NEW YORK — The men's wave of the New York City Marathon passed a block northwest of the Barclays Center at about 10:15 Sunday morning, a little less than six miles into their 26.2-mile race.
About eight hours later in that building, the 76ers played the 11th game of the second season of what finally can be considered "The Process." That marathon's a long way from being over, too. Temper your expectations.
Predictable teams feature predictable players. This season, Brett Brown's team features one predictable player: 34-year-old backup shooting guard JJ Redick. The Sixers entered Sunday's game without a road win in their last seven trips, including last season's playoffs, largely because they lack fully developed professional basketball players.
Dead-legged as they played their fifth game in seven days, a stretch that began and ended with back-to-back games, the Sixers lost their eighth roadie in a row, blown out by Brooklyn, 122-97. Young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid skulked off the court for good with 5 minutes, 45 seconds to play, trailing by 24. Twenty-four, to the Nets, who'd won three of nine.
It was languid, and it was ugly, and it was entirely predictable.
"That's not who we are. That's an unacceptable performance," said coach Brett Brown, remarkably severe. "We're not among the Eastern Conference royalty."
After the eight straight road losses, said Brown, his team has lost the toughness it takes to win away from the manic party hall that the Wells Fargo Center becomes for Sixers games. His team leader agreed.
"We've been playing soft," said Simmons. "We've been bull-[bleep]."
How long will it be before the Sixers, now 6-5, become predictably good — like the Celtics and Raptors and Spurs and, on the next level, the Warriors? How long before their core players develop?
"Instead of me anointing a number," Brown told me before the loss, "if you were to go back and just study Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, John Wall — if you took, like, 10 great players, looked at the first few years, and did some division — and say, 'It looks like it plays out to about this.' "
"You're going to see: It's not soon."
Ignore the 16-game winning streak at the end of last season. Ignore the first-round playoff series win that followed. This is a very different team. This is like starting over. The Process is nowhere near complete. The Sixers will be starting over for the foreseeable future, Brown agreed:
"It's the reality of the ages of the people that we have."
Brown spoke before the game, and he looked as if he'd just run the marathon himself. Well, entering his sixth consecutive season of constantly teaching kids how to play basketball can be exhausting.
Five of the first seven players Brown uses most average 22.2 years of age. More significantly, those five players have played in an average of 61.4 NBA regular-season games.
Some are massive NBA talents, but all are NBA infants. The rebuilding continues.
Slash-and-burn visionary Sam Hinkie began The Process in 2013, before his mismanagement let the job fall to Twit-iot nepotist Bryan Colangelo. It now is administered, for lack of a better word, by Brown, Elton Brand and a chorus of collaborative voices. Last season, the Sixers were 32-27, fueled by Embiid and Redick and run by Simmons, a converted power forward. After Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli arrived as as short-term rentals, the team went 20-3.
This has more in common with the 32-27 iteration than the 20-3 assemblage. Six years into The Process and they're not close. They're not Boston, or Toronto, or, it appears, even Milwaukee. They certainly aren't within wishing distance of the Warriors, and that's where they want to be.
So, let's do that math.
Using the Value Over Replacement Player and Win Shares advanced metrics at basketball-reference.com, it took Kidd five seasons to go grow from being a pretty good NBA player into the Hall of Fame point guard. It took Paul and Westbrook two seasons. Wall needed 3 1/2.
Let's include other players, with whom the Sixers' Big Three are most often, and most logically, compared. For Embiid, it would be Hakeem Olajuwon, who needed two seasons. Fultz's peers once compared his potential to that of James Harden, who needed three seasons (and a franchise change) to blossom. Simmons is no LeBron — King James hit the league with a jumper, which steadily improved — but Simmons closely resembles Magic Johnson, who needed two seasons.
That makes 19 seasons for those seven players, which ciphers out to about 2.7 years per player. But wait. There's more.
Magic, Dream and The Beard played at least 62 games in college, as did George, Westbrook, and Chris Paul. Wall played only 37 games at Kentucky, but he really needed 3 1/2 NBA seasons to find his way, since he played much better in the second half of his fourth season than in the first half.
None of the Sixers' Big Three played more than 33 college games.
All things considered, let's say it takes about three full NBA seasons for elite young talents to become predictable. That means Embiid and Simmons, whose injuries have limited them to one full season apiece, can be expected to fully arrive in 2020-21. Fultz, drafted last season but sidelined for almost the entire year, should arrive a year later.
This jibes with how the Sixers have been presenting their young team lately, with more emphasis on the "star developing" than the "star hunting" that Brown stressed during the summer's fruitless star hunt. Simmons will become a shooter "sooner or later," Brown said last week, and it will come "on his terms." As for Brown's insistence on starting Fultz alongside Simmons instead of Redick, who made the Sixers' starting five one of the most efficient last season, Brown acknowledged, "We're all trying to get through it."
Before Sunday's loss Brown replied, in response to a question concerning Embiid and his MVP-caliber start, that it was Brown's task "to find ways, sometime in our organization's future, to win championships."
Sometime in our organization's future.
How much future? Brown sighed.
"What most motivates me is to see this program through, to build it the way we know we have to build it," he said. "I want it all as much as anybody, but the temperance, the perspective, that my experience has shown me — it's not in perfect pieces in places right now. That's just part of a the growth of a team."
Most teams have structure; a script; a formula, with specific roles for specific players, night after night. This team? No. Not yet.
Their race is just beginning, and they have a long, long way to go.