The Process was Worth Trusting, and is Worth Copying

With the finalization of the trade with the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers own the #1 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. The Sixers are expected to select Markelle Fultz, the combo guard out of Washington who is the consensus top prospect. While this draft class has been described as the deepest in many years, the one thing most draft experts have agreed upon is that there is a significant drop off after Fultz at #1.

On top of Markelle Fultz fitting the biggest needs of the Sixers, the front office recognized his value (and fit) and more importantly capitalized on their ability to move up in order to select him. The fact that the Celtics were already pretty loaded with guards certainly had to play into their willingness to pass up drafting a high-caliber prospect like Fultz.

How good Fultz will ultimately be is a fair debate. An argument can also be made for how much a team should give up in order to move up in a draft. The NBA is much different than the NFL in that one player has the chance to make a significant impact and there are only a handful of those players coming out in the NBA Draft each year.

Easy Trade to Make

The Sixers recognized that Fultz has the best chance to be that guy and fortunately did not have to give up that much to get him. Aside from moving their own first round pick at #3, they’ll be sending only one additional first round pick. It will either be the 2018 Los Angeles Lakers first rounder if it falls between picks 2-5 or it will be the 2019 Sacramento Kings pick, unless that pick ends up being #1 overall. In that case, the Sixers would send their own 2019 pick to the Celtics.

What makes the trade more palatable is that both of those potential outgoing picks were acquired in prior deals in which Philadelphia gave up very little in exchange. The Lakers pick was acquired for Michael Carter-Williams and the Kings pick (along with a pick swap that led to the Sixers moving from the #5 to #3 spot this year) came in a “salary dump” trade when the Kings were trying to free up cap space.

The bottom line is that the Sixers will retain one of these picks, keep all of their own future selections and not have to part with any of their talented young players in order to draft Markelle Fultz. Fultz should round out one of the most promising young cores in the NBA along with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric. We all know nothing is guaranteed, but Philadelphia has incredible potential to become something very special in coming years. An argument could be made that outside of Golden State, San Antonio and Boston, there are few teams in a better position over the next 5-10 years. Minnesota, Phoenix, and Milwaukee certainly have promising young cores as well, but entering the 2017-2018 season, the Sixers are right there.

The Process of the Process

“The Process” has been one of the most hotly contested sports topics over the past few years. The supporters have argued it was the best course of action based on the team’s situation back in 2013. The detractors argued it was immoral, by their “blatant tanking” for high draft picks. I’ve been a supporter of “The Process” since day one, acknowledging the flawed structure of the NBA incentivizes mediocre teams to blow it up, and try to build with young talent through the draft.

While winning has not “been a priority” during this stage of the rebuild, the plan was much more than that. Did the Sixers acquire highly talented young players thanks to high draft picks awarded due to low win totals? Absolutely. On top of that, former General Manager Sam Hinkie made terrific trades to acquire ammunition in the form of draft picks that made a trade like this possible. As previously noted, he cashed in on the high value of Carter-Williams, something that we found out had an expiration date. At the 2014 NBA Draft, Hinkie got wind of the Orlando Magic’s interest in Elfrid Payton, selected him only to flip him to the Magic minutes later in exchange for Dario Saric and their original first round pick which was previously sent to Orlando in a trade.

I’ll always look at what Hinkie did with the Sixers as a sign that he recognized the flaws of the NBA, exposed it and took advantage of it. Through 2013-2016, Hinkie acquired first round picks of the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Sacramento for the simple “price” of taking on bad contracts of teams who felt strapped by their salary cap situation. You don’t have to look much further to see that all he did was take advantage of poor team management of other franchises.

With how the Sixers are now positioned with a young, talented core, future draft assets, and an incredibly flexible salary cap situation, other teams around the league would be doing a disservice to themselves and their fans for at least not considering a similar route. Does it test a fan base’s patience? Absolutely. Will a lot of fans reject the idea of a massive rebuild with very lean years? Of course. But if you asked the majority of fans of teams that either missed the playoffs or were bounced very early if they wouldn’t love for their team be where the Sixers are right now, I guarantee most would take it in a heartbeat.

Looking Forward

The worst of it is over for the Sixers. Will there be some growing pains with an extremely young, albeit talented team? Sure there will be. Is the team guaranteed to make the Playoffs in 2018? No. But the most important thing is that the Sixers now have a young team with multiple players with star potential. If Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons reach their potential, this is a team that should be making deep playoff runs in the very near future for what can be a very long time.

