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May 28, 2017

Stop comparing the Process Sixers to past NBA teams

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Before a few days ago, I wasn’t too familiar with Mike Valenti. From a quick Google search, I gather that he’s a popular sports talk radio host in Detroit who handles the drive-time show by himself after a longtime partnership with Detroit News columnist Terry Foster. The Motor City’s Mike Missanelli, more or less.

I bring up Valenti because this past week, he had an incredible interview with Stan Van Gundy during which he *grilled* the head coach and president of basketball operations of the Pistons. Valenti is unhappy with the state of the Pistons, fresh off finishing four games out of a playoff spot despite shelling out a $107 million payroll.


“Stan, the way that you’ve chosen to do it, it leaves you in the worst place possible, which is the middle,” Valenti said at one point. “You’re in NBA purgatory, where you don’t have the picks high enough to get a star and you’re gonna have warning track power in the East. How are you going to win a title when you have no room?”

(That was straight talk brought to you by Verizon Wireless.)

Just fantastic radio. Like, he’s not even really asking SVG about his team. Valenti is on the mark, and to illustrate his point, he contrasted the Pistons’ situation to the Sixers, who were essentially the 2017 Pistons before Sam Hinkie showed up and decided to move as far away from the NBA’s middle class as possible. As you may have guessed, Valenti would rather be in the Sixers’ current position.

Let’s summarize the back-and-forth:

•    Valenti brings the Sixers up. Van Gundy says he didn’t have an issue with The Process (which is false) and that while Hinkie is a smart guy, it doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to lose at historic levels for multiple years. Fair enough.

•    Valenti asks why more teams don’t tank if it’s so easy. Van Gundy brings up fans not wanting to watch four years of terrible hoops. I would change it to three years, because Sixers fans showed up for Joel Embiid and this year’s team (more than Detroit fans, anyway). I don’t disagree with SVG’s general point, though. Losing sucks for fans, and a ton of games from 2013-16 were brutal. Moving on…

•    Valenti says the Sixers are ready to go in terms of contending for the playoffs. Van Gundy replies that a lot of teams are. Valenti says the difference is that unlike the Pistons, the Sixers have real cap space and young players with star potential. And when Van Gundy started to push back, here was the money quote:

Van Gundy eventually brought up that Joel Embiid needs to play more than 30 games and Ben Simmons has to prove himself, which again, is absolutely true. But then the Pistons coach asked a question that I am so unbelievably tired of answering in relation to the Sixers.

The second thing I’d ask you is, “When has that approach worked? Who has won the championship coming from that”

Valenti and Van Gundy then argued about which title teams have tanked. When the Spurs and Tim Duncan were brought up, Van Gundy said, “Only one year!” When the 2006-07 Boston Celtics were mentioned (tanking allowed them to acquire Ray Allen), Van Gundy said, “They weren’t trying to tank, they just lost.”

This is what always happens (particularly on Philly sports talk radio), and the argument always goes in circles. 100 percent of the time. And that’s because it’s totally irrelevant.

When has this approach worked? When has this strategy ever been so deliberately attempted? If you’re going to be stickler on the details like Van Gundy, of course there isn’t a perfect parallel. For better or worse, nobody has ever really tried what the Sixers did.

Please, when discussing these Sixers’ future, let’s stop comparing them to past champions or any teams before them. Whether they are the NBA’s next dynasty or completely crash and burn, there is no legit comparison for The Process.

The Sixers are far enough into The Process that now we especially don’t have to do this. Their future rides on whether Joel Embiid’s legs hold up, Ben Simmons’ jumper ever becomes consistent, Bryan Colangelo hits with the third pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, how the 2018 Lakers and 2019 Kings picks convey, whatever the Sixers do in free agency, and so many other factors.

Those are real, live variables! They’re right in front of us! And they sure matter a whole lot more than the Thunder picking Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden at the top of three consecutive drafts, the Spurs tanking at the perfect time and landing the greatest power forward of all-time for two decades, or the 2004 Pistons breaking through without a superstar player.

I really like Stan Van Gundy, too. Even if I don’t agree with him at all here, his honesty is refreshing and I always respect people who grinded their way to the top like he did. Plus, he’s got handles!


And let’s be clear that the Pistons were in a different position when he got there, with a long playoff drought and an ownership that wanted to win now. Van Gundy didn’t have the same parameters to work with as Hinkie did. Ownership always seems to be an underrated factor.

But please, when discussing these Sixers’ future, let’s stop comparing them to past champions or any teams before them. Whether they are the NBA’s next dynasty or completely crash and burn, there is no legit comparison for The Process. Not one yet, anyway.


Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann

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