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Kalemkerian: ‘The Process’ has crashed and burned

| Friday, August 28, 2020

Joel Embiid exited the 2020 NBA playoffs without much fanfare, walking off the court after a short exchange with the Boston Celtics, who completed a four-game sweep of Embiids’ Sixers on Sunday. Philadelpia knows a thing or two about playoff runs coming to an end, most notably highlighted by Kawhi Leonard’s 2019 game seven buzzer-beater that elicited tears of joy from Raptors fans and produced an iconic photo of Embiid bawling in the tunnel post-game. It’s been a decade of turmoil for the Sixers, who find themselves at yet another crossroads during the upcoming NBA offseason. 

Prior to the 2012-2013 season, Philadelphia began a major rebuild dubbed “The Process.” After five losing seasons and four top-three draft picks, the Sixers were set to be contenders in the Eastern Conference with the strong tandem of Embiid and 2018 Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons. Yet this Sixers team hasn’t lived up to its expectations. After trading for Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler last season, they came up short of an NBA Finals appearance following Leonard’s aforementioned buzzer beater. It’s now evident that the missed opportunity will haunt the Sixers for the foreseeable future. 

The blame for being swept by the Celtics was unfairly placed on head coach Brett Brown, who was fired on Monday. The real culprit became general manager when he Elton Brand chose to keep Tobias Harris, who drastically underperformed in the Celtics’ series this postseason, over Jimmy Butler in last summers’ free agency. He also inked 33-year-old Al Horford to a four-year deal worth up to $109 million, which is poised to go down as one of the worst contracts in NBA history. Brand’s biggest mistake was letting guard JJ Redick walk in free agency, leaving a glaring lack of shooting on the roster. Instead of placing an emphasis on shooting, the Sixers committed to size, rolling out the tallest starting lineup in the league to start the season. This retro strategy proved fatal, as the team’s 26 percent three-point shooting was what sunk them against the Celtics. 

Now that Brand has dug a hole for himself and failed to complete “The Process,” this upcoming NBA offseason will determine the course of the franchise for years to come. The major decision Philadelphia will have to make is whether or not to trade Embiid or Simmons. Both are young stars who will garner a large haul of players and picks on the trade market. However, they haven’t shown that they can play together well enough to make a deep playoff run. Though Brand has been adamant about not wanting to trade either of his budding stars, that may be the only way to salvage The Process. 

Trading Simmons would be the better option, as Embiid has more potential as a do-it-all big man and is widely regarded as the better player of the two. Though Simmons is one of the best defensive players in the game, his lack of a jump shot has hindered his ability to flourish as a guard in a league that is ever more centered around shooting and floor spacing. Packaging Simmons and Horford in a trade for players and, most importantly, draft picks to build around the 26-year-old Embiid would be a welcomed reset for the Sixers. Rather than waiting for two players to learn to play together, which may never happen, the franchise would have a clear  direction and would be able to remove a washed-up Horford from their payroll. Using the freed up money to surround Embiid with shooters in a similar way that the Bucks have done with Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Sixers could eventually become a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference, able to seriously rival Milwaukee, Toronto, and Boston. 

It’s a tough pill for Philadelphia fans to swallow, but the years of tanking in hopes of a deep playoff run with Brown, Embiid, and Simmons have all been for naught. “The Process,” as acknowledged by Elton Brand, is officially failing. The City of Brotherly Love may have to endure another “Process” before their beloved Sixers will be legitimate championship contenders. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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