NBA playoffs 2019: Is 'The Process' complete for the 76ers?

Is “The Process” complete in Philadelphia? The 76ers success in this year’s NBA playoffs could answer that question.

The seeds of the term “trust the process” were planted by former 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie in 2013.

“We talk a lot about process — not outcome — and trying to consistently take all the best information you can and consistently make good decisions,” Hinkie told reporters at a press conference after he was hired. “Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but you reevaluate them all.”

The 76ers were coming off a 34-48 season and missed the postseason. Philadelphia’s fans couldn’t help but latch on to Hinkie’s use of “process,” which was likely in reference to the rebuilding period that was about to follow.

The 76ers finished 2013-14 with a 19-63 record, the second worst mark in the NBA. They ended up getting the third pick in the 2014 draft, and it probably turned out better than expected. They selected now-All-Star center Joel Embiid out of Kansas, who nicknamed himself “The Process,” adding more fuel to the fire.

Embiid, however, suffered a foot injury leading up to the season and had to sit for two years. The 76ers were dreadful in his absence, winning just 28 total games while he was out. The big man’s rookie season was then riddled with injuries and he played in just 31 games. The 76ers matched their win total from the previous two years, though, winning 28 game in 2016-17.

While Embiid was waiting in the wings, Hinkie stepped down from his general manager position just before the 2016 draft. Philadelphia selected Ben Simmons with the top pick that year.

Simmons, a 6-10 point forward with the potential to turn the franchise, also suffered a foot injury that kept him out for a full season. But he returned with a vengeance in 2017-18. Simmons won Rookie of the Year and Philadelphia ended its five-year playoff drought, making it to the second round, where it lost to the Celtics.

It wasn’t the result the 76ers wanted, but it showed that there was hope for the future.

Now fast forward to today’s NBA.

The 76ers’ top pick in 2017, Markelle Fultz, didn’t pan out, but they have been able to swing some impressive trades in 2018-19.

The Sixers managed to land Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, and these moves have the potential to be game-changers when the postseason begins. Butler, 29, is a four-time All-Star and has developed a reputation for being one of the league’s most dangerous offensive threats in clutch situations. Harris, a journeyman for most of his 10-year NBA career, was playing at an All-Star level for the Clippers before being traded in February. 

The talent on Philadelphia’s starting unit, it could be argued, is rivaled only by Golden State. At least, on paper.

The 76ers legitimately have four All-Star caliber players, but they’ve had limited time to jell and improve team chemistry as the playoffs approach.

Embiid, Simmons, Butler and Harris have started together in a measly 10 of a possible 26 games, according to Basketball Reference. Philly has gone 7-3 when every member of the quartet starts.

Philadelphia secured the third seed in the Eastern Conference and will play Brooklyn in the first round of the playoffs. Barring something unforeseen, the 76ers shouldn’t be tested until the second round, where the Raptors will likely be waiting.

The road ahead could be tough, but Philadelphia’s push to win an NBA championship needs to be now. Butler and Harris will be free agents after the season, and there’s no guarantee they will stay for the long haul. If the 76ers fail to retain at least one of them, it could be poised to decline in the seasons to come. 

Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Michael Carter-Williams, Fultz, Landry Shamet, Dario Saric and Robert Covington are just a few of the players who were sacrificed to push “The Process” forward. Now the 76ers have a window of opportunity, and they have to seize it.

So, is “The Process” complete? Nobody is sure at the moment, but it will be clear once the 2019 champion is crowned. Because anything short of the 76ers holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June means there remains work to do.