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Draft Day Musings: How Far We’ve Come

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NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Five years ago, on a humid June evening, I stared at my phone in shock and excitement as I read a Bleacher Report update that scrolled across my screen. The Philadelphia 76ers had traded All-Star Jrue Holiday and a 2nd round pick to the New Orleans Pelicans for Nerlens Noel and a 2014 1st round pick that was top 5 protected. That night, we witnessed the birth of The Process.

Five seasons of carefully studying the percentages of ping-pong balls and constructing trades for lackluster vets followed. We nitpicked every draft lottery prospect under the sun. Our creed was simple—find a young star, develop him, and hope he sticks around for the championship run. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

There have been some hits (Joel “The Process” Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric), some misses (Jahlil Okafor, MCW), and some diamonds in the rough (Richaun Holmes, Jerami Grant). There were even some UDFA heroes (TJ McConnell, Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson, Jakaar Sampson).

Our GM preached “process over results” and stressed the importance of the team’s “optionality.” As a Sixers’ fan in his late teens, struggling through college courses, I had no idea what his words meant. But I hung onto each of them.

Show me Tony Wroten slashing through the teeth of the defense for a tough and-1! Give me more of Furkan Aldemir flattening foes with hard screens! I’ll take those Isaiah Caanan bombs from way too deep! Inject Ish Smith mid-range pull-ups into my veins!

As each player went through the revolving door, our belief system was put through the test. The wins were not accrued. Some players never developed. But the team’s compass always pointed to the draft. And it was because of that direction that most readers here were able to weather the storm. We traded in the days of Sergio Rodriguez and Javale McGee for this:

The NBA Draft is the most exciting day of the basketball calendar. Young prospects start a new career as professionals and fans get to see their team’s futures take shape. Twitter debates over which shifty guards, explosive wings, and imposing big men will finally play out as these players slide into new team lineups. Some will blossom into stars and some will not make it to a second contract. But that isn’t the concern of today.

Tonight may be the last night that the 76ers will find themselves in the lottery for the foreseeable future. It may be the last shot at a prospect with star upside.

In some ways, it’s a relief. We didn’t root for losses this season. We didn’t pin our hopes on the development of players at the fringes of NBA rosters. We don’t need to draft for the home-run pick anymore.

But tonight, I’ll be nostalgic. It’s just been five years since that Jrue Holiday trade. And even though the prospects and the stakes have changed, I cannot wait to see what madness happens when the clock strikes 7.

So if you are in the wagon for one of the Bridges, betting on the upside of Knox, hoping for Young to fall, or ready for the explosive Zhaire Smith to be taken and take the world by storm in the camp of some other wildcard, enjoy this draft. Enjoy how far we’ve come. And drink it all in.