‘The Process’ Era Finds Itself in NBA’s Abyss


Part of being a sports fan is cherishing the euphoric highs of victory, while choking on the exasperating throes of defeat.

Part of being a Philadelphia 76ers fan is mostly just choking on that defeat, and over the last four years — famously dubbed ‘The Process’ era — there’s been plenty to choke on. Despite mountains of talent and expectation, the Sixers have spent just under half a decade in a glut of disappointment.

As their uncertain future materializes, it’s worth looking back on the worst moments of the last four years, to remember things can only get better, right?


10. Brett Brownโ€™s Spacing

Brown helmed The Process nobly for several years. Despite being there since the dregs of its infancy, his departure was more than earned.

There’s not much to say about Brown. He was loveable if also frustratingly inept when it came to crunch time. It wasn’t just the three years of frustrating playoff exits, it was the utter inconsistency with his lineups. Rolling out units with Joel Embiid, Al Horford and Ben Simmons, and wondering why the offense flows with the swiftness of a glacier.

9. The Horford Horror Experiment

When Philadelphia signed the aforementioned Horford in the summer of 2019, it seemed like Philly had the longest and strongest front court in the NBA. The four-year, $109 million contract seemed like a footnote. They’d fleeced Boston for the man who’d spent several seasons giving Embiid trouble in the post.

Now he was ours — all ours — but he also happened to be a dinosaur. Not in the explosive and ferocious kind of way, more in the flirting-with-extinction kind of way. In the beginning, having Horford meant there was one less thing to worry about when playing Boston.

That was until they played Boston in the playoffs, where Horford averaged seven points and seven rebounds in a sweep. He was shipped to OKC for Danny Green after a single season.

8. Celtics Sweep In The Bubble

Just before the 2020 playoffs commenced, Ben Simmons was ruled out with an injury. That seemed like just about the worst thing that could happen, excluding the global pandemic that was raging on.

Without Simmons, Philly really didn’t stand a chance against Boston, despite a herculean effort from Embiid. This series was like going into a test, knowing you’re probably going to fail, and having to do it four times… while living in Orlando, Florida. No shots at the sunshine state, but LeBron James did say he’d rather retire than play there.

What was even more frustrating was that the sweep came at the hands of the Celtics, who had already eliminated Philadelphia from the playoffs two years prior. Not to mention the Sixers had just snaked Horford away from Boston in what’s now one of the more embarrassing moves in Philadelphia’s front office history.

7. Losing Jimmy Butler

It really felt like Jimmy Butler was the perfect fit in Philadelphia.

His unique brand of grit, snark and bravado seemed to mesh with the admittedly brash City of Brotherly Love. He was an integral part of the 2018-19 season upon arriving in November, helping the Sixers reach the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Obviously that Toronto series didn’t go the way Philly planned (more on that later). Watching Kawhi Leonard‘s fadeaway eliminate Philadelphia could’ve been more than just nauseating– it could’ve been a bonding experience for the team. The ultimate impetus to ‘run it back’.

Instead it was more like bonding with someone over a really traumatic experience, and then having that person decide to go live in Miami. Smash cut to several months later and that same person led the Heat to an NBA Finals appearance after you were swept a couple weeks earlier.

6. The Confetti Series

Perhaps more embarrassing than being swept by a team, is losing in a gentleman’s sweep that includes a premature confetti cannon.

These were the early days of The Process, Philadelphia felt like a scrappy upstart, keen on defeating Boston in the second round of the 2018 playoffs. Obviously, Philly lost 4-1, and famously set off a confetti cannon after believing they’d won Game 3 on a buzzer-beater. The Sixers would go on to lose that game in overtime.

5. The Fultz Fiasco

I was one of many longtime defenders of Markelle Fultz. Say what you will about Philly fans and their anger, but we babied Fultz through a broken jump shot and a rookie season of bench warming. Hell, we even rose to our feet when he started making plays late in the season.

Nevertheless, our former number one pick is now playing in Orlando, after being traded for Jonathon Simmons and a draft pick.

