Well, Thanksgiving is officially behind us, so that means its Christmas season, right? Well whether or not you’re feeling the holiday spirit yet, Courtside is going to bring to you a three-part Christmas-themed (kinda) article: The Ghosts of Process Past, Present, and Future. It should be pretty self-explanatory, but the point of these articles is to highlight the biggest mistakes the Sixers have made and how they are affecting the team now and how they will affect it in the coming years.
The Process has gone far different than how we thought it would ever go. I mean if it went the way we all wanted it, we’d still be waiting on Andrew Wiggins and D’Angelo Russell’s breakout seasons. So, if you’re still holding on to Thanksgiving, you have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to be thankful for. That being said, the Sixer’s front office has made many avoidable mistakes over the last five or so years, and no I am not talking about drafting Michael-Carter Williams over Giannis Antetokounmpo. What I mean is the Sixer’s made controversial moves throughout the Process and took a lot of risks, and many of these questionable decisions never panned out or made any sense in the first place. So, without further ado, here are The Top 5 Ghosts of Process Past.
- Trading Nerlens Noel for Essentially Nothing
In 2016, Joel Embiid was proving he was worth every cent of stock the Sixers put into him. Meanwhile, the other two bigs, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, that the Sixers bought into on draft night were quickly falling out of favor with the organization. Trading at least one of them was imminent, and it was no secret that everyone wanted Okafor gone. However, in February of 2017, news broke that Nerlens Noel was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson, a protected 2017 First Round Pick, and a 2020 second round pick. In other words, we gave the Mavericks great rim protector for a packet of saltine crackers. Andrew Bogut never put on a Sixer’s jersey. We got 62 games of garbage time minutes from Justin Anderson. The first-round pick, well that was protected for the first 18 picks by a team who had no chance at the playoffs; the pick ended up being differed to the second round in 2017 and was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. We have yet to see what the 2020 second rounder produces, but it’s hard to imagine it churning out anything significant. Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel fell out of the rotation in Dallas, but has since found his footing backing up Steven Adams in OKC, and the Sixers’ have struggled to find a serviceable rim protector to back up Joel Embiid ever since.
- Drafting Anzejs Pasecniks over Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart
This one stings, a lot. Not only has Anzejs not played an NBA game, not only did we trade up to get him, and not only was he absolutely terrible in last year’s summer league, but Kuzma and Hart are putting up more than serviceable minutes for one of the Sixers’ biggest rivals: the Los Angeles Lakers. Kuzma specifically already looks like a legitimate NBA starter. Especially for a Sixers team struggling to find serviceable frontcourt minutes outside of Joel Embiid, Kuzma would have seamlessly fit into our current rotation and our rotation last season. And now with Covington and Dario gone, the Sixers really need wing shooting off the bench, and Josh Hart would have been the perfect answer.
- Drafting Jahlil Okafor
In the Sixers’ defense, there was legitimate concerns about Joel Embiid’s health at the time. There was speculation that Embiid might not ever be able to play and effectively become Andrew Bynum II. So, the logic behind picking Okafor as an insurance policy for Embiid was sound, until you look at who was picked immediately after Okafor.
Sure, Kristaps Porzingas is currently recovering from a major knee injury, but when he’s healthy Porzingas is a top 25 player in the NBA. A combination of length and defensive instincts, plus a smooth shooting stroke, gives Porzingas a unique ability to create offense and anchor defenses, which something really only paralleled by Anthony Davis and Embiid himself. Pairing guys like Embiid and Porzingas together would have been a frontcourt dream for the Sixers and a nightmare for opposing offenses and defenses. Even if Embiid never panned out, Porzingas is more than capable of playing either frontcourt position – imagine a Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingas duo.
On top of that, Porzingas is an incredibly Hinkie-esque type of player – think a better defending Dario Saric without having to stash him for two years. Hinkie wanted Porzingas, and ownership forced his hand to avoid him. Pairing Embiid with the Zinger was an incredibly real possibility that we can only dream of at this point.
