We've heard the phrase "trust the process" being thrown around in reference to the Philadelphia 76ers since 2013. It's been turned into memes and jokes galore across the internet. Here we are, nine years later in 2022, and we're still being told by the Philly front office to "trust the process". But should we? What exactly does trusting the process mean for Sixers fans and is it supposed to be taking this long? Let's take a look at how it started, how it's going and whether or not it's time for Philly to start letting go.
The Philadelphia 76ers and "The Process"
"What we are waiting for is not as important as what happens to us while we are waiting. Trust the process." That's one of Mandy Hale's inspirational quotes, but it might as well be one of the Sixers' Process quotes. Pablo Torre, who covers all things NBA for ESPN, was actually the first person to report on the usage of "Trust the Process" by former Philly guard Tony Wroten.
"The Process" is essentially the Sixers' process of rebuilding the franchise through tanking, acquiring draft picks and trading for impact pieces. Many NBA teams do this, of course, but Philadelphia's strategy is what sets them apart. In 2013, Sam Hinkie, the new general manager of the team, decided to trade a young All-Star point guard named Jrue Holiday.
Holiday was the face of the franchise at that point, and where most other teams would build a team around their young superstar, Philadelphia decided to trade him. It seemed as though Hinkie believed that in order to win a championship, multiple superstars were necessary. His strategy, "The Process," involved collecting high draft picks and promising young players in hopes of attracting more superstars. Hinkie's process wasn't concerned with short-term success for the team. It was playing the long game, the very long game.
Drafting Joel "The Process" Embiid
The year 2014 was an important one for the Philadelphia 76ers because they drafted Joel Embiid third overall.
Like the situation with Noel the previous year, Embiid was recovering from an injury and would not be immediately available to play for the team. Again, Hinkie was playing the long game. The team continued to move players until they had a roster full of young talent with very little experience. The team suffered another awful year, starting the season 0-17 and finishing with a record of 18-64, even worse than the previous year.
The 2015-16 season got even worse, and the team finished with a shocking record of 10-72. This year, the team also hired Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations and special adviser to the managing general partner. Hinkie resigned before the season was over, allegedly due to irreconcilable differences when Colangelo and Jerry Colangelo's son, Bryan, took over. Another important event happened this year when the team won the first pick in the NBA Draft Lottery. Even though Hinkie was gone, "The Process" seemed to carry on.
Drafting Ben Simmons
During the 2016 NBA Draft, Philadelphia selected Ben Simmons with the first overall pick. The last time the team had the first overall pick was when they drafted Allen Iverson 20 years earlier, and that choice turned out pretty well for them. So, it's no surprise that the franchise and its fans were hopeful. Simmons played for the team during the Summer League but injured his foot during training camp.
Although Simmons was healthy at the time he was drafted and during summer league, he missed the entire 2016-17 season due to that same foot injury. Fortunately for the Sixers, Embiid was finally able to play. In his season debut he scored 20 points, seven rebounds and had two blocks. He continued to perform well until yet another injury in February of 2017 and he missed the rest of the season. The team finished with a record of 28-54 — a great improvement from the previous season, but still not where they wanted to be.
One Step Closer: Drafting Markelle Fultz
The team traded the No. 3 pick and a future first-round pick to the Boston Celtics for another No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft. They ended up selecting Markelle Fultz from the University of Washington. Fultz had an impressive freshman year at UW, where he averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds. He was an excellent scorer and playmaker, and it was widely agreed upon that, as the best player available, he should be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
The 2017-18 season also saw the debut of the team's previous No. 1 pick, Ben Simmons. Everyone's hopes and dreams for this team finally seemed like they could come true with Embiid, Fultz and Simmons at the helm. Fultz played well in his season debut, but a mysterious shoulder injury plagued him and affected his ability to shoot. Coach Brett Brown decided to bench Fultz until he recovered.
Luckily for the team, Simmons was delivering and became a triple-double machine. He was named Rookie of the Year over Utah's Donovan Mitchell. Embiid was back from injury and proved himself to be a force in the league and becoming synonymous with "The Process." He averaged 22.9 points, 11 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game. Things were certainly looking up for the team (aside from Fultz's mysterious inability to shoot), and they finished with a record of 52-30 as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They defeated the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs but lost to the Boston Celtics in the second round. Although they were eliminated in the second round, the future looked full of promise.
