“The Process”, in all of its rejuvenating glory, was a movement birthed in temporality. Like King Arthur pulling Excalibur out of stone, only the rightful owner(s) could change what was once a never-ending norm for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Of course, a process isn’t tangible—it will always exist in some aspect. It’s not as easily distinguishable as a sword sticking out of a rock or not, but the main goals of asset collecting and losing as an incentive have been suffocated by the very sons birthed from it. After years of fielding tiresome questions about Sam Hinkie and the merits of tanking, Michael Carter-Williams debuting in the league with the best game of his career, Jahlil Okafor’s strengths quickly becoming a relic in the modern NBA, and Nerlens Noel grumbling about being an “8 minute player” on the way to being traded, the Sixers finally arrived at the destination marked on their map many moons ago—but not before waiting out a couple of devastating injuries. Yes, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid jointly stepped on the brakes hard enough to spill Yuengling all over the seats of your gray metallic Mazda, Sixer fans. You’ve officially arrived.
Four years ago, the 76ers had 10 wins. Last season, the Sixers became the ancillary-yet-exciting alternative to Philadelphia sports—just an heir to the ruling Villanova and Philadelphia Eagles regality, but an heir nonetheless. There are only a few NBA teams that have an environment suitable to produce winds of change strong enough to alter the current landscape of the league as Philly does, and along with the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers have a legit argument as the premier Eastern Conference representative to play against (what most likely will be) Golden State in June.
But if hoarding All-Stars and rings wasn’t disruptive enough for the rest of the league, the Golden State Warriors have quietly displayed that undeviating excellence will be rewarded with additional riches in time—those riches being Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins. It’s a fever dream guideline that Philadelphia should steer clear of following, and not rest on their laurels just because they’re young and have “time”. It’s almost a guarantee that Embiid and Simmons’ best years are ahead of them. What’s not a guarantee is that those years will be spent together on the Sixers, or that the Sixers will acquire better players than they have now, in the future. Just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder about the fickleness of time and patience.
For some, the pair already has cracks in their foundation. There have been reports highlighting the Embiid-Simmons duo as not being as “close” as one would hope for. Zach Lowe alluded to it in a line in his recent article, JJ Redick openly stated that there’s always going to be a bridge between the two, but does it really matter? Unless it develops into Jimmy Butler “get me the hell out of Minnesota” levels of tension between the two young prodigies, it’s a non-story and not at all a prerequisite for winning. Especially, if it turns out to be as dull as “they have no similar interests outside of basketball but get along in a professional setting."
The scrupulous data mining of stats, universal societal impatience, and instant feedback of displeasure that the internet provides, makes for an almost unbearable amount of criticism to expose yourself to if checked for by an NBA player after a game. “How many games until Ben Simmons takes a three-pointer?” “How many shots has Markelle Fultz attempted outside of the paint?” “When is Fultz even going to play again?” “How many threes did Joel Embiid take versus the paint?” The microscope zoomed in uncomfortably close on the 28-to-52 win team after one bad playoff series against the Boston Celtics, and whether in jest or not, fans of the NBA had already made up their minds about whether trading up for Markelle Fultz was the right decision or not, if Ben Simmons would ever develop a three-point shot, and how the dynamic worked on the floor between Simmons and Embiid in one fell swoop. And it’s exactly what the Sixers needed. “The Process” right then and there became forged into the expectations that exist currently, and that pressure is what will set the groundwork for what will be accepted by the franchise and its star players. For the Sixers, these proclamations came after only one year of being good. And even if these are questions that can’t can't realistically be answered for years, they are important questions all the same. As long as the franchise knows that they don’t have to be answered right this second, things will turn out just fine.
One underrated convenience that the Sixers’ have that many other teams don’t is centered around how the team is structured. Every player in Philly’s regular rotation knows their exact role on the team—a science acquired less from painstaking curation and more with things just falling into line. The stars of the team are those who were expected to lead them as they were being drafted. It’s self explanatory why they account for the most usage. The rest of the team does their specific damage types in the areas where they’re most potent. You tell Redick to run the other team ragged and shoot threes, you tell Covington to play defense and shoot threes, you tell Saric to handle the ball a little bit and shoot threes, et cetera. Everybody eats in their own unique way. Even the massive question mark in Fultz is just what the doctor ordered for a team with such defined lines—a little bit of controlled chaos. Whether Fultz colors inside or outside of the lines, he’ll be fine as long as he keeps on shooting the ball. If you beat someone down long enough that can handle being a target of unbearable criticism, the inevitable feel good story makes for a much more poignant footnote in history when they turn it all around.
The unpredictability of Fultz’s year projects him to become an arroser of sorts while you scarf down the delicious medium-rare pieces of steak that Simmons and Embiid provide. And sometimes the role players will slide you a Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit on the side for good measure. Other times, you might get a Popeyes biscuit with no water, but at least the main course always comes through.
It could be asinine to identify any team’s window as “now” (besides the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics)—not with the current iteration of the Warriors rampaging around like monsters in Monster Hunter. But the Sixers have expedited “The Process” so quickly that there should be, and will be massive expectations heaped upon them. Fultz has put us through the most mysterious story line plot outside of Kawhi’s San Antonio implosion, provided little impact as the 1st overall pick, and the 76ers still finished off the season by winning 16 straight games on the way to a 52 win season. Now, Fultz has had an entire offseason to work on his shot with Drew Hanlen, Joel Embiid is unchained from a minutes restriction, and Ben Simmons is only going to feel more comfortable in his second year, and maybe even attempt a few threes? The Sixers have a legitimate chance to eclipse the 60-win mark if all goes to plan. They’ll have to do battle with a few tough Eastern Conference foes if they are to land where they anticipate landing, but it’s doable—just another dot on the map for their road trip. And in that road trip, the Sixers have shown that winning takes time. That they still have time. That their time is now.