Lottery night is around the corner, and it could shape teams' futures unlike any draft lottery in recent memory. For the 76ers, this is could be the last lottery night of the Process Era.
If you have followed the team at all the last few years, then you would know that this time of the year has felt very familiar for Sixer fans - especially Process Truthers - for the last four seasons. You have probably hoped on tankathon.com, and even though it didn't really matter because you were waiting for the actual lottery night to happen, you simulated the lottery thousands of times hoping for the best possible draft order. You rooted for other inferior teams to win as the season was reaching the finish line, just so the Sixers can improve their draft positioning. You have probably gone down the two hour YouTube rabbit hole frequently, while also having Draft Express open in another tab on your internet browser, researching all the prospects that were mocked to be in whatever range the Sixers might be picking. You have had countless debates about which prospects are the best fit for the team with random people on the internet, whether it be on Sixers Reddit or the fan posts on Liberty Ballers. After the team completed their 28 win campaign this season - a win total that was, by and large, unexpected - we now find ourselves back in the same wheelhouse we have been accustomed to in past years.
This year feels slightly different, however, rather than hoping for a high pick to draft a player to finally start laying down a foundation for an ever-changing roster, this year, there already seems to be a set - albeit, still uncertain giving recent injury history to core guys - foundation for the team and fans are hoping to get a high pick (maybe two, more on that later) to add as a supplement to a roster, that for the first time in a while, will have some continuity going into the next season's training camp. Another slight difference compared to years past is we are going through this whole lottery rodeo again without the architect of this whole plan, Samuel Blake Hinkie. It always comes back to him, doesn't it?
Yes, Hinkie did resign in April of last year, but was the ghost really ever exorcised from the organization despite attempts from front office people, as well as local and national media for that matter, to do so? The ten win season in 2015-16 under Hinkie did put incoming President of Basketball Operations, Bryan Colangelo, in a position to have the number one overall pick to take Ben Simmons, a pick Hinkie certainly would have made himself had he decided not to resign just before the draft process started, and even as we sit here a year later, I can say that this season, while under a new regime, still had a lot of similarities to any other year in the Process Era.
We got to see some of Hinkie's best picks don a Sixer uniform this year, Joel Embiid - who will represent the team at the draft lottery on Tuesday night - took the court after 2.5 years of sitting out with a broken foot, even though it was only for a short, but captivating 31 games. Dario Saric despite never coming over from Europe - he actually did, it's just an inside joke among Pro-Processers - played 81 games and developed at a pace far better than expected. Undrafted players Hinkie found off the proverbial scrap heap, like Robert Covington and TJ McConnell, took unexpected, and borderline outlier leaps in their development. Richaun Holmes, the 37th pick in the 2nd round of the 2015 draft, has already proved to be a better player than Jahlil Okafor, the 3rd overall pick in that same draft, a pick that was probably one of Hinkie's biggest mistakes in his time as GM. Despite that mistake, all the talent culminated this season into a memorable month of January that could very well be a preview of what's to come.
As it became more clear by the day that this team had a young nucleus with a bright future thanks to the fruits of Hinkie's labor, the anti-Hinkie/Process media was doing Olympic training seven days a week for the mental gymnastics they had to do trying to still justify and ultimately die on a hill where they were obviously on the wrong side of history.
This will be the first draft Colangelo will orchestrate after having a full season as the President of Basketball Operations under his belt with the Sixers, but where he will pick, and how many picks he will have in the top ten this year, could very well be determined by past trades Hinkie was able to pull off during his time in Philly. In what is suppose to be a deep and talented draft that potentially goes ten deep, this lottery has so many potential scenarios with subsequent domino effects that could impact the future of other teams in the lottery.
If you're reading this then you're already well aware that the Lakers could lose their lottery pick to the Sixers this year if their pick falls outside of the top three Tuesday night, and if that happens, the Lakers will lose their 2019 first rounder to the Orlando Magic in a complex set of circumstances from the Steve Nash, and Dwight Howard trades back in 2012. If the Lakers do keep the pick, they lose their 2018 pick unprotected to Philly anyway.
Ownership of the Lakers pick was made possible through a 2015 three-way deal at the trade deadline between the Bucks, Suns, and Sixers that included moving then-second year player, Michael Carter-Williams out of Philly, and in return, the team got the Lakers' pick that was originally sent to the Suns. That trade is somehow still the main source of criticism for anti-Hinkites who still refuse to admit that maybe Hinkie's longest-view-in-the-room approach was the right one. It's hilarious that those critics still reference Carter-Williams as the "former Rookie of The Year" despite the fact that the 2013 draft was one of the weakest draft classes ever. Fast forward to now, MCW was struggling to get minutes ahead of Rajon Rondo and Isaiah Canaan (hey a former Process Sixer!) all season and in this year's playoffs for a Bulls team that was shuffling point guards like a poker dealer in Vegas. The pick didn't convey in 2015 or 2016, and whether the Lakers pick conveys this year, or conveys unprotected next year, it had and still has more value than keeping a mediocre point guard who literally peaked in his very first game.
Moving on from the Lakers pick, the rash of injuries towards the end of the season locked the Sixers into the 4th spot, giving their own pick a 37.8 percent chance of landing in the top three, and an 11 percent chance at landing number one, but as I have written about before, a 2015 heist conducted by Hinkie gave the Sixers a pick swap with the Kings this year (along with an unprotected 2019 first rounder!!!) that became more valuable after the Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins. Basically, the Sixers increased their odds at the number one pick by 2.8 percent. (Derek Bodner, the Godner himself, has a great break down of the lotto ball combinations the Sixers have)
There are a lot of possibilities, but one thing is certain, the Sixers pick will land in the top seven (it's an 87 percent chance we'll be in the top five, but for argument's sake we'll say top seven) and this draft is deep with talent especially at point guard. Wherever the Sixers land could be the difference between snagging an elite prospect like a Markelle Fultz (who is in a tier of his own, it's really not up for debate for me), or Lonzo Ball, or potentially coming away with two players like Malik Monk and the versatile 6'10 swingman Jonathan Issac. Whoever the Sixers come away with on draft night will also have a direct effect on how the front office brass will play their hand free agency, something the team has strayed away from the last four summers, by design. They now have $55 million dollars in salary cap space, have plenty of paths to take. They can choose to commit to a point guard and pay over $150 million dollars to a 31 year Kyle Lowry (please no), or pursue a sharpshooter like JJ Redick, the team can finally fill some needs that have been long overdue, now that they have two potential franchise guys and other key role players that have seemingly cemented a stable foundation to build upon.
Until then, as weird as it sounds, we should enjoy the last few chapters of the Process era. It was tough to stick through it, tough to defend it, but he we are with light at the end of the tunnel. I admit this is one of the few times I regret being a life-long California resident who just so happens to be a Sixer fan, I really wish I could go to the Lottery Party hosted by The Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast at Xfinity live in Philly, just so I can react to Tuesday night's outcome with people who, like me, have stuck through this ride.
If everything breaks right with player health --always a big if especially with the crown jewel of it all, Joel Embiid-- this team will improve. How fast will this team improve? That obviously remains to be seen, as Bill Simmons tweeted when Embiid put on a staggering performance in front of a packed Boston crowd against the Celtics on January 6th, it's hard to tank when you have a dominant center, and if the rest of the roster is healthy along with new players via this draft and free agency, there is good reason to believe this could be the last draft lottery night for the Process Era. Hopefully, we make it count.