38-147. That’s the Philadelphia 76ers’ record over the last three seasons, giving them a .267 winning percentage that’s as difficult to watch as that number is to understand. It’s been three seasons of offensive incompetence, defensive ineptitude, draft picks sitting out and “potential” through the roof. The whole spectacle is difficult to follow because the characters keep changing, though the general story stays the same. Veterans are shuttled out for young, cheap, would-be benchwarmers that are getting loads of playing time; meanwhile, draft picks are being stockpiled like the end is nigh. Consequently, over the past two seasons, the Sixers have endured two of the three longest losing streaks in the history of the sport (26 and 28 games). Now, rookie sensation and the anointed future-franchise player Jahlil Okafor has to have a bodyguard at all times after a few nightclub incidents, and patience is just teetering on the edge of revolt. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to “The Process.”
Sam Hinkie is the architect of this elaborate plan, and, as a result, the Sixers General Manager has endured an enormous amount of name-calling over the past few seasons.
“The Process” is hazily defined as follows:
1. Trade away middling veterans and non-stars for expiring contracts and draft picks (goodbye, Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner; hello, Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams, a few first-round picks and a mountain of second-round picks).
2. Trade Michael Carter-Williams after he wins Rookie of the Year.
3. Draft three centers in consecutive drafts.
4. Lose, a lot.
5. Get high draft picks, hope they pan out.
7. Win, a lot.
It’s the fourth step that so many take issue with. The obvious outcome of trading away every quality player who management doesn’t think will be a part of the eventual winning product is that this team is very, very bad. The word “tanking” gets thrown around quite a bit, implying that the Sixers are losing on purpose. They’ve been accused of creating a culture of losing, of ruining competitive balance and of swindling their season-ticket holders out of their money. It’s fashionable for players, executives and even agents to take potshots at Philadelphia. Teams have been bad before. Why the hate?
No team has ever so nakedly embraced this (proven) method of getting better: be bad, draft a superstar. Sure, coaches have put bad teams on the floor before, but no team has ever done it so purposefully. Therein lies the hate for Mr. Hinkie, the pale stats-wizard who the Sixers’ faithful hope knows what the hell he’s doing. Because, for the first time since he was hired, people are really starting to doubt The Process. The reflexive answer to any criticism used to be, “Just wait, you have to be patient, we’d rather be bad now and great later than mediocre forever, you don’t understand ‘The Process.’” But, it’s now those same defenders who are starting to question whether they were sold a false bill of goods. Joel Embiid may never play in the NBA; Okafor doesn’t have a single veteran around to lean on for support; Noel might just end up being “meh”; and who knows if Dario Saric will fit into a crowded frontcourt, let alone actually play. Times are dark.
As always, the refrain remains: “Trust ‘The Process.’” But, trust has to be built both ways. If Hinkie has been accused of treating players poorly since his arrival, and he can’t be truthful with players and agents, how can fans trust that he’ll be truthful with them?
Hinkie’s been in Philadelphia a few years now, but he’s got a little bit to learn about trust.
This week, the 76ers have hired NBA legend and current head of USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo, who will serve as the chairman of basketball operations. Representatives for the Sixers have stated Hinkie will still have the final say on roster moves, though many insiders have disputed that claim.
Bernstein is a member of the class of 2018.