If you’re an NBA fan, chances are you’ve heard “Trust the Process” at some point this season — especially during the playoffs.
The excessive use of the Philadelphia 76ers’ slogan, however, might be distracting people from the reality: Philly’s ‘process’ isn’t an honorable one.
To make a long story short: The Sixers intentionally tanked from 2013-2016 in an attempt to secure high draft picks. The process largely worked, as Philly wound up with stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, more than making up for busts Jahlil Okafor and Michael Carter-Williams, among others. Even last season’s quasi-tank job resulted in the 76ers using the No. overall pick to take Markelle Fultz, who the jury still is out on.
But should the Sixers and their fans really be celebrating the fruits of their willing failures?
To see a “process” that deserves to be lauded, Philly need only look at the team currently leading them 3-0 in the NBA’s Eastern Conference semifinals: the Boston Celtics.
So, what’s Stephen A. Smith talking about?
Boston traded superstars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets for a bevy of draft picks after the 2012-13 season. Head coach Doc Rivers also left the team and was replaced by Brad Stevens — it was a total franchise reboot. But what the Celtics have done since has been improbable, impressive and, well, a bunch of other adjectives.
Sure, they lost 57 games the next season, but that’s when the losing stopped. The Celtics have improved their win total in each season, and have made the playoffs each year. Along the way they’ve drafted young stars Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, as well as franchise-heartbeat Marcus Smart.
Have the C’s at any point looked like a team truly ready to contend for a title? Nope, and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge admitted as much multiple times.
But the point is that, rather than shamelessly taking the easy way out, Boston used its developmental years to do just that: develop.
They developed talent, a culture of team-first basketball and, perhaps most importantly, a culture of winning. Some of the stars from the Celtics’ competitive rebuild are gone — Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder — but their losses were inconsequential because a foundation of winning already was in place, and it was time for the emergence, and addition, of superior talent.
Now, Boston has had some breaks along the way. The security of knowing Brooklyn’s picks would be at the top of the draft allowed the Celtics to play to win, while also knowing they would be drafting like an NBA doormat. The fact that the diminutive Thomas turned into a legitimate superstar also was something no one could’ve seen coming, even Ainge.
To put it another way: Stevens and Co. have benefited from having the best of both worlds. And, well, there was some luck involved.
But in taking it to the Sixers through three games, the C’s have shown that tanking and rising from the ashes aren’t mutually exclusive. Furthermore, with a trip to the Eastern Conference finals seemingly on the horizon, Boston has proved that its “process” not only deserves to be celebrated, but also is one that should be trusted, perhaps even more than Philly’s.
The Celtics (almost) have arrived, and they’ve done it the right way.
Thumbnail photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports Images
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