Yaron Weitzman wrote a book about The Process. It is called "Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports." I will say no more about it without disclosing that Weitzman a friend of mine and I helped with the editing.
Great friend that I am, I asked Weitzman the most combative, least generous question I could: Given that he's not from Philadelphia, isn't a Sixers fan, isn't a Sixers beat writer and wasn't around the team much during the Sam Hinkie era, what makes him think he's the guy to write this?
"I'm not," Weitzman said. "That's the short answer."
The slightly longer answer is that, while he knows he's not the person Philly fans expected to write the first book on this subject, he's the person who put in the work. Hinkie didn't want to talk, the Sixers didn't want to help and he went ahead with it anyway. The book, which will be released on March 17, includes all sorts of never-before-published details from interviews with about 175 people.
"I busted my ass," Weitzman said. "I called everybody. I had no special claim on this. There was no special reason."
Weitzman loved every new bit of information, and he grew to like the challenge of working around the obstacles in his way. In retrospect, he sees benefits to both his outsider status and people not participating. He entered the Sixers' weird world without the baggage that would come with being seen as pro- or anti-Process, and he was forced to get creative with sourcing. His own process was pretty audacious, particularly because he picked a subject that required investigations into messy stories like Hinkie's exit, Burnergate and the deterioration of Markelle Fultz's jump shot.
"I was kind of brash to do that," Weitzman said. "And it was a pain in the ass for a year."
The result is a book stuffed with anecdotes, like Joel Embiid asking for a Shirley Temple at a Kansas frat party on his recruiting visit. Embiid's host for the weekend, Justin Wesley, had to send a pledge to find the ingredients.
That scene isn't just there because it's amusing. It makes a point: When a big-time recruit is on campus, he gets what he wants. Embiid got two orders of chocolate cake at his dinner with the team, too.
Much of "Tanking to the Top" is like that. Weitzman reports that, in a 2015 pitch meeting about a jersey sponsorship, CEO Scott O'Neil assured the president of StubHub that the Sixers would be competitive by 2017-18, despite the fact that the general manager of the team had deliberately avoided making any promises about a timeline. This illustrates the tension between O'Neil and Hinkie, but is also meant to illuminate the way the basketball operations and business sides of any organization are connected.
Weitzman has been doing a lot of press lately, and he is tired of talking about whether or not The Process "worked." It did, obviously, but that's not the point.
"It's more of a how-the-NBA-works type of thing," Weitzman said. "Which sounds silly, but that's kind of what I think I did. It's more like how owners and players and coaches and the league office and power and all these things -- how it all works and what actually happens."
His big takeaway is that "we don't know s---," even many of us who cover the league for a living. Before his reporting, he was naive about the Sixers, The Process and the NBA as a whole. He is now deeply skeptical of any word uttered at a press conference. When he thinks about the future of the team, he's most interested not in the moves Philadelphia can make to balance the roster, nor whether or not coach Brett Brown will keep his job beyond this season, but rather a much more basic question: "Who the hell is in charge?" He still doesn't have a good answer himself.
"They'll say it's Elton (Brand) with input, but what does 'with input' mean?" Weitzman said. "Every team has 'with input.' Who is making the basketball decisions? Who gets the final say?"
One of the themes of "Tanking to the Top" is that the NBA is a small world, and there are always people within and outside of organizations with competing agendas, trying to wield influence. Clashes are inevitable. Sometimes, Weitzman wonders, had he taken this magnifying lens to, say, the Indiana Pacers, would he have discovered that they had the same sort of drama?
"But then I think no," he said. "They all have something, but no. It wouldn't be at this level. This is different. This is next level. You can name 12 things. Going through the book, I remember when things would happen last year, I'd be telling my wife, 'No, no more things! I don't want any more chapters. No more things. Just stop!'
