The 76ers have now won 8 of their last 11 games, and predictably the national narrative around the team is changing. It doesn't make the narrative right, however.
The 76ers keep winning games. They are 7-2 in January, and after Wednesday night's win over the Toronto Raptors, in which the Sixers showed why they have been a top five defense since the beginning of December, holding the historically efficient Raptors offense — which was third in points per game at 111.5 going into the game — to 39.5 percent shooting. It was a staple victory for the franchise, who have now signaled to the rest of the league that the team will be a problem sooner than most expected.
Of course, now that the 76ers are winning more games following the 2015-16 season, which saw former general manager and borderline cult symbol of the previous three years of tanking, Sam Hinkie, resign, the team is getting more attention nationally. In the three previous years, the only time the 76ers were discussed on a national level was when media wanted to trash and rip Hinkie for putting out a team that was ill-equipped to ever win a lot of games. Nowadays the topic naturally discussed is how the "culture" around the team has changed and how current president of basketball operations, Bryan Colangelo, brought stability to a "losing culture" that festered thanks to Hinkie. Not only is this narrative ridiculous, it is also very laughable.
I'm not here to bash Colangelo — he has done a decent job so far, outside of neglecting to deal with the center logjam on the roster, which he has known about since the summer — but more so to talk about the blanket hot take phrase that is "losing culture."
What exactly defines a "losing culture"? It can't just be so broad as losing games, which is what the Sixers have done since the 2013-14 season —? if you remember, Sam Hinkie knocked down the first domino by blowing up the remains of a 34-48 team by trading Jrue Holiday, but isn't that the definition of tanking? Look at organizations like the Sacramento Kings or the New York Knicks,? teams who continue to sign bad contracts, trade away future first round draft picks for the sake of "win now" moves, continue to be mediocre and have losing seasons and have fired a number of head coaches too boot. Of course everyone ignores all of that because Hinkie tried to do something innovative —? and to be clear teams before have tanked for a season —? by undergoing continuous tanking for three years for the sake of getting a number of draft picks over the next handful of years and drafting talented prospects, who were going to miss time because of injury or were overseas. How about when everyone who specialized in Hot Takes ripped Hinkie when he traded Rookie of the Year (in a very weak 2013 draft class) Michael Carter Williams in the 2014-15 season for the Lakers draft pick (top three protected)? Well, look at how that turned out. It was a clear plan that some fan bases wish their own respective team's had had. The other day I talked to one of my best friends, who is a Knicks fan, and I actually felt bad when he was talking about the state of his team as I was telling him the back story of Hinkie's time in Philly.
Brett Brown, the head coach hand-picked shortly after Hinkie became the GM, has always had his teams play hard and put in effort, despite having a sizable talent deficit virtually every single night —? that's not a quality that would fall under "losing culture" would it? Sure, it was tough to watch at times, but you could tell the team played their asses off. The Hinkie regime also brought in top-notch front office people and conceived plans to build a state of the art practice facility, which opened back in August. So what exactly has changed to start the shift (seriously laughing as I type this) in the culture of the team?
Well, for starters, the team is still insanely young, improving and all centered around the all-world talents of Joel Embiid (Hinkie guy), which shocker . . . it turns out a team needs elite talent to start winning games and the 76ers definitely have a special, franchise-changing player in the making. By the way, where are all the critics who said Embiid was a bust after his two foot surgeries? Those are probably the same people who clearly didn't see Embiid's potential when he was playing at Kansas.
Players like Robert Covington — Hey! Another Hinkie player who was signed off the scrap heap in 2014-15 has taken the most unexpected leap on defense, becoming an elite perimeter defender, while slowly climbing out of his 3-point shooting slump. Oh and lets not forget about Dario Saric (Hinkie guy . . . get the theme yet?), who was traded to the 76ers on draft night in 2014, is showing signs of being a real talented NBA player. He can make plays from the power forward position, is tough as nails, makes extra effort and plays like this.
Remember when all anti-Hinkie critics alike questioned if Saric would ever come overseas? Even though he clearly said he would come over in two years about 1,000 times?
Nerlens Noel (Hinkie guy), who has been backing up Embiid at the center spot as of late, continues to provides his all-around freakish versatility on defense and has had a hand in the Sixers becoming a top five defense over the last two months. TJ McConnell (who Hinkie signed as an undrafted rookie last season) took the starting point guard spot and has run with it (6-2 in his last eight starts), continuing to provide a hard-nosed defensive mentality and never playing outside of his limitations. Nik Stuaskas (who basically came for free in a highway robbery Hinkie-crafted trade with the Kings) has finally settled into the starting role. Oh and the top pick from the 2016 draft, Ben Simmons, is going to be back sometime after the All-Star break, and, while he was drafted technically under the Colangelo regime, make no mistake, the opportunity to draft Simmons was created by Hinkie before he resigned last April and don't tell me Hinkie and his team wouldn't have drafted Simmons had he stayed as the team's GM.
So outside of some decent veterans that were signed this past summer and an in-season trade for Ersan Ilyasova, what exactly has Colangelo done to "shift" the culture? Trick question. It's a myth, there was never a "losing culture" in the Hinkie era. A team that was really young then just got better. The ever changing roster is a thing of the past now that there are two potential franchise stars —? one of them has already cemented himself as a star —? that came as a result of Hinkie's plan, which was one of the main reasons that The Process took place. The team also has plenty of future draft picks to continue to supplement that foundation, all thanks to Hinkie's cut-throat trades. One of my favorite trades Hinkie pulled off might be the Kings trade that involved Stauskas, because the team can swap draft spots with the Kings this year should they land a higher draft spot than us, and they owe us a 2019 first round pick . . . unprotected . . . and by that time, the 76ers should be knee-deep in a playoff run.
But it's okay. Hinkie can live on in infamy and be featured in some incredible articles, all while the national media continues to throw subtle shade at him so they can continue to follow their own false narrative. The plan was never perfect, but the present sure reeks of Hinkie, and, when you look at the players who have had a hand in this turn-around, you can't deny that in some capacity the plan worked. Either way, if you're anti-process or a truther, it's great to see all the fans witness a young core that has a bright future given what they have had to endure for three seasons.
Trust. The. Process.