Where Are We In the Process
Trust The Process.
A cliche slogan that has been reintroduced back into our everyday sports jargon. Players, announcers, and fans all have used the phrase to describe a struggling but budding situation. Whether it be a player or team, #TrustTheProcess is the phrase to use.
The mantra became more prevalent after Sam Hinke took over as General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers in 2013. Hinke in his first press conference spoke of the process, but it became clear what the process was when he traded Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans for Nerlens Noel and a 1st-round pick.
Hinke, an analytics guy, believes in the numbers, and according to his analysis, the Sixers needed to sacrifice short-term wins for long-term success; at least that's how he sold it. After the trade, Sixers fans hopped on board and began to #TrustTheProcess, knowing Hinke was going to send the team into full-on tank mode for the betterment of the franchise. Hinke did something no other GM has ever done: get an entire fanbase and others outside of it, to believe in tanking. And not tanking for one year, tanking for multiple seasons. During Hinke's tenure as GM, the Sixers went 47-199. You read that correctly. From those years of pitiful basketball, they produced five lottery picks, Michael Carter-Williams, Elfrid Payton (traded to Magic), Joel Embid, Jahlil Okafor, and most recently Ben Simmons.
But Hinke stepped down as GM in April of 2016 and was replaced by Bryan Colangelo, but Hinke's DNA and the #TrustTheProcess vibe was still apart of the team's culture. Colangelo didn't show any signs of speeding up the process, and the Sixers went 28-54 in 2016-17, #1 pick Ben Simmons never playing a game. The process was still on track.
Fast forward to current date, and the Sixers are 19-19, on the verge of their first season over .500 since the lockout year in 2011. With a roster full of lottery picks, I have to ask, where are we in the process?
For me, I never believed in trusting the process, mainly when it involved tanking and analytics. My lack of faith grew over the years though, mostly because of how the Sixers managed their future franchise players. Let's start with Mr. Process himself, Joel Embiid.
Embiid was the Sixers third overall pick in 2014, but it took him two seasons to get on the court. Embiid missed two seasons because of a broken bone in his foot, that needed two surgeries. When Embiid was finally able to appear in an NBA game in 2016, he only suited up for 31 games, eventually being ruled out with a torn meniscus before the All-Star break. This season Embiid has been one of the hottest players in the league, on the verge of making his first All-Star Game, thanks to his likable personality.
Simmons has also proved the process to be effective - without taking as long as Embiid - averaging 16 points, 8 boards, and 7 dimes without a jumper. "Aussie James" as I like to call him, is the one player throughout the process who I believed in from day one. While Embiid took time to grow on me, I knew Simmons would be a prime-time player wherever he went. The Sixers were just lucky enough to land him.
Markelle Fultz, the Sixers most recent #1 pick, has only played in four games this season, currently out with a shoulder injury, and there is no telling when he will be back. Another dynamic of their process has been nursing players as long as needed, but they have become too precautious, not allowing guys to get the minutes they deserve. Embiid is still playing less than 35 minutes a game (31.2), and Simmons is playing the most on the team with 35.5.
So with limited minutes for star players and injured rookies, the process seems to be at a standstill, or better yet, a fork in the road. After four seasons of successful tanking, many in their fanbase expected at least a 40-win season and playoff spot. The Sixers are currently in 9th place in the mediocre Eastern Conference, 1.5 games behind the Pacers, and one game ahead of the woeful Knicks. One could say this team is one big free-agent away from propelling them to the next level, but why should a team with three of the top picks over the last five drafts need a marquee free agent? Of course, the objective is to get the most talent, especially in this era of NBA basketball, but a team with this much young talent should be in the middle of the pack of the eastern conference.
The Warriors are another team that trusted the process without actually coining the phrase. Between 2009-2012, the Warriors drafted Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Harrison Barnes selected in the 1st round during that span. In Barnes and Green rookie year, the Warriors were in the Western Conference Finals, and two years after that they were NBA champs. Now they are on the verge of winning three titles in four seasons. So from 2009-2015, the Warriors drafted their cornerstone pieces and propelled themselves to the top of the NBA. While it hasn't been six seasons yet for the Sixers, they aren't showing signs of that kind of progression.
Between Hinke and Colangelo, I don't know who to blame for sycing the Sixers fan base as much they did. The point of trusting the process is to progress into something better. In four seasons of trusting the process, the Sixers haven't succeeded at anything except winning the lottery in back-to-back years. I ask this question to Sixers fans: What makes them that much better than the Knicks?