The 76ers haven’t been relevant in 6 years. Actually, probably a little longer. The last time they made the playoffs was in the 2011-12′ lockout season. They made it to the second round of the playoffs, but the franchise was in the dreaded purgatory of not being good enough to win it all, but not bad enough to garner a top pick. So they blew it up.
Boy, did they blow it up. Philadelphia became the laughing stock of the NBA for 6 seasons. They finished 14 games under .500 the following season, and didn’t eclipse the 20-win mark for the following three seasons. Yet as these last 13 months have showed us, losing is worth it.
Philly picked one-season wonder Michael Carter-Williams in lottery of the 2013 draft, and then the real work began. The “work” was just to lose as badly and as frequently as possible. After a dreadful (or beautiful, depending how you look at it) 2014-15′ season, Philadelphia received the 3rd pick in the 2014 draft. There were three consensus top-3 selections, and their draft order could’ve been interchangeable. And due to injury concerns, the draft’s best player, Joel Embiid, fell into their lap. Embiid quickly became the poster boy of the Sixers’ rebuild.
Embiid didn’t play in what should’ve been his inaugural season, and the Sixers tanked again. They took (eventual bust) Jahil Okafor with the third pick. And after Embiid didn’t play again in 2015-16′, the Sixers got the first pick and took Ben Simmons. Simmons also didn’t play in what should’ve been his inaugural season. Embiid did, however, and was about as impressive as a big man could be.
The Sixers still couldn’t eclipse the 30-win plateau, however, and received the 3rd pick, which they traded for the first and took Markelle Fultz, the consensus top prospect.
So the tanking was clearly worth it. Let’s put it this way. Who’s in a better position currently: the Atlanta Hawks, who have been competitive since 2012, but never good enough to win a title, or the 76ers, who have been anything but competitive since 2012, and were hardly good enough to win 20 games? Of course it’s Philadelphia. Atlanta is still stuck in a rut of mediocrity, while the Sixers are ready to compete for a title post-LeBron.
They’re even attracting B-list free agents, such as JJ Reddick. Take a look at the projected 76ers starting lineup (age/draft position):
PG: Markelle Fultz (19/#1)
SG: JJ Reddick (33/#11)
SF: Ben Simmons (20/#1)
PF: Dario Šarić (23/#12)
C: Joel Embiid (23/#3)
The 33-year old Reddick stands out, but his leadership and sharpshooting could be vital in the development of the youngsters. While the rest of the East was fighting over the easily attainable 8-seed (only to be defeated by LeBron James in the first round), the Sixers were losing, only to eventually win. Look out, post-LeBron East. The Sixers are here to stay. And that’s because they trusted the process.