milwaukee Bucks, who finished with a record of 15-67. They had also unearthed a young star in Michael Carter-Williams, taken with the 11th pick in the NBA draft in 2013, he took home the league’s Rookie of the Year award. He led all the rookies that season in points, rebounds, assists and steals, joining the elite company of Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only rookies to ever do that.
It was all becoming obvious to the fans at Philadelphia. Hinkie was deliberately tanking games to get high draft picks for the best quality talent. He was dubbing it as ‘The Process’ and urged fans to ‘Trust The Process’.
They had the third pick in 2014’s NBA Draft and used it on center Joel Embiid who was only beginning to recover from a stress fracture in his navicular bone and also traded to get promising Croatian prospect Dario Saric. Both men wouldn’t play a game for the franchise until the beginning of the 2016-17 season. They also traded their last long-serving Sixer in Thaddeus Young to Minnesota after seven seasons in Philadelphia as part of the Kevin Love-to-Cleveland trade.
Talks of tanking continued to run around Philadelphia at the beginning of the 2014-15 season as they started the season 0-17, but avoided tying the NBA record of consecutive losses to start the season and by the midway point of the season, offloaded the reigning Rookie of the Year Carter-Williams to Milwaukee in a package deal. It sounded like a real head-scratcher as he was one of the Rising Stars of the league, but in hindsight, it was one of the only good moves Hinkie facilitated in his tenure as the Sixers GM as MCW struggled in his time at Milwaukee and is currently struggling with the Chicago Bulls.
They finished the season 18-64, which was the equal-second worst record in the history of the Philadelphia 76ers and the third-worst record in the league that season, but it got worse the following season.
Still no Embiid as he suffered a setback in his foot and there was plenty of controversy surrounding their latest talented young prospect in Jahlil Okafor who was taken with the 3rd overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Despite posting solid numbers in his rookie season averaging 17 points and seven rebounds in 53 games in the 2015-16 season, Okafor was involved in a couple of street fights with members of the public that had been riling him up in Boston which got him into a bit of trouble with the organisation.
But Okafor’s indiscretions were the least of the Sixers’ problems. The Sixers started the 15-16 season 0-18 and in doing so, set a record of 28 consecutive losses, which is the longest losing streak in any professional sport. 31 games in the regular season, they were 1-30 and by the end of the season they could only garner 10 wins in 82 games.
So with all this in mind – the countless losses, the huge number of player turnovers this organisation has had in the last five years, why should Philadelphia fans ‘Trust The Process’?
For starters, they got rid of Sam Hinkie at the end of the 15-16 season, as he resigned from his position as Sixers’ GM replaced by Bryan Colangelo, the son of Jerry Colangelo, who joined the organisation during the 15-16 season in charge of the basketball operations.
Despite having a record of 16-27 after 43 games this season, coach Brett Brown is well on his way of beating his best record since taking charge of this floundering franchise.
Joel Embiid has been one of the big stories this season, not only for his team, but for the NBA. Not only is he finally getting on the court, he’s been a revelation this season. Starting all 30 of his games and averaging nearly 20 points per game to go along with 8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game in only 25 minutes a night, and for a big man, he’s got good range, shooting 35 percent from three-point range.
There have been instances that the crowd have chanted ‘Trust The Process’ whenever Embiid stepped up to the free throw line, it may be that the Philly fans were just taking the p155 out of it all, but Embiid himself has embraced this.
The other notable draftee in the 2014 NBA draft that I mentioned earlier in Saric, although inconsistent throughout this season, has shown plenty to suggest he will play a part in the Sixers’ long-term plans. Averaging just over nine points and six rebounds in 24 minutes a game. This includes two games in which he’s logged 20 points or more and a handful of others in which he’s scored over 15 points coming off the bench.
And I haven’t even begun to mention the Aussie sensation that is Ben Simmons, who was taken with the first overall pick by Philadelphia in the 2016 draft – it was the first time Philadelphia had a number one draft selection since they chose Allen Iverson back in 1996. Simmons dominated college basketball for Louisiana State University (LSU) in 2015-16, averaging 19 points, 11 rebounds and under five assists a game.
As a player that can do it all, It’s not hard to see why a lot of people compare Simmons to LeBron James, who is arguably the greatest player in this era of basketball, but it remains to be seen if he can surpass Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time, but that’s a debate for another time.
Simmons, unfortunately suffered a setback when he was forced to undergo surgery on his right foot before the start of this season, so his debut has been put on hold until after the All-Star break, which gives Sixer fans something to look forward to at the back-end of the season.
If Embiid and Simmons can stay healthy for the next few years and if they can get some value out of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, whether it be by trade or if they decide to persist with them, I can’t see any reason why they can’t make some noise over the next couple of seasons.
The words ‘Trust The Process’ may have been ridiculed time and time again in Philly, but it’s time the fans began to heed these same words. There is light at the end of the tunnel, things are looking up in the city of Philadelphia once more.