The only other concerning aspect of picking Okafor was we could have easily traded down in a draft that featured Devin Booker, Myles Turner, Terry Rozier, and Josh Richardson among others.
- Trading the rights to the King’s First Round Pick to Move Up Two Spots
Well that’s a hefty headline, but it’s necessary. As most NBA fans know by now, the Sixers moved up two spots in the 2017 NBA draft to select Markelle Fultz with the first overall selection. Now at the time, picking Fultz first overall was the right decision. He was the unanimous first overall pick for the entire season and really will go down as one of the best college freshman scorers of all time. Of course in retrospect, we should not have picked Fultz, but that is not the issue at hand. The price we paid to get him, however, is an issue.
The Kings ended up keeping their pick in 2018, selecting Marvin Bagley with the second overall pick. However, the Celtics, aka the Sixers’ biggest rivals, have the Kings’ 2019 pick completely unprotected. The Kings might be off to a hot start, but knowing the Kings it is hard to believe they will keep it up. Even if they don’t land a top 3 pick, it’s not outrageous to believe they will end up a lottery team and convey a top 15 pick to the Celtics. So, was the trade worth it? Definitely not. Was it worth it at the time? Still, definitely not. Danny Ainge came out and said right after the trade that they were going to pick Jayson Tatum with the first overall pick anyway. With Lonzo destined to be a Laker from the start, there is a very real chance that Markelle Fultz would become a Sixer anyway, and it wouldn’t have cost another potential lottery draft pick.
- Pushing out Sam Hinkie
The biggest mistake of the process should come to no Sixer fan’s surprise. Not only was it a glaring mistake at the time, it led to a lot of other blunders that could have been completely avoided if Hinkie was around (see trading up for Markelle Fultz, drafting Anzejs Pasecniks, and trading Nerlens Noel).
In April of 2016, the Sixer’s “hired” Jerry Colangelo as President of Basketball Operations. It is no secret that it was a move orchestrated and forced onto Sixer’s ownership by Adam (Dave) Silver and the NBA to cede power from Hinkie. The Sixers started the season 1-21 and the league was tired of losing revenue to one of the biggest basketball markets in the league, so they essentially forced the Colangelo family onto the organization. Less than a month later, Hinkie uncoincidentally stepped down as the team’s general manager. Colangelo then hired his son Bryan as the team’s general manager before ultimately stepping down himself, giving Bryan complete control over the team’s roster. From there, Bryan continued to make bad trades (as mentioned before) and questionable decisions. His wife even created chaos this past offseason with multiple burner accounts that criticized the team’s players and former management.
It’s impossible to entirely blame the Sixer’s ownership for this move, as it was essentially forced upon them by the league. But even looking at it from an outside perspective, it’s hard to say that Josh Harris and the ownership group could not have supported Hinkie more to keep him around until The Process was completed.
Sure, Hinkie might not have been the guy to put the finishing touches around a championship quality roster but pushing out Hinkie at that time completely derailed The Process. He needed at least one more offseason to make the picks and trades that would have really put the Sixers over the top for the (assumable) upcoming championship runs. On top of that, Bryan was hardly the guy we needed to land the plane that Hinkie was steering. Even at the time, Bryan Colangelo was a questionable hire with his track record of drafting Andrea Bargnani over LaMarcus Aldridge with the first pick of the 2006 NBA draft.
With all this being said, the Sixers still sit comfortably towards the top of the Eastern Conference. They were even a year ahead of schedule with last season’s playoff run. Especially with the addition of Jimmy Butler, the Sixer’s looked poised to compete for a championship as early as this year. Of course, all of these mistakes are in retrospect, but it is difficult to not think about what could have been if these avoidable blunders were never made in the first place.
Be sure to stay tuned for the next edition of this series: The Ghosts of Process Present.