Weitzman no longer has to worry about explaining to a fact-checker why "unkown" (as in "Enoughunkownsources," the name of one of the burner accounts) doesn't need to be corrected to "unknown." He is not, however, anywhere near done telling behind-the-scenes stories. Every week brings some piece of news -- a quote, a rumor, a coach losing his job -- begging for further exploration.
"I think about the Nets," Weitzman said, "and I'm like, oh, I would love to apply this lens to that."
On Sunday, in the first quarter of the New Orleans Pelicans' 120-107 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Lonzo Ball threw an alley-oop to Zion Williamson from beyond halfcourt. It was the kind of play we imagined even before they were teammates, back when we were only sort of sure that Anthony Davis would be traded to Los Angeles. And then Ball threw the same pass to Williamson for the same dunk less than two minutes later.
With apologies to LeBron James, the New Orleans Advocate's Christian Clark is right: Ball is the king of the hit-ahead pass, with 24 assists thrown before passing halfcourt since Williamson's regular-season debut on Jan. 22. I watched all of them; here is a minute's worth:
It is not unusual to miss one of Ball's passes because the broadcast has cut away. He has been doing this forever, but directors aren't always ready:
Lately, Ball has been scoring more often and more efficiently, which bodes well for the future of the Pelicans' halfcourt offense. What makes him unique, though, is this kind of thing, and it makes Williamson even scarier, too. When the two of them are on the court together, New Orleans' pace and transition frequency go through the roof.
Siakam is at his most dangerous attacking the rim. This season, he has become a respectable above-the-break 3-point shooter. Stars typically need other tricks, though, and the Utah game was instructive: With Rudy Gobert protecting the paint, Siakam decided to create a few shots that he knew wouldn't be blocked.
These buckets were a part of one of his finest performances -- he also had 11 rebounds and a career-high eight assists in the Toronto Raptors' 101-92 win. With about a month left in the regular season, I wonder if we will see more of them. Considering how much Siakam loves his spin moves, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that he is comfortable taking short-to-medium-range turnarounds. On the season, though, he has shot just 35 percent from midrange, per Cleaning The Glass.
The Raptors must hope that number will rise in between now and the end of the season. If he ever becomes a reliable scorer from that area, he'll be unguardable.
Playing the long game?
Here's an extremely LeBron sequence from Sunday afternoon, in which he waves off Davis, puts Lou Williams in two pick-and-rolls and puts Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in position to attack a close-out and get a layup:
And a couple of possessions later, when Williams switched onto James, it didn't end well for the Clippers:
This is what James does better than anybody on the planet, and maybe better than any basketball player ever. If the opposing team has a weak link on defense, especially in the playoffs, he will attack it over and over again. He controlled the game down the stretch in the Lakers' 112-103 win, and I spent much of the fourth quarter annoyed that Clippers coach Doc Rivers had Williams on the floor instead of Patrick Beverley. It's not as if they were desperate for Williams' playmaking, given that both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were healthy.
And then I heard John Hollinger and Nate Duncan talk about it on a podcast. "I actually think Doc may have done this on purpose," Hollinger said. The theory: Down the line, if Rivers wants to sit Williams in crunch time, he can use that Lakers game to sell the move to the players. And he didn't tip his hand about how he really plans to defend the Lakers in crunch time should they meet in the postseason.
This might sound like galaxy-brain stuff, but I wouldn't dismiss it.
He's still 23
I have no idea if there will be more highlights where that came from, but Jackson has taken advantage of the opportunity he has been afforded lately. He spent a few months with the G League's Memphis Hustle before making his Grizzlies debut in late January (when Grayson Allen got hurt). He got a spot in the rotation quickly, and his role expanded after Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill were traded to Miami and Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke went out with injuries.
Memphis turned down his $8.9 million fourth-year option, and that typically means the player will go elsewhere. Jackson's situation, however, is atypical, and if the former No. 4 overall pick feels good about his year with the Grizzlies, perhaps he'd re-sign. At just 23, there is still upside here, even if the road to this point has been rocky.