Sixteen years ago, the Sixers were on television on X-mas Day. That was the year Allen Iverson took his gutsy little team to the Finals and pulled off an upset in L.A., dropping 48 in Staples Center in an overtime win to steal the opener from the NBA champs. Unfortunately for MVP Iverson, the Sixers lost four in a row after that. But it didn’t matter to the NBA schedulers two months later. Allen Iverson was must see T.V. and the Sixers played the Lakers in a rematch of the Finals on December 25th. The Sixers lost but it wasn’t as remotely interesting a game without Shaq who was on the sidelines because of injury. Iverson took 28 shots for 31 points and Kobe took 19 shots and scored 12 points. Kobe had a better supporting cast in a game with catastrophic shooting and the Lakers won 88-82. The win propelled the Lakers to a 20-4 record on way to their third NBA title in a row, a feat that has not been matched since. The Sixers finished the year 43-39 and lost in the first round to the Celtics.
The Sixers haven’t been on television on Xmas Day since then, since 2001. Their drought is finally over in 2017. The expectations of Joel Embiid and the debuts of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz have the Sixers opening up Xmas against the Knicks in a game they can win. It’s been a long road to get here, to NBA respectability and anticipation.
In 2013, 76ers GM Sam Hinkie instituted “The Process” and traded Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans, all the while not disclosing Holiday’s injury, and in return received Nerlens Noel and the 10th pick in 2014 (Elfrid Payton). It would begin a descent into mediocrity, failure, cluelessness and disastrous schematics, in the short term. That it has mercifully ended with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz playing on Xmas Day doesn’t mean Sam Hinkie was right to send a franchise and their fans to the depth of hell. The Process incentivized and deified failure. It was low hanging fruit. But four years later, it is the movie Get Out. The Process has had a lobotomy.
The pro games of Simmons and Fultz are a question mark. They have yet to lace them up. What is clear though is the anti-climactic epilogue. The 76er babies have a lot to prove. There are skeptics, of course. There are fans. One expects competence, the other expects amazing.
Former 76er GM Sam Hinkie once said, “It’s not about how it turns out. It’s about what you know at the time and how that plays out for your particular team.” It’s the moral relativism theory of team building over time whereas everything is dependent upon context. Don’t blame me if it turns out I screwed it all up. I thought it was the right thing at the time.
Turns out Hinkie could have been both crazy and right simultaneously. It is way too premature to pat him on the back because young players have a lot of potential but have not established anything yet. We have to see and patience is required. Still, no one can argue it has been a hard four years, capped off by a turn on Xmas that propels even more expectations upon them.
Those that forget their history are destined to repeat it. Hinkie once said, “A competitive league like the NBA necessitates a zig while our competitors comfortably zag.” He wasn’t joking. He wanted to throw a curve ball high and inside when the bases were loaded but he got crushed at the plate in the infancy of his project. Furthermore, agents found Hinkie difficult to deal with as his interpersonal skills needed a little brushing up. Agents frequently used the Sixers as leverage to get max money- lets call it the Jimmy Butler rule. At some point rebuilding has to mean acquiring veteran talent to mix with the young guys but what veterans wanted to play in Philly?
That is the best outcome of what the 76ers have put together without making the playoffs. If their young kids develop the right way and injury free, veterans will come.
For everything the Sixers have accomplished in scouting, Hinkie’s primary flaw was in the psychology of the sport. Basketball relationships in the specific are both tribal and communal. You need elders. Young players need veterans, otherwise you have anarchy and everyone suffers. The all young philosophy left unchecked could ruin development, potential and careers. Veterans need to be part of the process. But to get them you have to prove competency and optimism. They need stars.
The Fultz move was brilliant. Even if it doesn’t work out, they swung at a low fastball. Homerun? Time will tell.
But order is restored in Philly and no one is pointing fingers and laughing at the former team of Allen Iverson, Moses Malone and Dr. J. There is direction. There is talent. There is youth. Their is hope. There is a game on Christmas. The 76ers have salvaged their reputation.
It’s still early. The Process is invisible but lurking. But no one is drowning. Everyone’s head is above water. The boat isn’t leaking. Or sinking. We’ll see the Sixers with the other popular franchises on December 25th.
Welcome back to the league Philly.
photo via llananba