Something very interesting has happened in 2018, and I'm not sure many people noticed. The detractors who said it was too soon to declare The Process a success, who made a joke of the Sixers and Sam Hinkie's blueprint for years – they seem to have vanished.
Sure, there are still those who would oppose the methodology that brought the Sixers to this point. Tanking is an ugly business. Maybe there was another way, maybe there wasn't. Some of what went down was also misrepresented, but what's done is done.
Those aren't the people I'm talking about anyway. It's the folks who as recently as this season remained steadfast that all those high draft picks weren't necessarily going to equate to a winning basketball team.
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Folks like Deadspin's Albert Burnenko, who railed against The Process for years, and wrote last June the Sixers would "probably" never come together the way Hinkie and fans imagined.
They have some kids who might eventually be good, or who might eventually be healthy, or who might eventually be good and healthy. Getting these kids was the easy part; developing them into high-quality NBA players, and high-quality NBA players into a consistently championship-contending team, will require luck and skill, would be difficult under better circumstances than those now prevailing in Philadelphia, and probably won't ever happen.
The Sixers could become, in other words, exactly the kind of basketball team that Hinkie and his Process cultists viewed with contempt-a team with no plausible chance of contending for a championship in anything close to the near term, but one capable of game-to-game feistiness.
It was one thing to suggest the Sixers might be years away from serious championship contention. After all, I think most everybody was at least a little caught off guard by how quickly The Process accelerated this season. Serious injuries to prized Processers Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were legitimate concerns as well.
It was quite another to declare the Sixers, with their prospects and future draft picks and salary cap space, were building just another "upstart" NBA team, and most of all, fans were rubes for accepting it.
Less than 10 months later, the Sixers finished with the fifth-best record in the league and have won 16 straight games heading into the playoffs. They are a legitimate threat to reach the Finals.
Not the Eastern Conference Finals. The NBA Finals.
The last vestige these folks could cling to was the Sixers' possible mishandling of Markelle Fultz's injury, obsessively chronicling the progress of the rookie's broken shot all season long. Hope everybody got a good laugh for awhile, because Fultz is quickly becoming just another Process success story.
Again, the path the Sixers took to acquire Fultz, Simmons and Embiid is subject to scrutiny. (Realistically, tanking to some degree was inevitable, and had Hinkie not taken many of the steps he had, it's likely the franchise would still be deep into a rebuilding stage right now – regardless, critics will never let you forget how the Sixers came to come by all these stars.) That's fine. It's a debate Process supporters are willing to have.
But contrary to what skeptics have been saying for years, the hard part is over. The Sixers have the talent, and they have the assets to put a viable championship contender together.
No matter how much it may irk you, this is the truth – The Process worked.