The Philadelphia 76ers were eliminated from the NBA Playoffs Wednesday night by an injury-depletd Boston Celtics squad in five games. At a quick glance, it would seem the Sixers were dominated in the second-round matchup, but aside from the series opener that was certainly not the case. The Sixers were, however, outclassed and outcoached by a team more prepared to seize the moment than the budding stars of the Sixers process were ready for at this point in time.
Just because the Sixers were taken out in five games by the Celtics in the second round does not mean we get to pass final judgment on whether or not The Process has failed. Nothing could be further from the truth, actually, as the Sixers just turned in the most successful season for the franchise since Allen Iverson stepped over Tyronn Lue in the NBA Finals in 2001.
What Exactly Is The Process?
The Sixers have taken some grief in recent years for employing this process, but what exactly is the goal of the process? From the very beginning, as designed by former general manager Sam Hinkie, the plan was to establish a foundation that would lead to sustained success that would make the Sixers a contender on a regular basis. The catch was it would take time to lay that foundation, which meant the Sixers had to tank a couple of years to do two things; clear cap space of bad contracts from previous management’s mistakes, and stockpile draft picks while hoping to get some luck form the ping pong balls in the lottery.
The Sixers admitted that there were going to be some low times on the court for a couple of years, but it was a fresh approach to build a team capable of playing meaningful basketball in the long-term. It was a breath of fresh air for a franchise that had taken one too many bad contracts for players that were beyond their prime or just never really fit together going back to the later Iverson years.
Is The Process Working?
P.S. A loss in the 2nd round shouldn’t be a referendum on The Process. And neither should a championship
— Pablo S. Torre (@PabloTorre) May 10, 2018
The greatest scam of the process was to convince people that results are irrelevant in a results-oriented business https://t.co/mqsulWkyD4
— J.A. Adande (@jadande) May 10, 2018
Critics of the process may look at a second-round exit against a Boston Celtics team without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward in five games as a failure. Considering how things played out, that may be fair to say as the Sixers made far too many mistakes and couldn’t come up with the clutch baskets when they needed it most in a series with three games decided by five points or fewer (all losses for the Sixers). But the process takes on a larger scope, so take a look at the bigger picture for the Sixers.
The Sixers won 52 games this season. They had won a combined 56 games the previous three seasons for the sake of comparison. This was also the first season the Sixers had a healthy Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons on the court for the bulk of the season. Embiid and Simmons are the dynamic duo of the process, and it was quite a dramatic change on the court now that the two main elements of the process were good to go. More importantly, both players appear to be heading into their offseason healthy, with the exception of Embiid’s face still having some healing to do.
With Embiid and Simmons continuing to grow, the future looks bright as the Sixers continue to build around those two as they each improve their game. Next season, without making any roster changes, the Sixers look like a team that will be a tough out in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It is clear they have some steps to take, but the process has brought them into the second round of the playoffs in their first playoff trip. The process is certainly working for that long-term mission.
But it will be important to keep in mind the team that just eliminated them will be better next season with key players returning. At the same time, LeBron James is still a threat anywhere he goes (we’ll get to him in a moment), and the Toronto Raptors may tear everything down and start over. All things considered, the Sixers appear to be standing in a good spot in the East going to next season almost by default.
What’s the Next Step For The Process?
The Sixers now begin their offseason, and it may be one of the intriguing offseasons to watch around the NBA. Before getting to the juicy stuff that is NBA free agency, the Sixers will have to look in the mirror to decide what can improve from within first. That starts with Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz.
Ben Simmons had the worst +/- of any player in the Celtics/Sixers series. pic.twitter.com/LcTI5ppyNq
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 10, 2018
Simmons clearly has some growth to do with his offensive game. While he can make some spectacular passes and drive to the hoop with some of the best in the league, his lack of a jumper was a glaring hole for the Sixers offense against the Celtics. Boston rarely even covered Simmons in some spots on the court because a jumper was not even a threat with the ball in his hands.
Two top-3 picks.
Two very different series. pic.twitter.com/mQLvDmk0FT
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 10, 2018
So what about the other No. 1 pick? In a series that threw salt on the wound with Jayson Tatum having an exceptional series while Markelle Fultz couldn’t even get off the bench, it became clear Fultz has to be the next piece of the process that comes along to prove his worth in the long term rather than be dubbed a complete failure after one season. Like Embiid and Simmons before him, Fultz had his rookie season basically derailed by injury, but once he was deemed healthy he became as close to a healthy scratch as you can get in the NBA playoffs. Fultz rode the bench the entire series while watching a guy picked two picks after him play a pivotal role in Boston’s victory. The Sixers won’t be hitting any panic buttons, but they have to hope Fultz comes back to live up to the billing of the top pick next season (and no, Fultz won’t be considered a rookie next year, although he will be playing his first full season if all goes according to plan).
Next up is determining what players on the roster are worth keeping around. The biggest name to consider is J.J. Redick, who had a rough series against the Celtics. Other bench players like Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova are also up for free agency but won’t cost enough to have to weigh the decisions too much. But then the fun begins with NBA free agency.
The Sixers Have Big Player Money
Now that the foundation for the Sixers has been laid through the NBA Draft with a trio of Embiid, Simmons and Fultz, the other part of the process may be about to put the final pieces together in free agency. The Sixers are about to find out just how attractive they are as a potential landing spot for some of the league’s top free agents. The Sixers will have an estimated $31 million in salary cap space to work with this summer, and it could increase to as much as $36 million depending on what the team does with players currently on the roster.
The golden goose would be LeBron James, who will be pitched the idea of joining a dynamic team on the rise for one last push for postseason glory in a role where he may not have to carry the load all by himself as he tends to do in Cleveland.
But even if the Sixers lose out on the LeBron sweepstakes, there are other solid players worth adding that can make a difference. Paul George is probably the best consolation prize out there. A move to bring Kawhi Leonard to Philly would also help in a big way. Look for the Sixers to be in the mix for some hot free agent battles to find someone that can help them take the next step toward a championship.
What About the Draft?
All eyes are on the Los Angeles Lakers right now. The Sixers have a good shot of landing the Lakers’ lottery pick this summer. Thanks to a trade back in 2015, the Sixers got their hands on the Lakers’ 2018 first round pick with one notable exception. The Lakers’ lottery pick will go to the Celtics if the Lakers land between 2 and 5 in the NBA Draft as a result of last year’s draft trade between the Sixers and Celtics. Any other pick will go to the Sixers (the deal is a little more complex than that with ramifications for the 2019 draft, but we’ll just stick to this single pick for now).
If the Lakers somehow land the No. 1 pick in the draft, that pick goes to the Sixers. That would be the ultimate dream scenario for the Sixers, but the odds of that happening are not great. The Sixers will hope the odds play in their favor and they get a pick somewhere in the bottom half of the top 10, in which case they should be able to add a decent player to their roster.
The Sixers also own their own first-round pick this season, meaning they have two first-round picks to trade away to move up or down, there could be more long-term draft moves that swing into motion.
All of this is just a part of The Process, and the Sixers have no reason to stop trusting it after this past season.