29/02/2024

‘The Process’ either fails for good or pays off for the Sixers this season | Marcus Hayes

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‘The Process’ either fails for good or pays off for the Sixers this season | Marcus Hayes

After 10 years free of NBA Finals appearances, the last vestiges of "The Process" rest on the legs of Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Doc Rivers.

After 10 years free of NBA Finals appearances, the last vestiges of "The Process" rest on the legs of Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Doc Rivers.

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The Sixers’ ‘Process’ era either pays off or fails for good in the next two months

After 10 years free of NBA Finals appearances, the last vestiges of "The Process" rest on the legs of Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Doc Rivers.

Sixers coach Doc Rivers talks to center Joel Embiid during a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers talks to center Joel Embiid during a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Wells Fargo Center.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Ten years ago, Josh Harris hired Sam Hinkie to clean up the Andrew Bynum mess and begin The Process. Hinkie failed in both transaction and culture, but reset the salary cap and asset cache, which he handed to Bryan Colangelo, who failed at everything except retaining coach Brett Brown and drafting Ben Simmons, who eventually begat James Harden. Brown went when he needed to go, and Doc Rivers filled his seat, followed by president Daryl Morey.

Two superstars: Check. Pedigreed coach: Check. Big-name honcho: Check.

So here we stand today, 10 Sixers-free NBA championships removed from an idiotic procedure that rests on the legs of Joel Embiid, Harden, and Rivers. Embiid really is the last tangible remnant of a decade of disappointments. In a few weeks, we’ll have resolution.

» READ MORE: Joel Embiid’s MVP push, starting lineup among Sixers story lines to watch down NBA’s stretch run

This is their best chance yet. Simmons is gone. Embiid has matured and developed as far as he ever will. There were no cataclysmic deadline deals that altered the chemistry of the existing team; no Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, no Tobias Harris, no Harden. This time, there are no excuses.

The Sixers must reach the Eastern Conference finals this spring or everything comes crashing down. They’ve never gotten past the second round of the playoffs. They’ve never been equipped to do so. Their best chance so far came with Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick in 2019, but Embiid was still diaper-soft. Simmons fought demons then that still bedevil him now.

They face a hellish home-stretch schedule that begins tonight when the Grizzlies visit. Embiid’s foot hurts. So what. This is it.

If the Sixers don’t get past the second round of the playoffs this year, then they will implode.

The Process

Embiid, who adopted “The Process” as a nickname — fittingly, too, since, like The Process, he took ages to develop and remains incomplete — will surely force a trade to a franchise that actually understands basketball. He’s never played with a true point guard. It’s a nine-year crime.

In fact, the Sixers began The Process by trading the only true point guard they’d had in years, Jrue Holiday, for the pick that landed Nerlens Noel. Holiday just went to his second All-Star Game and might win his second title this June. Noel is on his fifth team, and he stinks.

Don’t think Embiid will want out? He’s been dropping clues that Dr. Watson could identify.

Embiid intimated in a tweet in May, as the Heat struggled after dispatching the Sixers in the playoffs, that he’d like to join his buddy Butler in Miami: “Miami needs another star.”

He then told Yahoo Sports in December, “Sixers fans, they want to trade me. ... I do believe that. They want to trade me.”

Which, of course, gives him a reason for wanting to be traded. It’s a bogus reason — he is beloved in Philly far beyond his value or his accomplishments — but it frames his case.

The Beard

Harden will be a high-mileage 34 years old next season. He spent the second half of last season testing the waters in Philadelphia after forcing a trade from Brooklyn. He has spent all of this season turning his ball-dominant, one-on-one offensive game into a more deferential game that facilitates Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Tyrese Maxey. Kudos.

If this experiment fails, Harden can opt out of his contract. His expanded game will make him more attractive than ever. He was never going to win the way he played in Houston and Brooklyn. Nobody except Morey, his Houston godfather, thought he could. But Harden’s current game translates well to a better-built team than the Sixers will be able to offer next season, and, frankly, a better-built team than they have right now.

The Doc

Rivers might have been able to survive whatever happens this summer had he not been so condescending in the defense of Simmons in 2021, when he repeatedly told Philadelphia it didn’t know basketball.

» READ MORE: Doc Rivers absurdly defends Ben Simmons; the Sixers star doesn’t need it in the NBA playoffs | Marcus Hayes

But he did, and he sounded arrogant, which is too bad, because he isn’t, really. At any rate, when you haven’t won anything since George W. Bush was in office, it’s hard to justify arrogance, much less survive it.

Rivers hasn’t seemed overly eager to remain in Philadelphia for the last two seasons. Should he fail to move the club past the second round and be fired, his psyche and his golf game would be the better for it. This, he knows.

And so?

It feels like we’re watching the end.

Boston and Milwaukee are better basketball teams, playoff-tested, deep, and defensively sound. Jayson Tatum in Boston and Giannis Antetokounmpo are more unstoppable postseason stars than Embiid. The Sixers can be a defensive disaster, especially when Maxey and Harden play together.

They have yet to find an offensive role for P.J. Tucker, who was supposed to fix the roster’s toughness issues; he’s averaging 1.2 shots per game, the lowest of his career since he was a rookie nobody.

Processors, enjoy these final days. A wasted decade is about to come to a merciful end.

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