Aug 26, 2020 - Sports

The 76ers' playoff exit means the end of "The Process"

Sixers players.

Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers' sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics may have signaled the end of an era. "The Process" came and saw, but did it conquer?

The backdrop: In 2011, a year after LeBron formed his superteam in Miami, investors Josh Harris and David Blitzer bought the Sixers. In 2013, they hired a new GM (Sam Hinkie) and coach (Brett Brown) to helm a strategy that came to be known as "The Process," whereby they brazenly tanked in order to stockpile assets until they felt they could contend.

  • Tanking wasn't a novel concept (just ask the early-2010s Cubs and Astros), but so openly embracing it was. The Sixers' brand became losing — and they did it with gusto.

Where "The Process" worked: Those first four years of the Hinkie/Brown era turned losing into an art form. The Sixers averaged 19 wins a year, earning themselves — or trading talented players for — countless draft picks.

  • In the four drafts from 2014 to 2017, Philly selected 21 players, highlighted by future superstars Joel Embiid (No. 3, 2014) and Ben Simmons (No. 1, 2016).
  • Fans (mostly) bought in: They were skeptical, of course, but enough drank the Kool-Aid as they awaited the eventual turnaround, buying into the "lose now to win later" mantra.

Where it failed: Embiid and Simmons obviously turned out great, but striking out on 50% of your Process-era top picks (Jahlil Okafor in 2015, Markelle Fultz in 2017) sort of defeats the purpose.

  • Beyond poor draft choices, the front office's decision-making left much to be desired. Brown was "the perfect coach to get us through these first few years," said Hinkie, yet he stuck around for seven years (Hinkie quit in 2016).
  • Then last year they traded a huge haul for Tobias Harris before doubling down by signing him and Al Horford for a combined nine years and $289 million — moves that ran counter to years of patient team-building.

The big picture: Philly squandered much of The Process' bounty through bad signings and managerially incompetence — a reminder that a plan is only as good as its execution.

"To say The Process was a mistake because of the current status of the Sixers is to entirely miss the point. In fact, the opposite is true: That the Sixers could remain a playoff team despite the profusion of own-goals shows the value of the original plan."The truth is that the trade-acquired assets and high lottery picks from four years of suckitude loaded the dice so heavily in Philadelphia's favor that nobody could possibly screw it up, no matter how many times they shot themselves in the foot."
— John Hollinger, The Athletic (subscription)

What's next: The NBA restructured the draft lottery odds in response to "The Process," so we'll never see a rebuild quite like this again.

  • As for the Sixers, they're projected to have one of the highest payroll/luxury tax bills in league history next year, with the "big four" of Embiid, Simmons, Harris and Horford earning a combined $119 million.
Go deeper