VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – Sam Hinkie may be out as Philadelphia 76ers general manager but “The Process,” his much beloved/hated master plan for rebuilding the struggling Sixers, lives on.
And on and on.
If they were to make a movie about the situation, the most apropos title is already taken: The Never Ending Story.
Now in its fourth year, The Process has proven to be one lengthy, not to mention vexing resurrection strategy.
For the uninitiated, The Process basically involves sacrificing the present for the future.
Instead of getting better bit-by-bit yearly, Hinkie allowed the Sixers to suck annually for quite a long stretch so he could gather an impressive array of future talent through high draft picks.
With the emphasis on FUTURE.
Therein lies the problem with The Process.
Y’see, the promising players Hinkie drafted were either a) injured prior to their selection or b) had overseas commitments and would not be available immediately (details later).
But IF and WHEN all the pieces finally came together, WHOA! Look out.
Because The Process has yet to fully pan out, Philly fans are pretty much split down the middle on its worth.
To half the Sixer faithful, The Process is nerd genius that will result in a huge payoff upon fruition.
The remaining 50 percent see it as a downright abomination, one that had only yielded three seasons of horrendous records (The 76ers’ 47-199 log over the previous three campaigns has, indeed, been the second-worst in NBA history for such a stretch.)
The Sixers front office honchos who succeeded Hinkie last April when he was fired/resigned (your choice), are pretty much stuck with The Process — for now, anyway.
They’re sorta caught in mid-stream.
Do they push on ahead or swim back to shore?
Too much time and money has been invested in The Process to just scrap it just yet.
For now, only modifications are being made by the Sixer brass as they wait to see which navigational course is most prudent.
There have been recent signs that show The Process may be on the verge of yielding dividends.
But the possibility of it being a colossal waste of time still exists as well.
For now, let’s take a DeLorean ride and go back to the future.
When Hinkie arrived in Philly in 2013, he chose to blow up the team he inherited.
Throwing caution to the wind, over the next three years he drafted several collegiate big men who came with both vast potential AND injury baggage.
The pain might be intense at first, Hinkie warned Sixer nation, but it wouldn’t last.
Sort of like yanking a band-aid off quickly. Better that than doing a slow pull (see Sacramento Kings and others.)
Hinkie’s methodology involved a ton of analytics that one needs a doctorate from MIT to fully comprehend, so MAS will just stick to the nitty-gritty.
The three highly touted tree-toppers drafted were Nerlens Noel, out of Kentucky, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, from Cameroon via Kansas, hailed by some as the second coming of fellow African Hakeem Olajuwon.
But Noel and Okafor missed all or significant time in their rookie seasons due to pre-draft injuries.
Embiid, for his part, missed the entirety of his first TWO seasons to a foot malady.
Rather than being the next Olajuwon, Embiid was in danger of being Sam Bowie 2.0.
Bowie, you’ll recall, was the guy whom Portland selected with the top pick in 1984, ahead of Michael Whatzisface from North Carolina.
Jordan would then lead Chicago to six titles. Bowie would lead the league in leg re-fractures and missed time, resulting eventually in premature retirement.
And in a 2014 trade of first-round draft picks with Orlando, Hinkie also landed Dario Saric, a versatile hotshot Croatian forward.
But Saric stayed in Europe and was MIA the next two seasons.
While the injury blight and absenteeism were taking place, 76er management made virtually no other significant personnel moves to try to remedy their situation.
The Sixers were allowed to woefully wallow in the NBA basement.
Management chose to wait patiently for all their stars to be aligned.
So did much of their fan base.
“Trust the Process” became the Hinkiephiles’ mantra for three long seasons.
Meanwhile the Hinkie-haters screamed “tanking” (losing on purpose, just to get high draft picks).
NBA commish Adam Silver began to suspect the same and appeared ready to step in and act on things in Philly.
But the Sixers brain trust beat him to it.
Hinkie resigned before being fired.
He was replaced by Bryan Colangelo, the former Toronto general manager. Colangelo had brought respectability to the Raptor franchise by bringing in a host of foreign talent.
He was tasked to do the same in Philly — by any means necessary.
Hinkiephiles howled in protest at the move, citing the team’s vast potential once all hands were finally on board.
The other half of Philly fandom rejoiced, preferring the more traditional methods of Colangelo.
Last summer, with the draft’s top pick, Colangelo plucked Ben Simmons, a marvelous LSU forward to be the conductor of the hardwood orchestra the Sixers had assembled.
Then, wouldn’t you know it, Simmons broke his foot in the preseason and would miss the entire ’16-17 campaign.
Even without Simmons, however, a light at the end of the tunnel briefly appeared in January of this campaign.
Noel, Okafor, Embiid (finished with their rehabs) and Saric (who came in from the cold) were at long last all on the court simultaneously.
And the Sixers went 10-5 — their best month in a long while.
Excitement in Philly, missing since the Allen Iverson years, was through the roof.
Embiid, a 7-footer, hit 3-pointers and registered slam dunks with crowd-pleasing aplomb.
Noel was a rim protector and a rebounder deluxe.
Okafor dazzled offensively with his array of shake-and-bake moves around the basket.
And Saric, a smooth, all-purpose swingman, played so well his name started to pop up in Rookie of the Year discussions.
Imagine how good they could be when Simmons joined them, Hinkiephiles crowed.
Even critics of The Process were at long last impressed.
But then, just as quickly, things unraveled.
Embiid hurt his knee cap in early February and would miss the rest of the season.
Noel, deemed superfluous with the presence of a healthy Embiid, was traded away (the trade occurred before Embiid was pronounced out for the year.)
End result: the Sixers are currently stumbling along with a 28-49 record, once more out of the playoffs.
And the franchise is back at square one.
There’s been talk for months that Okafor is also on the trading block, which might indicate that a dismantling of The Process is imminent.
Don’t do it, says MAS.
For his two cents, MAS — a native Philadelphian who is neither pro nor con Hinkie and The Process — thinks the Sixers have all the pieces to be something special.
Just give it a wee bit more time for all of them to fit together.
Heck, we’ve swam this far, why stop now?
MAS truly believes the opposite shore is finally in view.
He just hopes it’s not a mirage.
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