If Joel Embiid is "The Process," then maybe Wilson Chandler is "The Reality."
Three days into free agency, the Sixers made a move that was uninspiring, minimally consequential, and more expensive than your gut might have suggested. It was also a move that was entirely rational, and that tells you plenty about the nature of their current situation.
The Sixers wanted a star, and Chandler is not that. Nor is he a prelude to that, no matter how hard you squint. If you spent part of your Tuesday afternoon trying to come up with scenarios in which their acquisition of the Nuggets wing was mere pavement for something bigger, you were not alone. You were also most likely wasting your time. Players who get dumped along with second-round picks typically aren't the fulcrums upon which blockbuster trades swing. Not in situations like this one, at least.
What you see is what the Sixers got: a veteran three-man who plays much better defense than Marco Belinelli and with a better ability to get to the rim, albeit at the expense of a little bit of aptitude beyond the arc. In getting it, they did not withdraw themselves from trade considerations, be it for Kawhi Leonard or the next disgruntled star who arrives on the trading block (more on that in a bit). But they almost certainly signaled that they have resigned themselves to more pragmatic pastures.
Chandler is that pragmatism. Does he make the Sixers a title contender? Of course not. Does he even alter the outcome of a playoff series against an undermanned Celtics team? Doubtful. But he just might have been the best available option. If not, he was most definitely in the conversation.
Welcome to reality. The more you try to deny it, the more you sound like the people who fought the wisdom of the Process. Many of the contracts that NBA teams are currently trying to shed originated in circumstances like the one in which the Sixers found themselves after their ill-fated meeting with LeBron James. They had money to spend, and a belief in themselves, coupled with a realization that they needed to get better. And instead of doing the smart thing, they did the thing that felt right at the time.
With a pair of potential rookie-contract superstars in Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers are ahead of where the teams trying to shed contracts were when they entered into them, the young stars' stratospheric potential giving the Sixers an outside chance of weathering even the most egregious of mistakes. But the goal here has never been simply to weather; in fact, it has long been the inverse. Assuming good health, the Sixers could sleepwalk through the next five-to-10 seasons with a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. At this rate, though, the Eastern Conference playoffs are not long for this world. And even if the NBA keeps its current playoff format instead of making the obvious call to switch to a league-wide 16-seed format, the proper benchmarks are still the guys in the Western Conference. They might hand out rings for second place, but nobody wears them.
Wait, but weren't we having a conversation about Wilson Chandler? We were, but he is more or less a proxy. The underlying point is that the right move is the right move even if it isn't the move that you envisioned. In acquiring Chandler and his $12.8 million salary, the Sixers accomplished the only thing that any of us can hope: to do the best that we can, given the hand we are dealt. You didn't need to see Boogie Cousins sign with the Warriors for the mid-level-exception to know that there are haves and have-nots in this world. What you might have needed to see was what happened to the Sixers this offseason: Paul George partying with Nas in OKC, LeBron's agent sending out a press release before the Sixers even landed back east.
Philly is not a "have" in the NBA, and there's a chance it never will be. There might be a bountiful supply on the market next season, but there will also be a bountiful demand. Even beyond the Lakers and the Clippers and the Knicks, you have a number of destinations that NBA players have historically found at least as attractive as our city. With breakout rookie Lauri Markkanen, first-round pick Wendell Carter Jr., and restricted free agent Zach LaVine already under their control, the Bulls should enter next offseason with another high lottery pick and room for at least one max-level contract. The Mavericks should have close to $60 million to spend. Atlanta can't compare to this fan base, but look at the city and the roster situation.
The Celtics will have the flexibility to do pretty much whatever they want: Gordon Hayward's $32.7 million salary is the only guaranteed money on their books, with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum both under club control for a total of $14.3 million. Even if Al Horford opts into the final year of his deal at $30.1 million, the Celtics should have the flexibility to add another $25 million-plus salary and still retain Kyrie Irving, since they control his Bird Rights and thus can go over the cap to re-sign him.
If you snicker at any of that, then you do not understand the reality of the situation, nor the primary justification for the Process. The Sixers took their shot, and now they're making the best of the business. Find the best role players that circumstance will allow, keep the ideas flowing on the whiteboard, and pray like hell for the kids.
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