How will “The Process” be remembered?
The 76ers will brag about MVP runner-up Joel Embiid’s being a part of the strategy that began during the 2013-14 season. It involved four straight seasons of tanking to position the team to draft franchise-altering players and tradeable assets.
While they drafted eventual All-Stars Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers, for the most part, made several head-scratching draft moves and questionable trades.
They did, however, finish this season with the Eastern Conference’s best record for the first time since 2001. That turned out to be fool’s gold, as the Sixers were still unable to advance beyond the second round of the postseason.
The success of the Phoenix Suns and the Atlanta Hawks this season proves The Process was a failure.
The Suns made their first postseason appearance in 11 seasons. Now, the Western Conference champions will make their third NBA Finals appearance in the organization’s 53-year history. Phoenix turned things around by developing young talent and acquiring Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder through a November trade.
The Hawks advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after upsetting the Sixers in the conference semifinals. This comes after the Hawks didn’t win more than 29 games in any of the last three seasons. But they improved by developing young players, adding free agents, and making a season-altering coaching change by firing Lloyd Pierce and naming Nate McMillan the interim coach.
Neither team went to the great lengths of tanking the Sixers did in their rebuilding.
Not only did the Sixers underachieve in the postseason, they now face several questions about their future.
Simmons, who has regressed as a shooter, could be on his way out of Philadephia. The Sixers have reportedly turned down a deal from the Indiana Pacers for point guard Malcolm Brogdon and a first-round pick.
While Brogdon is a solid point guard, he’s had problems with coaches and comes with an injury history.
But getting value for Simmons may be hard to do. His stock has plummeted.
If they do move him, the Sixers will have a lot of holes to fill. But if he stays, the Sixers will have a tough time outbidding teams for a free agent who can make a major difference.
The Sixers have $119 million tied up in eight players next season, with the bulk of the money going to Tobias Harris ($35.9 million), Simmons ($33 million), and Embiid ($31.5 million).
The problem is the league’s salary cap will be $112.5 million. The luxury-tax threshold will be $136.6 million.
The Sixers have at least six more roster spots to fill. As a result, the ownership group will be way over the salary cap for a team that may drop behind the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Hawks for conference supremacy.
So how will The Process be remembered?
The Sixers’ 2011-2012 season concluded on May 28, 2012, with a Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The ownership group broke that team up in the offseason, acquiring several players with expiring contracts for the 2012-13 season. The most notable acquisition was Andrew Bynum, who never played for the Sixers because of a knee injury.
With cap space available, the Sixers had three options at the conclusion of that season. The first was sign a free agent to replace Bynum. The second was make trades for a soft reset. Option three was a total reset, and the one the Sixers ownership went for. They replaced former general manager Tony DiLeo with Sam Hinkie, traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans, and openly tanked for four seasons.
During that time, the Sixers went 75-253. Their worst season was 2015-16, when they finished 10-72, one loss away from the NBA’s and the organization’s worst record.
The Process brought a lot of pain and humiliation and a less-than-desirable place in NBA history for the team. But the Sixers stayed the course, believing they were on the right path.
They’ve improved, but hit a second-round wall.
The Sixers lost in the second round to the Boston Celtics in five games in 2018. A season later, Kawhi Leonard’s fadeaway corner jumper at the buzzer lifted the Raptors to a 92-90 Game 7 victory. Then last season, the Sixers were swept by the Celtics in the first round before losing their second-round series to the Hawks this season.
The Sixers dropped to 1-10 in their last 11 second-round series dating back to 1986.
Yet this season’s loss stung worse than the previous defeats because, as the top seed, the Sixers were expected to advance to the conference finals.
All this comes one offseason after general manager Elton Brand acknowledged what most in the NBA have come to know: The Process was a failure.
“As of now, yes, it’s failing,” Brand said in August 2020. “It didn’t produce the results that we expected. It’s a results-based business. We are trying to right those wrongs, and make sure we do better.
“Currently, yes, we failed.”
Brand said that on the heels of the 2019-20 campaign that was supposed to be the season when The Process delivered at least a deep postseason run.
Instead, their high-price pieces didn’t fit together on the court, leading to a disappointing sixth-place finish in the conference standings before the first-round exit.
That disappointing season led to the firing of head coach Brett Brown.
“I felt it was time for a new voice,” Brand said.
Well, they got new voices in well-respected coach Doc Rivers and in high-profile executive Daryl Morey, who became the Sixers’ president of basketball operations. Morey became the sixth leader of the organization since the start of The Process.
But nothing changed in the postseason, where it matters the most.
So how will The Process be remembered?
The Process produced eight lottery-pick acquisitions from the 2013 through 2018 drafts.
The Sixers traded away Nerlens Noel (sixth, 2013) Michael Carter-Williams (11th, 2013), Dario Šarić (12th, 2014), Jahlil Okafor (third, 2015), Markelle Fultz (first, 2017), and Mikal Bridges (10th, 2018) for very little or nothing in return.
Bridges was a Sixer for 38 minutes before being shipped to the Suns in exchange for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 first-round pick. Smith was a bad fit for the Sixers, who never gave him a real opportunity to showcase his skills.
He became injured and ill and played in only 13 games before being traded to the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 23. After being waived by the Pistons, Smith played this past season for the Memphis Hustle, the NBA G League affiliate of the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Sixers traded Šarić, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for five-time All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler on Nov. 12, 2018.
Trading for Butler was the best option for a Sixers team that was determined to settle for nothing less than an A-list talent to play alongside Simmons and Embiid. That’s because the Sixers failed in their “star hunting” the previous summer despite being among a small number of teams with available cap space at the time for max deals.
However, Butler didn’t see eye to eye with Brown and the Sixers opted to part ways with him at the conclusion of the season.
But drafting Okafor and Fultz may have been The Process’ biggest missteps.
Despite already having centers in Noel and Embiid, the Sixers used that third pick of the 2015 draft on Okafor instead of selecting power forward Kristaps Porzingis, who went one pick later to the New York Knicks.
A pairing of Embiid and Porzingis would have given the Sixers a center/power forward tandem that would have been unbelievable for a decade. That’s the draft from which the Sixers never fully recovered.
The the 2017 NBA draft was a wasted opportunity.
The Sixers moved up two spots to select Fultz first overall. The organization also acquired the 25th pick from the Orlando Magic in exchange for future assets to draft Latvian center Anzejs Pasecniks. The Sixers picked up two more foreign players in Australian Jonah Bolden and Frenchman Mathias Lessort in the second round and sold their remaining two second-round picks.
None of the four draftees are still with Sixers.
The Sixers may never get over moving up to select Fultz first overall. The team got the pick from the Boston Celtics for its No. 3 pick of that draft and the 14th overall pick in the 2019 draft. Boston ended up taking Jayson Tatum at No. 3.
The move might go down as the worst trade in Sixers history. The Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, who picked hometown favorite Lonzo Ball second overall, had no intention of drafting Fultz. As a result, the Sixers surrendered the first-rounder for nothing. Fultz would have been available at No. 3.
These are all reasons why The Process was a failure.