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For Fans Who Understood The Process, This Has Been Sweet!

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“The people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust” -Abraham Lincoln

Trust the Process.

The Philadelphia 76ers are in the playoffs, and could actually contend for a conference title. It’s 2018. Markelle Fultz is going to play against Denver on Monday night for the first time since October 23rd. The pieces are coming together.

Could everybody say they were able to trust?

Let’s rewind to draft night, June 27th 2013. New Sixers GM, Sam Hinkie, traded the team’s best player, Jrue Holiday, who just led the Sixers to a playoff series win over the Chicago Bulls two seasons earlier. For Jrue, Philly received the draft rights to Nerlens Noel, an injured center from Kentucky. The Sixers also got a first-round pick. That same night, the Sixers, with their own pick, drafted the eventual Rookie of the Year, in Michael Carter-Williams. The process was born. Pretty soon the Sixers said goodbye to Thad Young, Evan Turner, and the rest of the players on their team that we perceived as good. Contracts were shed, European players were stashed, draft picks were acquired, and the losing began. Boy did the losing begin! The Sixers became a national joke. But if you followed what then-GM Sam Hinkie – now a cult hero in Philly – was doing, you’d understand that he had a bigger picture in mind.

“The exact status quo wasn’t going to get it done,” Hinkie said after the draft. “We will take the steps to be future focused.”

Hinkie figured that if he kept at it with the best chance at drafting the best players, he would have his star or stars to make the Sixers a perennial powerhouse. He sought to acquire draft picks, keep salary flexibility, and man did he love second-round picks!

As a long time Sixers fan, I got it. I honestly did! I did not find the losing painful. You know what I found painful? Watching my team give big money to Elton Brand, because they had cap room and he was the only free agent on the market that was even decent. I minded seeing my team not have a star player since Allen Iverson, and they never even handled his situation properly by putting the right players around him. You know what I minded? Larry Brown choosing Larry Hughes over Paul Pierce because he says he promised Hughes’ mother he’d take her son if he were still on the board. You know what else I minded? Perpetual mediocrity. I minded watching season after season knowing that there were no miracles in the NBA, and my team would need one every year because they never had stars. They didn’t have Kobe, Shaq, LeBron, KD, Steph, Russ or anybody close! They traded for Andrew Bynum, would could’ve been dominant in the East. But he was broken, and the Lakers fleeced them. As long as the Sixers hovered in the middle of the pack, they never would get a star – unless they got extremely lucky.

There was some disgusting basketball. I remember driving up to see the Sixers play the Knicks in 2015, and the warmups were horrid! They couldn’t hit a shot in warmups! They threw players out there that were just awful! The 2013 team won 19 games. The 2014 team won 18 games. The 2015 team won just 10 games. Last year, while only winning 28 games, progress was in sight. When Joel Embiid was on the floor, they looked like a real team.

Detroit Pistons Coach Stan Van Gundy, speaking at the Sloan Sports Conference in Boston in 2015, made it clear where he stood while famously taking a shot at the Sixers.

“Not what Philadelphia is doing right now, which is embarrassing,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t care, [commissioner] Adam Silver can say there’s no tanking or what’s going on [but] if you’re putting that roster on the floor, you’re doing everything you can possibly do to try to lose.”

People felt sorry for Philadelphia fans. Charles Barkley would say he felt sorry for the fans while on TNT. Larry Brown said he thought running a team by analytics was a joke. I never needed them to feel sorry for me. I loved it and believed in what they were dong. I loved seeing the diamonds in the rough, like Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell. I loved seeing Hinkie perform thievery on Sacramento by taking on money to get a high draft pick and a few adequate players. I was thrilled they traded Michael Carter-Williams, a very flawed player, at the height of his value. The trades, the action…something to believe in was awesome! You never knew what Sam was going to do!

Now let’s be real about a couple of things, the cards didn’t always fall Hinkie’s way. Embiid was hurt when they drafted him; that second year-long injury was tough on the fans and “The Process.” It seemed like the Sixers were waiting for D’Angelo Russell to fall into their laps, but when the Lakers surprised everybody by taking him, the Sixers took Jahlil Okafor. Sixers fans figured it would be a great fall back if Embiid wasn’t what we thought. But Okafor was not good. Hinkie out, the Colangelo’s in.

Fans haven’t taken to Bryan Colangelo because they felt he got nothing for Nerlens Noel, and let Okafor’s value diminish to almost nothing. However, he stuck with Brett Brown, whom I would argue is a hero for holding this thing together and a 2017-18 Coach of the Year candidate. Colangelo made the bold move of trading up for Markelle Fultz last year. It’s a deal that’s being criticized now due to Fultz’s injuries and whatever else was holding him back from playing, but that was a pretty popular decision at the time. Now that he’s back, let’s reserve judgement. They also signed J.J. Redick to a creative deal, and improved the bench after buyouts. AND they still have picks and flexibility.

Clinching a playoff spot is fun. Watching the Sixers go for 50 wins is fun. But guess what? I loved the lottery, the drafts, the speculation, the trades, the growth, the failures…I loved “The Process”.

The Sixers, with a healthy Fultz, all the cap space in the world, two transcendent stars in Simmons and Embiid, and the most underrated player in the league in Dario Saric, can compete with any team in the league.

The Sixers appear to be a dominant team in the future.

“The Process” worked.

Going though the whole thing makes it sweeter, and I have no regrets because I saw the vision. I think that’s true of many people in Philadelphia. This is our team. Don’t hop on our bandwagon now, it’s too late. #HereTheyCome

About Mike Small

Married for 23 years, and a father of four. Currently a Pharmaceutical Sales Leader, and contributor for TLSportsMedia, covering the Philadelphia 76ers and other relevant NBA topics. Previously worked as a television sports anchor in Eastern North Carolina, radio talk show host in Charlotte, North Carolina. Also served as the producer of "The Dean Smith Show", a weekly television show on The University of North Carolina basketball team, and "The Mack Brown Show", a weekly television show on the UNC football team-while doing all of the player features. Wrote a weekly column and articles for Carolina Blue Newspaper. Was also a contributor to, "A Season of Dreams", a book on the 1993 National Champion North Carolina Basketball Team.

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