The Process pays off for patient 76ers fans; unfortunately, The Author is not here
Sam Hinkie really should be here to see the crown jewel of the Sixers' road back to respectability
The Process is complete.
And it's a damn shame that the architect of The Process isn't here to enjoy the light at the end of this long, planned tunnel of Philadelphia 76ers darkness.
Over the weekend, reports emerged that the Sixers finally had cashed in chips accumulated the past four years. The Sixers went for it, and the biggest prize in the 2017 NBA draft, Washington's preternaturally gifted freshman point guard, Markelle Fultz.
The Sixers reportedly would send the Celtics this year's No. 3 pick -- rumored to become Kansas' Josh Jackson, though Duke's Jayson Tatum would fit nicely, too -- as well as at least one more first-round pick (with protections) over the next two seasons.
This gifts long-suffering Philly fans with the following roster, which may have just surpassed the Minnesota Timberwolves as the most potential-filled young roster in the NBA:
Fultz, one of the most gifted scoring guards to come out of college in several years, and who has garnered comparisons to James Harden.
Ben Simmons, last year's No. 1 overall pick and a player who has a build and a skillset in the mold of LeBron James.
Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in 2014, who has battled a bevy of injuries his first three seasons but has still shown flashes of becoming a generational, Hakeem Olajuwon-like big man.
Dario Saric, and Robert Covington, and Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas, Richaun Holmes and plenty more supporting pieces, not to mention tons of cap space.
For all of this, a little more than a year ago, Sam Hinkie was run out of town.
And it may be the most ungrateful move a sports franchise ever has visited upon a brilliant mind who took enormous but calculated risks to save a franchise from longstanding irrelevance.
Not by the fans, mind you. The fans weren't the ones who ran this franchise's front office savior out of town. Even though the Sixers' attendance was among the worst in the NBA during the leanest years of The Process, there always seemed to be trust in The Process among Philly's fans. Yes, they booed the losses. Whatever. Philadelphia boos Hall of Famers if they have a bad game, and these Sixers teams were historically terrible. But Philly fans understood that this would be a franchise long stuck in neutral if it didn't do something big and brash and bold. It's remarkable that this famously impatient fan base had the forethought to follow Hinkie's lead -- to trust The Process -- yet the franchise's ownership and the NBA's power brokers did not.
Yes, what Hinkie did -- lose now to win later -- goes against the reigning sports ethic. Adam Silver didn't like it. Other NBA general managers didn't like it. Sixers players sure didn't like it, having to suffer through years of ineptitude while gathering assets for the future. The Process even worked against itself at times. Remember when Kristaps Porzingis refused to work out for the Sixers, instead forcing his way further down in the draft so he wouldn't have to suffer through The Process? Look at the decision now. Porzingis plays for the dumpster fire that is the New York Knicks. He could have been the fourth head in a four-headed beast in Philadelphia. Think he'd switch spots now? And in the irony of ironies, the shoved-off Sam Hinkie is looking like a much better general manager than the Zen Master himself, Phil Jackson.
What Hinkie did was disrupt the NBA. The Silicon Valley whiz kid turned the Sixers into "Uber, but for basketball," an idea that forever could change how the bottom half of this league operates when a team's trajectory appears headed in the wrong direction.
But the NBA was too impatient to embrace his genius.
You would be correct to point out that crowning the Sixers now is impossibly premature. Simmons has yet to play in an NBA game, and there were plenty of questions about his game at LSU, like: Can he shoot? Does he have the motor? Embiid's career trajectory could become like Olajuwon's, or it could become like the player taken right after Hakeem the Dream: Sam Bowie, the incredibly talented big man whose career was decimated by non-stop injuries. Fultz looks unreal in highlight clips, but his college team won only two games in conference play, and his coach was fired after the season. None of these players are sure things.
The Process itself may be complete. But that doesn't mean The Process automatically will turn into NBA titles down the road. That's not how this thing works. As Hinkie wrote in his 13-page resignation letter, "You can be right for the wrong reasons. In our business, you're often lionized for it. You can be wrong for the right reasons. This may well prove to be Joel Embiid." Every draft pick Hinkie accumulated was one more lottery ticket to put in his pocket. Even if you're stacking the deck in your favor, you still may not win.
But still: How many other NBA franchises would trade places with the Sixers right now?
I'd say, oh, 21 or 22 franchises would flip rosters with the Sixers in a heartbeat. Maybe more.
On Saturday, after Fultz's workout, Embiid tweeted a photograph of himself with Fultz, Simmons and Robert Covington. "This should be legendary if it happens #TheProcess," Embiid wrote.
Hours later, it reportedly did happen. It remains to be seen if it will be legendary. Certainly, it has a chance to be. Losing now to win later is a winning strategy in today's NBA. But only if you go all in, like Sam Hinkie did, and take on all that risk -- risk to your franchise's future, and risk to your own job stability.
Finally, after four years of losing, the 76ers became winners Saturday night. A damn shame that Sam Hinkie lost out on the champagne toast to celebrate. Because make no mistake: Hinkie did his job, and he did it well. And as history has often shown us about the most forward-thinking people, Hinkie's genius went unrecognized until he was already gone.
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