What’s frustrating is Philly traded upย to get Fultz. Even more frustrating is he turned out to be the franchise’s second number one overall pick who flat out couldn’t shoot.

But what’s most frustrating is they traded up with Boston. And it’s with a deep sigh when you remember the Sixers could’ve had Jayson Tatum. Part of sports fandom is revising history in the most fantastical capacity, so maybe Tatum doesn’t work out in Philly — ย and maybe that’s also what Sixers fans have to tell themselves to get over this ongoing nightmare.

4. Game 5, 2021: The Atlanta Collapse

It was always Atlanta sports teams that were supposed to collapse.

Somehow, Philadelphia’s ineptitude outweighed Atlanta’s sports curse. Game 5 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals proved to be one of the greatest implosions in sports history. The Sixers and Hawks were tied at two games a piece, and Philadelphia held a comfortable 26-point lead in the second half.

That lead would not only disappear, but crumble in shards of disappointment. In the blink of an eye, Trae Young and the Hawks thundered back into contention, before taking a lead, and eventually the game itself.

It’s hard to express how inexplicable this deterioration was, and yet somehow, it still falls in line with the rest of The Process era.

3. Whatโ€™s Become of Ben Simmons

Denial is a big part of being a Sixers fan. When taking stock of what’s become of Simmons, denial plays an equally large part. As a Simmons defender, we can convince ourselves a lot. We can gleefully ignore the utter disinterest in shooting the ball, because of everything else he can do. He’s a 3x All-Star, All-Defensive Team player, and he even made an All-NBA team in 2020.

He’s a perennial DPOY candidate that can clamp all five positions and is an amazing finisher around the rim– that is when he actually tries to put the ball in the hoop.

In the early stages of his career, Simmons looked like a generational stud. Flash forward to 2021 he’s putting up five points in an elimination game. It’s not just his refusal to event attempt an outside shot, it’s the overall frustration with his wasted potential.

The abyss of the offseason is upon us– and there’s no end in sight for what will really transpire with Simmons and the Sixers.

2. Game 7, 2021: Ben Doesnโ€™t Dunk The Ball

Down by two with three-and-a-half minutes left in Game 7 against the same Hawks. Simmons has nothing between him and the rim.

To this day, no fan knows why he didn’t dunk the ball. Neither does Joel Embiid. Neither does the rest of the city that tried to burn his jersey that night, granted they were busy cussing out their point guard.

This was the culmination of several years worth of frustrations with Simmons. The game is on the line and he needs to make the play. The entire moment is set up for him to succeed. It’s not just that he failed, it’s that he didn’t even bother to attempt to try. It was yet another example of a wasted season capped off by a glaring lack of confidence and pride.

1. Game 7, 2019: The Kawhi Shot

Was there ever any question as to what would be number one? Personally, it’s one of the few plays in the annals of sports history that I genuinely cannot watch for fear of nausea and cardiac implosion.

Game 7. On the verge of forcing overtime. Four seconds left. Four seconds pass. Four bounces later.

The entire nation of Canada is in rapturous shambles. What more can you say? Kawhi Leonard fading away, off the court over Embiid’s outstretched hands. For Canada, Kawhi’s buzzer-beater is up there with Sidney Crosby winning the 2010 Olympic gold medal for Canada, in overtime, on home ice. For Philadelphia, this moment is up there with Donavan McNabb throwing up mid-game, or when the Blue Jays beat the Phillies in the 1993 World Series on a walk-off homer. There’s just something about Toronto. This moment shut the door on ย Philadelphia’s best shot at a title — a title that Toronto would go on to win weeks later.

The Resolution

I hope this trip down memory lane, while upsetting, is at least a little cathartic. Something like group therapy. ย We’ve shared some truly awful memories over the last four years. We’ve had some lows, and some lower-lows, but as we look to the brighter horizons ahead, all I can ask is,ย what’s the worst that could happen?

Follow us onย Twitterย @SixersLeadย for the latest 76ers news and insight.ย 

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About Kadin Burnett

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