The Process ends and the Promise begins
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 23: Markelle Fultz of the Philadelphia 76ers talks to the media at the Sixers Training Complex on June 23, 2017 in Camden, New Jersey. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant /NBAE via Getty Images)
The last time the Philadelphia 76ers made it to the NBA Playoffs, Sam Hinkie was not yet their GM. Back then, when the oft-referenced Process had not existed yet, the Sixers pushed "super team" Boston to seven games in the 2012 East semifinals, and Jrue Holiday was still a rising star.
Now Holiday is among the ranks of what-could-have-been’s, Boston has morphed into an underdog top seed without their "super team," and we may be seeing the end of Hinkie's Process in sight.
It all started, of course, with Hinkie's drafting of Michael Carter-Williams in 2013 (they also nabbed Nerlens Noel from the Pels) followed by the uber-risky Joel Embiid pick in 2014 (they also picked Elfrid Payton, but he was shipped to Orlando for Dario Saric, who would come over from Europe only last season). Hinkie chose another big man in 2015 — Jahlil Okafor. Then, the team rolled the dice on three international players in 2016: Furkan Korkmaz of Turkey, Timothe Luwawu of France, and top-biller Ben Simmons of Australia.
Along the way, the 76ers unloaded a truckload of experience and depth, blowing up the core that did the heavy lifting in their 2012 postseason run, and choosing to go for a complete, ground-up approach. #TrustTheProcess was born, both as a way of proceeding and a pick-up game punch-line.
The cherry on top of the process, though, was this year's #1 pick (received in exchange for the #3 pick and a conditional first rounder next year), which turned out to be Washington Husky Markelle Fultz. He could also be the process's end of the line.
Not long after Fultz walked on the NBA Draft stage, we saw memes and IG posts of Fultz being flanked by Embiid and Simmons as Philly's new Big Three. We also saw the acronym FEDS (Fultz, Embiid, Dario, Simmons) peddled around social media as the hippest thing since Pokemon Go.
It's clear everyone in the City of Brotherly Love seems excited with how the chips have fallen, and nobody can blame them. After years and years of seemingly tanking for picks and then trading away assets, it finally looks like Hinkie & Co. may have gotten at least some things right after all (even though Hinkie is infamously no longer with the team).
Amidst all the jokes and gifs, Philly's front office can proudly say they have one of the most promising young cores that could soon rival or even surpass the likes of Minnesota, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles. Embiid put up All-Star numbers in his 31 appearances last season, Saric was scorching from January onwards, Okafor can slide down as the second unit's main offensive weapon, and surely AT LEAST either Simmons or Fultz is going to be VERY VERY GOOD, right?
Perhaps we have seen the end of Philly's rebuilding process after the 2017 NBA Draft, but the flip side is this — what follows is the much harder process of meshing all these pieces together into a whole bigger than the sum of its parts. That process — I call it building a contender — is going to be more arduous and painstaking. It's going to test these youngsters, from their maturity to their decision-making, their skill-sets, and their chemistry.
And as has been the case with Philly these past few seasons, much of their success will be dependent on these studs' health. As high as the ceiling of FEDS is, there's not much good that'll do if they will all be together to play just half a season. It's cute that Embiid was a 20-point, eight-rebound, three-block guy in 2016-2017, but cute won't cut it for Philly moving forward. With this core, the countdown has already begun on when they'll return to relevancy if not contention. The question is no longer about the process, but about the promise.
It's easy to imagine FEDS-fueled Philly playing to a packed Wells Fargo Center on most nights, to feel enthusiasm for more Sixers highlight reels than joke-time YouTube clips, and to write them up as a freight train ready to steamroll through the East.
But that sort of success won't happen overnight
Even if Simmons's right foot and Embiid's left knee both heal up well and, by the grace of the Almighty, their chemistry is on-point, there are just so many other intangibles and unknowns that will affect the shape and mindset of this team in the future. The fact is even the most promising young cores need a lot of time to develop unless, well, you're Shaq and Penny and we're in 1994.
Look at Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Look at Anthony Davis. Look at the inaugural season of KD and Russ playing together (they won just 23 games).
I love how Philly fans are dreaming of heavenly things, and I'd love to be one of them right now. The reality is the Sixers may, indeed, find a way to wield some magic, and we see them contending for the ECF crown in the space of five years' time. The other polar possibility, however, is we see the team hobbled by injuries again, and the 76ers pull the trigger on unloading more assets to address short-term stability.
Regardless of what outcome awaits Philadelphia, though, one thing is absolutely definite — this is going to be one helluva fascinating team to watch and follow in the seasons to come.
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