The Philadelphia 76ers are on their way to the second round of the NBA playoffs after dismantling the Miami Heat in five games. The Sixers dominated a series that was expected to be competitive. They have the look of a team that should at least make the conference finals and maybe even the NBA Finals. It’s all being taken as vindication of “The Process.”
Could we please take a step back for a moment and ask what a “Process” implies and whether the 76ers really implemented one? A process conjures up images of something very thought-out and sophisticated. This article by Jason Owens at Yahoo.com is one of many complimenting the 76ers process—and of course giving the word a capital “P” makes it seem even more official. Obviously something brilliant was developed deep in the caverns of Wells Fargo Arena.
Please. The 76ers just took the time-honored process of tanking to levels any self-respecting organization would be embarrassed by. Between 2014-16, the 76ers won 47 games. Total. They never won twenty in any single season and they bottomed out with a 72-loss embarrassment in 2016.
“The Process” involved piling up ping-pong balls in the draft lottery. And the 76ers were rewarded with the chance to pick Joel Embid, Jhalil Okaford Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, all in the top three of the draft.
What’s more, the 76ers became the first professional sports organization in modern times to make “redshirting” an accepted practice. Embid didn’t get on the floor in his first two seasons. Simmons didn’t play at all last year. Philadelphia spent three years deliberately putting out a product that was well below NBA caliber, in order to keep getting high picks. Eventually, they hoped, one of them would pan out. Simmons did and is the league’s brightest young star. Embid’s emergence is icing on the cake.
Philadelphia is not the first team to tank for the sake of draft position. They are, however, the first team to do it so shamelessly and repeatedly over a period of several years, all the while stashing the players they were drafting.
I suppose if you want to call that a process, you can. Although it would be more candid to simply say “We lost as many games as we possibly could, year after year after year and then threw as much mud at the wall as we could in the draft, hoping someone would pan out. Eventually, someone did.” As processes go, this one isn’t exactly rocket science.
I live in New England, a place that is the target of national ire over the Patriots “cheating.” This cheating involves allegedly playing with a football that is just slightly below the legal level for air pressure or for trying to decipher opposing teams’ signals. These things are, by the letter of the law, illegal. But are they really worse than manipulating a draft process for three years, charging full price for an atrocious product and making a mockery for the very notion of competitive spirit?
In Godfather III, mafia boss Michael Corleone, amazed at the corruption he finds in a business negotiation, says “The farther I go up in the legitimate world, the crookeder it becomes.” Sometimes, the most corrupt things you can do are perfectly legal. Wall Street and Washington D.C. teach us that every day. In a way far less consequential, the Philadelphia 76ers have done the same. So enough about “The Process.”