Philadelphia 76ers team president Daryl Morey has never been afraid to speak his mind, so when he saw an article published Saturday that called out a fundamental strategy put forth from the organization over the last eight seasons, he was quick to respond.
The Philadelphia Inquirer Sixers beat writer, Keith Pompey, posted a piece titled “It’s clear ‘The Process’ was a failure for Sixers” Saturday morning, and before the first day of the holiday weekend even reached noontime, Morey was ready to respond.
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Though Morey – along with head coach Doc Rivers – were only brought into the fold last year, the 2020-2021 campaign was the most successful one in recent memory as far as the regular season goes. The Sixers’ .681 winning percentage was their highest in 20 years, and it was the first time the team clinched the number one seed in the Eastern Conference since the 2000-2001 season as well.
In fact, with an MVP front-runner in Joel Embiid, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Ben Simmons and having earned the number one seed for the first time since the Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo and Larry Brown days, many NBA pundits thought this would finally be the organization’s first time back in the NBA Finals. Instead, it was another early-playoff exit, and according to Pompey, another reason why ‘The Process’ was a failure.
‘Okafor and Fultz May Have Been the Process’ Biggest Missteps’
As the Sixers’ own personal brand of NBA tanking ran its course, fans across the Greater Philadelphia area were constantly told to “Trust the Process” – and even at one point this year to “Thrust the Process”.
“The 76ers will brag about MVP runner-up Joel Embiid’s being a part of the strategy that began during the 2013-14 season. It involved four straight seasons of tanking to position the team to draft franchise-altering players and tradeable assets,” Pompey wrote. “While they drafted eventual All-Stars Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers, for the most part, made several head-scratching draft moves and questionable trades.”
Before addressing the various draft moves and trades in question, the 76ers writer used a pair of this season’s NBA Conference Finals competitors – the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns – as evidence in his argument. “Neither team went to the great lengths of tanking the Sixers did in their rebuilding,” Pompey wrote.
While there’s no official date to the start of “The Process”, most say it started in the off-season between the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons.
“The ownership group broke that team up in the offseason, acquiring several players with expiring contracts for the 2012-13 season. The most notable acquisition was Andrew Bynum, who never played for the Sixers because of a knee injury,” Pompey wrote. “With cap space available, the Sixers had three options at the conclusion of that season. The first was sign a free agent to replace Bynum. The second was make trades for a soft reset. Option three was a total reset, and the one the Sixers ownership went for. They replaced former general manager Tony DiLeo with Sam Hinkie, traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans, and openly tanked for four seasons.”
While there have certainly been some hits via draft lottery picks in Embiid at third overall in 2014 and Simmons’ selection as the first pick in 2016, the two misses sandwiching those picks arguably overshadow the regular season greatness of Embiid and Simmons. In 2015, the Sixers took Jahlil Okafor with the third pick and in 2017, Markelle Fultz was chosen first overall.
Has ‘the Process’ Been a Failure?
While Pompey admits that following the four-year run where the team went a stunning 75-253 “brought a lot of pain and humiliation and a less-than-desirable place in NBA history,” the Sixers improved. However, he says, still riding a 20-year Conference Finals drought, “The Process” has to be viewed as a failure.
The Sixers may never get over moving up to select Fultz first overall. The team got the pick from the Boston Celtics for its No. 3 pick of that draft and the 14th overall pick in the 2019 draft. Boston ended up taking Jayson Tatum at No. 3.
The move might go down as the worst trade in Sixers history. The Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, who picked hometown favorite Lonzo Ball second overall, had no intention of drafting Fultz. As a result, the Sixers surrendered the first-rounder for nothing. Fultz would have been available at No. 3.
These are all reasons why The Process was a failure.
“The Process” will probably continue to be one of the most discussed tanking strategies for years to come, but will the 76ers still have fans willing to trust it?