The 7-Month Jimmy Butler Saga
The 2018-19 season marked some more major moves for the team. They acquired superstar, Jimmy Butler, from the Minnesota Timberwolves as well as Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers. Once again, the team finished as the third seed in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 51-31. In the first round of the playoffs, the Sixers defeated the Brooklyn Nets in just five games. They faced off against the Toronto Raptors in the second round, losing in Game 7 with a buzzer-beater from Kawhi Leonard. This Sixers team had the most potential, in my opinion. In the offseason, Jimmy Butler signed with the Miami Heat. The Sixers essentially chose to hold on to Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons over Butler, of which Butler still has some strong feelings.
"The Process" Starts Falling Apart
Any good coach will tell you that after a tough loss, the best thing to do is to tip your cap, shake it off and look forward to your next chance to win again. The Sixers didn't get that message.
The team was expected to do well in the 2019-20 season despite the departure of Butler. The team traded Fultz and his shooting woes to Orlando, and Simmons, Embiid and Harris were all playing well. The team finished with a record of 43-30 and, once again, made a playoff appearance in the bubble. However, the team was eliminated in the first round by the Boston Celtics in a four-game sweep. Consequently, Brett Brown was fired as head coach.
Where in the World is Ben Simmons?
Doc Rivers became the new head coach and the team added heavy-hitter Daryl Morey as the president of basketball operations. Joel Embiid continued to solidify his place as a superstar during the 2020-21 season, averaging 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 blocks per game. He finished second in MVP voting behind Denver's Nikola Jokic. The team finished first in the Eastern Conference with a record of 49-23 but had their fair share of playoff woes.
There was a decline in Simmons' performance during the regular season and certainly during the playoffs. He set a new record as the worst free-throw shooter in playoff history, shooting just 34.2 percent from the line. Simmons also lacked offensive dominance, which he'd displayed in previous seasons, and actively avoided taking shots. The team was eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks in game 7 of the second round, in a game where Simmons passed on an open dunk.
Simmons was scrutinized for his performance and, although he had four years left on his contract, requested a trade. Simmons refused to practice, attend meetings, attend or play in games, etc. and racked up fines predicted to exceed $15 million.
Sixers Give Up Haul for Morey-Favorite James Harden
In February of 2022, Simmons was traded to the Brooklyn Nets along with Andre Drummond, Seth Curry and two first-round draft picks. Philadelphia acquired James Harden and Paul Millsap. The team had a great 2021-22 season with Embiid carrying the load, with help from Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris and James Harden. The team finished fourth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 51-31. They defeated the Toronto Raptors in the first round but fell to the Miami Heat in the second round, where Embiid missed two games due to injury. Embiid finished second in MVP voting after Nikola Jokic won once again.
Is "The Process" Still Alive?
This brings us to today. "The Process" has been an ongoing one since 2013, and as an ESPN analyst or NBA podcast host will tell you, it's hard to determine any final thoughts on the decade-long plan to bring the Sixers from mediocrity to the next level.
In my eyes, the process worked. The team suffered some awful seasons, yes, but it was clear from the start that Hinkie wasn't concerned with immediate success. There was a point in 2019 when the team had Embiid, Simmons and Butler — multiple superstars, which Hinkie knew were necessary to win a championship. That was and is "The Process". Before that, they had secured Markelle Fultz — a young player with so much promise. How could they have predicted that injury would completely affect his game? How could they have predicted that injury and/or mental struggles would affect Ben Simmons the way it did? Things could have turned out completely different, but they didn't.
Now, the team has Embiid, Harden and a budding star in Tyrese Maxey. Embiid, rightfully taking on the nickname "The Process," is who they're now building the team around. It'll be interesting to see what moves Morey makes in the off-season. Harden simply isn't the Harden of seasons past, so the team must be careful with the contract they offer him. Players like Maxey and Harris hold great trade value, but Maxey has become a franchise favorite — do they dare trade him away in order to gain another proven superstar? "The Process" continues, and it seems as though Philadelphia fans have no choice but to continue trusting in it.
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