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Joel Embiid is finally healthy, finally back on the court playing basketball after more than two years of battling injuries, and finally taking his place in the Philadelphia 76ers’ rebuilding effort. The Sixers now find themselves in the part of the operation where they’ll finally start figuring out how their pieces fit together; before that, as you probably remember, the organization embarked on an unprecedented campaign of rebuilding through the NBA draft lottery that produced one of the worst on-court runs in league history.
All the losing, and the annual lottery trips that came with it, were part of what has come to be defined (and derided) as “The Process,” a phrase that became popular within the walls of Philly’s locker room and practice facility during the rebuild overseen by Sixers general manager/submarine commander Sam Hinkie, according to ESPN’s Pablo Torre:
The locker room lives by a different phrase, one that Hinkie underscores so often that it might as well be capitalized on a wall inside Wells Fargo Center. “They tell us every game, every day, ‘Trust the Process,'” guard Tony Wroten says. “Just continue to build.”
Outside those walls, “The Process” came to refer to Hinkie’s overarching approach to roster-building, which prepared the 76ers to lose as many games as possible in an attempt to snag high-upside, cost-controlled young talent at the top of the draft.
Eventually, all that losing — and the out-in-the-open nature of it all, undertaken without any concern for how it might look, which triggered the great “tanking” panic of recent years — wore thin, both with other league stakeholders and with 76ers ownership, culminating in Hinkie’s departure in a resignation-that-wasn’t this spring. (After failing to land the No. 1 overall pick in any of Hinkie’s three years in charge, the 76ers won the lottery weeks after his exit, landing them potentially transformational prospect Ben Simmons and proving that the universe has one heck of a sense of humor.)
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But while Hinkie’s gone, many of the players he chose — the infrastructure of what ownership has tasked new GM Bryan Colangelo with transforming into the next competitive iteration of the 76ers — remain in Philly red, white and blue. And Embiid, it seems, intends to keep the memory of the man who drafted him alive. From John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News:
EARLIER THIS WEEK, Joel Embiid asked longtime Sixers public address announcer Matt Cord to add his new self-claimed middle name “The Process” to his official introduction.
It didn’t happen Thursday night when the Sixers played the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. It didn’t matter. […]
Joel “The Process” Embiid???
Personally, considering the last three seasons of horrific basketball most associated with the Sixers’ rebuilding program, I’d like to ban that expresssion, but if Embiid wants to be called “The Process,” I’ll oblige.
Embiid has long adopted the catchphrase “Trust the Process” — the house words of a strain of Sixers fandom that believed Hinkie’s sink-to-the-bottom approach in pursuit of championship-caliber talent superior to the water-treading ways of years past — as hashtag punctuation in his social media missives:
… but calling himself “The Process” is new. And, if the biography section of his Instagram account is any indication, it’s apparently something he intends to continue doing:
Your mileage may vary on this one, but I think it’s pretty fantastic and, really, quite perfect. While the drafting of Simmons — a prospective franchise player plucked with the No. 1 pick that came with winning the lottery — represents the outcome toward which Hinkie worked so determinedly during his tenure in Philadelphia, it’s Embiid who arguably best represents “The Process” that Hinkie sought to employ in pursuit of glory.
Embiid was considered a No. 1-caliber talent coming out of Kansas, right up until he suffered a fractured bone in his right foot the week before the 2014 NBA draft. That injury led other teams selecting at the top of the draft to look elsewhere, for fear that a 7-footer with a history of back and foot injuries would never get healthy enough to contribute. Hinkie, though, pressed on, picking Embiid third overall in a bet that Philly’s medical team could eventually get him healthy, and that Embiid’s long-term value outstripped that of the other prospects on the board who would be available right away. From Hinkie’s farewell memo to Sixers ownership:
You can be right for the wrong reasons. In our business, you’re often lionized for it. You can be wrong for the right reasons. This may well prove to be Joel Embiid. There is signal everywhere that Joel is unique, from the practice gyms in Lawrence, Kansas to Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania to Doha, Qatar where he does something awe inspiring far too regularly. We remain hopeful (and optimistic) about his long-term playing career, but we don’t yet know exactly how it will turn out. The decision to draft Joel third, though, still looks to me to be the correct one in hindsight given the underlying reasoning.
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It’s early, and all Embiid’s done thus far is play 26 minutes in two preseason games, as the Sixers take it very slow and very easy with the 7-foot-2 big man after more than two years away from live action. The early returns, though, are promising, with Embiid averaging six points, four blocks and two points in 13 minutes per game, and showing the kind of smooth and forceful game on both ends of the court that reminds you why evaluators were so high on him a couple of years back:
More than that, though: you have to love the confidence that Embiid’s request indicates. For years, Philly fans have been talking about trusting “The Process.” Embiid knows the 76ers need a savior, and that fans are feeling raw after seeing Simmons forced to go under the knife and on the shelf before he could even make his debut. So how does he respond? Call me “The Process.” Trust me. Put your faith in me. It’ll be worth it.
Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but damn, if you’re a Sixers fan who’s been waiting since Iverson for something to rally around, wouldn’t you want a player to embrace you, your fears and the challenge that way? So yes, yes, a thousand times yes: Joel Embiid is The Process In Flesh, and now he’s “The Process” in word, too. Trust The Process. Trust “The Process.”
There’ll be some moments where he might go astray:
… but at the end of every hard-earned day, we all need to find some reason to believe. A 7-foot-2, 275-pound potential franchise-changer seems as good of one as any.
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