Something Special Is Brewing In Philadelphia
Trust the process. For the last three years, this is the phrase Sixers fans have been uttering non-stop. When the former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie decided that the best way to move forward with the team was to blow up the roster and start from scratch, many figures around the league scrutinized him and the team relentlessly.
The Sixers during this stretch had been a laughing stock and a joke to fans of the league. After drafting big men in three straight drafts, many thought the organization had no idea what it was doing. This was especially the case when Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and Joel Embiid all missed extended periods of time during their rookie seasons.
Losses began to stack up year after year, and lottery picks continued to get injured. Many people even called the 76ers a “D-League team” playing in the NBA, and based on the talent on the roster it wasn’t an unfair comparison.
The “losing culture” that started to form around the Sixers organization became a huge turnoff for many agents of players, and soon very few agent wanted their client to sign with the team. This left the Sixers with draft picks and D-League call ups forming the majority of the roster.
Players became frustrated, management became frustrated, and even the league became frustrated. Last season, the NBA seemingly forced Jerry Colangelo to step in and co-manage the team with Sam Hinkie in an attempt to speed up “the process.” Not long after, after realizing that he would not be able to see out his vision to fruition, Hinkie stepped down as GM, and Jerry Colangelo’s son, Bryan, stepped in to replace him.
With the Colangelo’s now in control of the team, agents became more willing to negotiate with the team and assets became more available. Then, in the summer of 2016, the future of the organization had become brighter than it had ever been before.
The Turning Point
When the Sixers won the draft lottery, attaining the number one pick in the draft, all of a sudden the team had hope. They won the prize that was Ben Simmons. Often times compared to guys like Magic Johnson and Lebron James, if Simmons can become even half as good, Philadelphia is going to be dangerous very soon. Just like each of Philadelphia’s previous three first round picks, however, Simmons injured himself before the season and has not played a game yet.
Simmons being sidelined certainly hurt, but once Joel Embiid stepped on the court for the first time, the fans forgot all about him. In his first game action since 2014, Embiid showed off a plethora of post moves many people say are similar to Hakeem Olajuwon. Although he has been on a minutes restriction this season, the Sixers instantly became one of the most entertaining teams to watch thanks to “The Process,” as Embiid likes to call himself in honor of former GM Sam Hinkie who drafted him.
Embiid, believe it or not, isn’t even the only rookie on the Sixers flourishing. Dario Saric, a Croatian drafted with Embiid in 2014, has finally made the transition to the NBA and is playing well as a 6th man for the Sixers. Averaging almost ten points and six rebounds a game, Dario has been a solid defensive presence on the court. Coach Brett Brown has said of Saric that he embodies the toughness that the city of Philadelphia represents.
Add all of these new additions to pieces such as Robert Covington, Gerald Henderson, TJ McConnell, and Ersan Illyasova, and all of a sudden the Sixers are playing competitive basketball. In 2016 this team showed they could compete on any given night, and this was seen in their two games against the Cavaliers where they only lost by one point then four points.
Off the court, the Sixers have been bonding on a level unseen in the past due to the constant turnover of the roster. Nerlens Noel has said that the atmosphere is starting to finally feel like an actual team after expressing early frustrations with the log jam at the center position.
Joel Embiid is not only dominating on the court, but his off the court personality has also taken the league by storm. His All-Star campaign caught on fire when he revealed that he wanted to make the team to date his crush. His sense of humor is so infectious, and his fanbase seems to grow every day as a result. At the last All-Star vote reveal, Embiid was fourth in voting behind Kevin Love, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Lebron James.
Noel, Simmons, Embiid, Stauskas, and McConnell even spent New Years Eve together, enjoying the holiday while also bonding as teammates. Situations like that are exactly the kind of thing that Sixers fans love to see, because the closer a team is to each other, the better the team tends to play on the court.
Since the New Year began, the team bonding has seemed to be paying off in a big way. In 2017, the team is 5-2, with their only losses coming against a very good Celtics team, and against the Wizards without Embiid in the lineup. Embiid has ripped off nine straight games with 20 points or more, and the Sixers are statistically the best defense in the league in January.
As a part of Embiid’s All-Star campaign, he has said his goal is to make the playoffs this year. Realistically, that will not happen, but creating a fun, winning atmosphere around the Sixers is exactly what the team needed after years of struggles. All of a sudden, basketball fans in Philadelphia have a team to rally around, and the team is giving their best efforts to reward them for their patience. It’s not easy to stick with a team that constantly loses 60+ games a season, but after four seasons of tanking there is finally a reason to be excited.
When Ben Simmons returns to the court, the process will finally begin to finalize. The Sixers are already winning more games than they were expected to win, and they will only get better with Simmons’ playmaking and scoring ability.
When the season is over, the Sixers are expected to have not only their draft pick, but unless the Lakers obtain a top three pick the Sixers get their pick as well. Lucky for them, this draft is loaded at the guard position, which is exactly what the Sixers need to bolster. Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, Dennis Smith Jr., Malik Monk, Josh Jackson, and Jayson Tatum are all elite point guards and wing players who the Sixers should target. If they come out of the draft with two of those names, they will be scary in a few seasons.
The team also still has yet to move Jahlil Okafor and/or Nerlens Noel, and if they can get a valuable shooting guard or small forward in return for those guys, that would help solidify the balance of talent on the roster.
Overall, the team already has the foundation set in place with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and after this upcoming offseason, “the process” will finally be coming to an end. The Sixers will no longer be the laughing stock of the league, and might catch some people off guard with how fast they become a good team. Hang in there Sixers fans, soon the East will run through Philly, and you can thank “the process” for the success.