On Wednesday, the Philadelphia 76ers decided to cut Hollis Thompson. The move went down with very little fanfare --the Sixers press release on the transaction totaled just 83 words, small acknowledgement for a player who surprisingly meant so much to an organization that had so little.
Thompson was the last remaining piece on the current Sixers roster that played during the inaugural rebuild year of 2013-14. He’s seen countless bodies walk in and out of the door of PCOM. From Thaddeus Young to Michael Carter-Williams to Brandon Davies to Tony Wroten to Darius Johnson-Odom to Malcolm Thomas, he outlasted them all. While Thompson may never don a Sixers jersey again, his legacy as a member of the organization solidified.
Thompson wasn’t just a member of the team during an era of on-court infamy dubbed The Process. He was The Process, and in a way Joel Embiid never will be. His body and mind were shaped and scarred by 20-plus game losing streaks. His heart was tested as a result of the team’s futile efforts day in and day out.
His presence helped maintain the faith in a plan when there was nothing else to hold onto.
When Sam Hinkie took over as the team’s general manager in the summer of 2013, his initial roster moves signaled an immediate change in the direction of the organization. The team was going to have to take a couple steps backwards before trying to move lightyears forward. That meant doing away with some of the team’s better talent, and basically assuring some extra losses by acquiring players below replacement level.
As much as his plan combatted the competitive spirit that sports is built upon, there was a certain level of genius attached to it. The Sixers could pursue their goal of gaining top-tier talent through the draft while also using its surplus of roster spots to test the talent of the NBA’s Developmental League, home of players on the cusp of breaking through. Maybe -- through all the impending losses and despair -- Philadelphia could find pick out a diamond in the rough, someone who could improve on the same incline as the team over the years.
So in the fall of 2013, Hinkie got to work signing players who fit that description. His first official signing was Darius Morris, who they hoped could morph into a solid backup point guard. He assembled Team WHOP with the acquisitions of purebred scorers Khalif Wyatt and Vander Blue and energizer bunny Tony Wroten.
Then Hinkie signed Thompson, a gangly wing scorer just one year removed from a successful career at Georgetown where he shot 44 percent from three.
With 3-and-D players becoming a hot commodity among competitive teams, the Sixers’ goal for Thompson was to eventually mold him into a solid two-way player. There was little chance for him to become a starter in the future, but maybe he could be a rotational player when the Sixers became competitive. Thompson would outlast Wyatt and Blue, then take down Rodney Williams for one of the last spots on the roster.
The Los Angeles native, affectionately known as “Holliswood”, would get plenty of chances to cut his teeth during his first NBA season. Thompson’s usage was low, but his efficiency was really high in limited touches. Every couple weeks he’d put together a magnificent shooting display, tantalizing fans with his potential future in the league if he could show some consistency.
He finished his rookie campaign shooting 40.1 percent from three on 2.2 attempts per game. The following year he shot the same clip from beyond the arc on four attempts per game, becoming the first Sixer to ever shoot over 40 percent from deep in their first two seasons with the team.
Just like that, the legend of Mr. 40 percent was created.
For those who watched the team toil on a daily basis during his third season with the club, those numbers seemed like a fallacy. To the naked eye, he went through weeks of cold streaks, incapable of hitting threes when the team needed them most. And yet, he still managed to hover around his career average in the 2015-16 season, knocking down 38 percent of his looks on a career-high 5.1 attempts per game.
That’s when the parallels between Thompson and the Sixers really began to take shape. In the midst of Thompson’s final full season with the team, Philadelphia’s strategy to become competitive was taking longer than imagined. The organization was still firmly entrenched in the asset collection phase, and Joel Embiid had yet to suit up for the team two years after being selected third overall. Even with more experience under their belt and less roster turnover, they were managing to lose more games than the years prior.
There were few visible signs that the Sixers were still on the right track, but The Process is one that has always required an undying commitment. The fan base put their hopes in a potentially volatile plan led by a man very few people even knew. While the fruits of their labor were not evident on the court, maintaining confidence in The Process itself was nearly as important as its execution.
The same could be said for Thompson. Despite appearing to lack consistency, the numbers couldn’t be lying -- year after year, Thompson fell into the category of elite three-point shooters. In the same vein that people put their blind faith in Sam Hinkie to complete The Process, Thompson deserved a similar level of respect. Even as your eyes deceived you, Thompson was always going to hover around the 40 percent mark.
And as the team shuffled through the Chris Johnsons, Elliot Williamses, and James Nunnallys of the basketball underworld, Thompson and his stroke were a constant. Through the hardest of times and the worst of storms, Thompson became a bastion of hope for The Process when there wasn’t much else to offer. He helped convince people that maybe, just maybe, a rose could blossom from the soiled land that was the Sixers roster.
Ironically, what eventually led to the end of his tenure with the Sixers was his inability to grow. He was incapable of scoring off the dribble. The “D” part of the 3-and-D is still and probably will forever be missing.
Yet Thompson’s time with the Sixers will always be so special because of how he captured the spirit of a remarkably bizarre period in the organization’s chronology. During the three-plus years Thompson spent with the team that were marred by uncertainty and pain, he served as a testament of faith in a set of ideals. Sometimes, you just have to trust in what you believe rather than what you see.
Even though The Process had more than its fair share of struggles, it’s starting to show that it may have been worth the wait.
And while Thompson will not be a part of the team’s future, one thing is certain: he’ll always shoot 40 percent from three.