One of the most important feelings a sports fan needs to have is “hope”. The Philadelphia 76ers and their fans finally have some genuine, tangible hope. If I objectively look at most teams in the NBA, it’s hard to find a lot of other teams that are offering this same level of hope to their fans. It is easy for an outsider to look at the past few years to question the optimism. To that, I say it sure beats the previous ten years of maxing out as a 40-win, 7th seed team who’s ceiling is getting bounced in the first round by a real contender.

With good health and player development, the Sixers should soon be on the other end of that matchup: a high-seeded playoff team that is knocking out the perpetual mediocre teams in the first round that embody what they were for such a long time. For the sake of those teams and their fans, I hope they don’t take as long to recognize what the Sixers did was necessary and they should follow in their path.


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Lebron Has Reclaimed the Role of “Good Guy”

What a difference a few years make. It seemed like just yesterday that Lebron James became public enemy #1 in the NBA when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in what was the most disgraceful hour of television of the past ten years. Sure, “The Decision” raised a lot of money for the Boys and Girls Club. So, it may be unfair to be 100% critical of the event. But if you take out the charitable benefits of the TV special, it was one of the most cringeworthy and embarrassing moments in sports entertainment history.

From the pompous delivery that James was “taking his talents to South Beach” coupled with the fact that he was conspiring with other superstars in Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to form a “super team”, he officially put a target on his back and the Miami Heat became the league’s most despised team.

I’ll never begrudge Lebron James for leaving Cleveland back in 2010, nor will I blame any other superstar for leaving a team that fails to effectively build around their franchise player. It was how James left that made him such a divisive figure. Admittedly, I rooted very hard against the Heat during the 2010-2014 run of the “Big 3” that made four NBA Finals appearances while winning two titles. But in the 2017 NBA Finals, Lebron James is no longer the villain. He’s the good guy that everyone should be rooting for to prevail.

Kevin Durant has assumed that role. He arguably became the new NBA villain when he left Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors, the team that ended his season in the prior Western Conference Finals. It was commonly labeled as a cowardly move, and deservedly so. The Warriors, coming off a record-setting 73-win team added a top-five player to form the NBA’s next super team.

The last super team was the Miami Heat, led by Lebron James. One could argue the current Cavalier’s are also a super team, as James is surrounded by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. While Cleveland is super-talented, you can at least concede they were built by conventional means. Irving was a top draft pick, James signed as a free agent (to the team that originally drafted him), and Love was acquired via trade.

Technically, Kevin Durant did not do anything wrong or commit a crime by joining Golden State last summer. But it warrants scrutiny, given the impact of competitive balance in the NBA and the fact that he abandoned a contender that was on the cusp of reaching the Finals last year. The second that signing occurred, there was zero to little doubt that we’d have a third consecutive NBA Finals of the Cavaliers against the Warriors. That’s bad for the league. It’s bad for any sport when the regular season starts with 28/30 teams all competing for bronze.

If Durant stayed with Oklahoma City, they would have been the biggest challenger of the Warriors (again) in the West. Instead, Golden State steamrolled through the Western Conference Playoffs and is the heavy favorite in the NBA Finals. If they win, it will undoubtedly feel “cheap”. When you have a team so unbelievably loaded as they are, anything short of another title would be considered a failure in today’s watered-down NBA.

Unless you’re a Bay Area resident, I don’t see how you can support the Warriors. They represent everything wrong with the NBA. They’re the new “bad guys”. As much as some people want to criticize teams for tanking, the formation of super teams is just as bad for the league, if not worse. A professional sports league with only two legitimate title contenders lends to a boring postseason. And that’s exactly what happened. These NBA Playoffs have been dreadful.

So I find myself doing something that I would have never envisioned after Lebron James formed a super team in Miami back in 2010: Rooting for him. As nauseating as the “Lebron vs. Jordan” debates have been and will intensify if he leads the Cavs over the Warriors, I’d love to see him do it.

The Warriors are a great team, but the addition of ring-chasing Kevin Durant makes them very hard to like. What’s that mean? Lebron is the good guy, the underdog and the player who has a chance to be a hero if he brings home another title to Cleveland over the “unbeatable” Warriors.


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