The basketball community has been aware of the 76ers' plan to stick to the long-term play and allow The Process to become a full-fledged product that takes the NBA by storm. Well, Philadelphia's approach to assets and young big men hasn't looked foolproof as of late.
The premature end to Joel Embiid's season, Ben Simmons injury, Nerlens Noel trade and Jahlil Okafor stalemate have all left close observers scratching their heads. Because there are more questions than answers in Philadelphia at this point, we decided to address a series of issues in order to develop a clearer view of where The Process stands.
Lee Jenkins: Is Nerlens Noel better off in Dallas?
Noel has gone from a spare part in Philadelphia, trying to carve out a little air space around Joel Embiid, to a centerpiece in Dallas. “Tyson Chandler starter kit,” Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson called him, high praise in a place where Chandler once helped Dirk Nowitzki win a championship by setting screens, catching lobs, rolling hard to the rim on one end protecting it on the other. This Noel can do. Had he stayed in Philly, he’d be trying to prove that he can play alongside Embiid, a fruitless pursuit that would have ended with him planted on the bench as a backup to a cult hero. Now, he gets to reprise the Chandler role in Rick Carlisle’s spread-out system, while hoping that Harrison Barnes will eventually channel Dirk.
Chris Ballard: How did Joel Embiid become the longest-tenured Sixer?
There are two answers to this question. The technical one is that Embiid signed his first contract in the summer of 2014. Sure, he didn’t play, and wouldn’t for a while, but he was a Sixer. And now that Nerlens Noel (signed in the summer of 2013) has been shipped to Dallas, that puts Embiid ahead of other relative graybeards like Robert Covington (November, 2014) as the franchise vet. For the record, Embiid is now out again with a meniscus injury.
The second, broader answer could be a book. It involves Sam Hinkie, Adam Silver, bold owners who got cold feet, things that happen outside nightclubs in the wee hours, the relative value of rangy point guards who win Rookie of the Year, a pair of Colangelos, and about fifteen other factors. But, unlike other teams with crazy roster turnover—Ben McLemore is now the longest-tenured King—the Sixers have emerged with a bright future. Almost as if there were some larger plan all along.
Matt Dollinger: What is Bryan Colangelo doing?
There’s something poetic about Sam Hinkie, the man fired for brainchilding The Process, being replaced by Bryan Colangelo, the only NBA GM to ever openly admitting to tanking.“Admittedly, I tried to tank a couple of years ago,” Colangelo said about his time with Raptors at the 2015 MIT Sloan conference. “I didn’t come out and say, ‘Coach, you have to lose games.’ I wanted him to establish a winning tradition and culture, but I wanted him to do it in the framework of playing and developing young players.”
If that sounds eerily familiar to what the Sixers have done the last few years, then congratulations, you don’t live under a rock.
So while everyone wants to scream that The Process is over now that Colangelo is in office, I see it as a continuation under new management. Philly preemptively shut down Ben Simmons for the entire season. Joel Embiid may not play again this year. The team traded away one of its best pieces (Nerlens Noel) for a jar of walnuts and gave away another veteran (Ersan Ilyasova) for not much else.
So are the 76ers still tanking under Bryan Colangelo? Of course they are! Nothing has changed. Philly is still hopelessly at the mercy of ping-pong balls. Maybe Ben Simmons and Embiid get healthy. Maybe the 76ers get another lottery stud (or two) and morph into a contender by 2020. Or… maybe not. You might have trusted The Process under Hinkie, but do you trust it under Colangelo?
Jeremy Woo: What are we to make of Ben Simmons’s lost season?
It was a season of injured feet, raising cats, cold tubs, hot tubs, lost hype and very little basketball for last year’s No.1 overall pick. No, Ben Simmons is not dead, but no, he’s also not playing this season. You could smell the redshirt year coming from the minute he fractured his right foot, and just like what happened with Joel Embiid (twice), the Sixers made the objectively correct decision. But foot injuries suck, and they nag and re-occur, and as such, there’s at least a little reason for concern here.
Simmons remains a stellar talent with a chance to help take the franchise up a notch, but in his absence, we’ve seen another gifted forward with a somewhat analogous skill set take center stage: Dario Saric. Embiid’s health is back up in the air, as it realistically might be, on-and-off, for much of his career. It’s a little discouraging that Simmons doesn’t appear to have restructured his jumper at all, but hey, there are probably another eight months before we even see what he looks like out there. His game is based on facilitation more than scoring, and the good news is that there are at least a few real pieces around him. As potential Sixers crises go, this is one that can stay on the backburner for now.
Jake Fischer: How bad was the 76ers' trade deadline?
“I've often said I wouldn't make a bad deal,” Bryan Colangelo tried explaining at the Sixers’ Camden, N.J. practice facility last Friday. “But yesterday, I made the best deal." No clarification could truly defend his dealing of Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks for Justin Anderson and “draft considerations,” that will assuredly become a 2017 and 2020 second round pick.
Colangelo offered that Noel was going to command starter-level salary as a restricted free agent this off-season, and those dollars simply didn’t fit into the Sixers’ cap figure when building a team around Joel Embiid at center. A worldly-talented, 7’2 behemoth… who has missed two seasons and likely won’t play more than 31 games this season.
Jahlil Okafor isn’t the team’s fail-safe at the position either, as Colangelo later added he hoped to one day soon trade the Duke product into a starting role similar to Noel’s greener pastures in Dallas. It’s a bold sacrifice that is highly complimentary of Embiid’s skillset, yet utterly devoid of pragmatism. And with Embiid out the rest of the season, Colangelo dealt the only 20-year-old in NBA history to average 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals per game for the same return as trading Ersan Ilyasova.