Somewhere between the “told you so” back-patting and those who never understood the Process in the first place exists a third feeling towards the Philadelphia 76ers: cautious optimism.
Chances are you’re one of those people, not a #RTArmageddon cornball but also not a lazy newspaper writer with really bad takes.
You just want to see good basketball again, and you’re excited that the Sixers sit atop the draft board for a second straight year.
You’re also probably leery of celebrating some pseudo-achievement when you know that this whole thing is really just getting started.
As divorce lawyer Joe Cordell would say, “that’s okay,” because the Sixers haven’t won anything yet, which is the new point of contention between Sam Hinkie militants and those with ambivalent viewpoints.
The problem with Philadelphia basketball discussion is that we treat every thought as mutually exclusive.
It’s okay to celebrate the culmination of the Process while also showing concern that Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons have played zero NBA games. We’ve got Simmons’ college tape and some summer league ball, and that’s it. We have no idea what kind of NBA player he’ll be.
It’s the same with Fultz, who looks like a star on paper, but could also be the next Anthony Bennett or Jabari Parker or Victor Oladipo, top-two draft picks that turned out to be a bust, frequently injured, or just okay. Recent history suggests that the latter probably won’t be the case, with more success stories for the number one pick than failures going back a decade.
2016: Ben Simmons – ????
2015: Karl-Anthony Towns – stud
2014: Andrew Wiggins – solid
2013: Anthony Bennett – total bust
2012: Anthony Davis – stud
2011: Kyrie Irving – stud
2010: John Wall – stud
2009: Blake Griffin – solid
2008: Derrick Rose – stud, then wracked by injuries
2007: Greg Oden – bust via injuries
Removing Simmons from the equation, you could say that six of those nine number one picks have been worth the selection, depending how you feel about Rose. That’s a percentage worth trading up for, but it doesn’t mean you can’t find game changers elsewhere in the top ten. You’ve got the likes of Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, and Joel Embiid as examples of that.
You can be thrilled with what you saw from Embiid this season while also being worried about a seven footer with a torn meniscus who missed his rookie season with a completely different injury. Embiid has looked like a generational superstar when on the floor, but he’s only played 31 games in three years.
Likewise, Brett Brown has been a soldier through some incredibly harrowing moments, but how much meaningful basketball has he really coached? He has to put this thing together and teach a young team how to win, which also includes drawing up better inbound plays and learning how to manage the fourth quarter better than we’ve seen in the past.
— Kyle Scott (@CrossingBroad) November 6, 2016
Above him, Bryan Colangelo has a ton of cap space to work with, but he still needs to get his free agent signings correct. It wasn’t long ago that the Eagles put together a “dream team” of high priced underachievers who went 8-8 in a crappy NFC East. One bogus max deal or a Landry Fields repeat could throw this whole thing out of sync.
And above him is Josh Harris, a businessman who reportedly has no issue paying the luxury tax but isn’t really a “basketball guy.” He’s also not a hockey guy or soccer guy, and his New Jersey Devils (owner) and Crystal Palace (co-owner) both turned in mostly horrendous 2016 seasons.
It’s also legitimate to wonder if Philadelphia has turned the corner in becoming a preferred destination for the likes of J.J. Redick or even Dion Waiters. Would you jump on board the Sixers train or hook up with John Wall and Bradley Beal instead? It’s still about building a super team in the NBA, and I’m not going to Wildwood if I can go to Malibu instead.
Other things to consider:
1.) Is Dario Saric a starter or a sixth man? His role should be defined this season.
2.) Extending Robert Covington is a no-brainer, but can he continue to put up February- and March-like numbers?
3.) What kind of contributions are you getting from T.J. McConnell, Richaun Holmes, and players seven through ten?
4.) Will the Cavaliers drop off in the Eastern Conference? Celtics? Raptors?
5.) How long until the Warriors slow down?
So on, and so forth. These are all fair questions that don’t make you a Process-hating blowhard.
— Don Steele (@donsteele) June 18, 2017
Somewhere along the way, this turned into a nerdy (if facetious) slap fight between 15,000 Rights To Ricky Sanchez listeners and three-dozen elder sports writers and NBA veterans, some who had admittedly awful takes, and others who just had a fundamental disagreement with the idea of losing on purpose.
That’s an important distinction that we aren’t making.
There’s a difference between a 60-year-old print journo saying, “Why not build around Evan Turner?” and someone like my uncle who wouldn’t pose ridiculous questions like that, but doesn’t exactly worship at the altar of Hinkie either.
The rest of the anti-process crowd is generally immune to lambasting since they aren’t even on social media, but you get the feeling that they’d be branded with the dumbest scarlet letter of all time if they were.
And then there’s the rest of us, who decided to observe as neutrals while trying to be patient. We were actually alive the last time the Sixers were good. Some of us will be confused for
Trump voters Process haters and added to the blacklist anyway, like a modern day inquisition spearheaded by 5’6″ white millennials.
“If you aren’t for us, you’re against us!”
But the truth of the matter is that the Sixers haven’t achieved anything yet.
What they have done is put themselves in a position to be competitive and bring some sort of excitement to a town that has been pathetically let down by pretty much everybody except Villanova basketball since 2009.
And that’s why we trusted the Process, because it’s about creating a team that can compete for a title, not just tread water as a crappy eighth seed.
Let’s get excited for the future while leaving the dopey McCarthyism out of it.