by Stephen Pagano
As the current 2017 NBA Draft lottery is upon us, the Philadelphia 76ers have secured yet another losing season, so the question must be asked, can we “trust the process?”
For years now, the 76ers fans have trusted the process, a term dubbed by former 76ers GM, Sam Hinkie, in which the team would rebuild with a collection of high draft picks, assets acquired from other teams, and through trades. His plan, for season after season, was that the team would “tank” (intentionally lose) to insure a lottery pick. If you’re unfamiliar with the NBA draft, the worst team usually receives the overall top pick, depending on the where the ping pong balls land. This means that your franchise can select a great young player from the collegiate level or overseas to help rebuild your team. In the Philadelphia 76ers case, it didn’t always work out that way.
On May 14th, 2013, the Sixers hired Sam Hinkie. He quickly made his first deal the following month at the NBA draft. In a surprising move, he traded fan favorite and point guard, Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for Nerlens Noel and a top five protected pick. Later that summer, coach Doug Collins stepped down and was replaced by the former Spurs assistant, Brent Brown. Hinkie also selected guard Michael Carter-Williams in the 2013 NBA Draft.
The 2013-2014 season is when the tanking allegations started to surface. The team lost 26 consecutive games in doing so, tying the NBA record with the Cleveland Cavaliers for most losses in a row in a single season. Young prospect Nerlens Noel sat out the entire year with a knee injury. The lone bright spot of the season was Michael Carter-Williams’ winning the Rookie of the Year award, the first since Allen Iverson, back in 1996. The team finished with a 19-63 record.
In the 2014 draft, the 76ers picked Joel Embiid out of Kansas, with the 3rd overall selection. They also acquired the rights to Croatian star Dario Saric. Embiid missed the entire campaign with a foot injury, as the team was horrific. The Sixers started the season 0-17, just one loss shy of the NBA record. Sam Hinkie would go on and trade the Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams, to the Milwaukee Bucks, for future picks. The 76ers finished with a record of 18-64, the 3rd worst record in franchise history. Once again, the squad was in the draft lottery.
The 76ers selected Duke forward Jahil Okafor with the 3rd pick in the 2015 NBA draft. For the second year in a row, 7-footer Joel Embiid would miss the entire season with the same nagging foot injury. The 2015-2016 season was a total disaster. The Sixers lost 27 consecutive games, dating back to the previous year, breaking a record for any major professional sports team in the United States. The team finished at 9-73, one loss shy of the worst record in NBA history. Later on that summer, the team brought in Jerry Colangelo, a former four-time Executive of the Year winner. The writing was on the wall for Sixers GM, Sam Hinkie. At seasons end, Hinkie stepped down as the team’s General Manager. His philosophy of losing now and winning later did not pan out for the city of Philadelphia. However, the 76ers did notch the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft. They selected a young superstar named Ben Simmons.
As the 2016-17 season approached, Philadelphia fans were buzzing with excitement. Joel Embiid was finally cleared to play in his first NBA game and make his long awaited debut. Also, Dario Saric was making his NBA debut, after spending two years in Croatia. With the young nucleus of Simmons, Embiid, Okafor, and Saric, the 76ers seemed on the right track, and possibly playoff bound. It looked like “Trust the Process” was working! Unfortunately, the news broke out of the Summer League that number one pick, Ben Simmons, had a Jones fracture in his foot. He was set to miss a few months and return after the All-Star Game in February.
In the absence of Simmons, Joel Embiid was a beast. The Cameroonian averaged 20 points and 7 rebounds a game, in very limited minutes. Also, he was an early favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award. He nicknamed himself “The Process.” However, his season was cut short, after only 31 games because of a torn meniscus. Shortly after this news, Ben Simmons was also shut down for the remainder of the year. Now, 76ers fans must patiently wait one more season to see “Trust the Process” play out. The 76ers could potentially land two top ten picks in 2017 NBA Draft, this upcoming summer.
The future looks bright for this young 76ers organization, although injuries have plagued their development and growth. With their height and speed, they should be able to compete for a championship, sooner rather than later. Fans are excited to see these guys play together once and for all. In the end, if this team does succeed, then Sam Hinkie deserves a lot of credit. In a way, he did die for our sins. After all, he was the lone casualty in his own strategy “Trust the Process.”