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June 21, 2021

Eight years after the start of The Process, the Sixers are still mediocre

Sixers NBA

Nine seasons and six top 10 draft picks later, The Process has gotten the Sixers right back where they started before Sam Hinkie was hired in 2013.

In 2012, the Sixers were coming off a disappointing second round exit in a Game 7 after struggling to compete for a championship in the shadow of the Allen Iverson Era. The team decided to take a drastic step in breaking the team all the way down to its skeleton, and Hinkie did just that, making 27 trades and netting the Sixers the top draft picks that would eventually yield Joel Embiid (third overall), Jahlil Okafor (third overall), Ben Simmons (first overall) and Markelle Fultz (first overall).

It could be argued that only one of those picks actually worked out.

So does that mean The Process failed?

Post-Hinkie regimes tried to make good on the ridiculous tanking that saw the Sixers lose a record 72 of 82 games in a season — on purpose — but nothing worked.

The Sixers basically ran four completely different teams out for each of the last four postseasons around the same core of Simmons and Embiid. They had regular season success, but they never advanced past the second round.

3rd in East
2nd round exit
3rd in East
2nd round exit
6th in East
1st round exit
1st in East
2nd round exit

The front office, helmed by the Colangelos following Hinkie's firing, and then Elton Brand and Brett Brown, and finally Daryl Morey, parlayed the capital acquired by the Hinkie regime into several machinations, but the team has nothing to show for it, aside from a pair of All-Stars, one of whom arguably was a total liability against the Hawks in their recent series loss.

The NBA is a copycat league. And while some teams open up cap space to go after superstars (like the Nets) and others grow their talent wherever they can get it (like the Bucks), more and more teams appear to be following Hinkie's tanking method (like the Rockets). 

There is a good chance the Sixers trade Simmons this offseason, as our Sixers' beat writer Kyle Neubeck frustratingly suggested, and him succeeding elsewhere would be painful for Philly fans. But what would be even more painful would be for another team to pull off what the 76ers seem to be inept at doing — turning the tank into titles.

The Sixers swung and missed more than they succeeded over the eventful last four seasons. Fultz was a disaster, and so was Okafor. Simmons, while an All-Star and All-NBA defender, may be ill-suited for a max contract and second fiddle status on a contending team.

An injury to Embiid — one that plummeted his draft stock just enough for the Sixers to gamble on him at third-overall back in 2014 — is probably the only thing Process advocates can hang their hats on. Nearly every subsequent draft pick and big time transaction did not succeed or was shipped out of town for one reason or another. 

While the right pieces around Embiid, like Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle, could set the Sixers up for playoff runs for years to come — and perhaps the right Morey moves to flank those three pieces in subsequent seasons may get the Sixers over the hump — the team admitting that Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick the year after the 10-72 humiliation, is a failure all but assures The Process will not be remembered as a success.

The 2021 map couldn't have been better for the Sixers. The No. 1 seed in the East, and home court advantage (where they have played elite basketball all year). An Eastern Conference with injuries to key players on rival teams, and an overall NBA without an odds on favorite. A path that didn't not include Miami or Brooklyn. This was their chance. 

The road will never be clearer for the Sixers. The Nets will get healthy and could completely dominate in Year 2. LeBron James and Anthony Davis out West will likely be better next year, as could teams like the Warriors, Heat, Bucks and Nuggets.

This was their shot, the chance to give The Process and it's eventual 30-for-30 production a positive ending. 

And instead, they're left exactly where they were nine years ago. A second-round exit. With no real route to winning titles. 

Mediocrity seems to be the Sixers' lot in life.  

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