The Process - Going from Good to Great (Back to the Future)

Originally posted on Dec 31, 1997:

The Primary Goal of the Process to acquire talented players, salary cap, flexibility and extra draft picks has been a success.

This has been achieved in large part through patience "longest view in the room".

Even the harshest of critics would say the Sixers have a good future, but there are lots of teams with good futures. You can feel free to discuss among yourselves which teams have the best future but the Sixers transition from good to great is not a certainty.

How I am ultimately going to judge "The Process", is the second stage going from good to great.

One can argue "The Process" ended with Hinkie. If that is the case you can debate if "The Process" was fool proof and if Bryan Colangelo represents a new and improved fool.

The truth be told the second stage was always going to be the most challenging, no matter who is at the helm.

The Sixers have been swinging for the fences, there have been home runs and strikeouts. On paper Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Covington, and Saric have both tremendous potential and long range cost control. To achieve this the Sixers have been drawn to players that have the highest potential be a "superstar", even if their bust or injury potential is high.

For the first time we are really getting an idea of who Embiid, Simmons, Covington, and Saric (and Brett Brown) are, as they are playing together trying to win games (and we can project Fultz). Flashes of brilliance as well as flaws are illuminated. How players "fit" together can be assessed under the microscope of learning how to win.

To date the patient approach still reigns in the sense that Covington was signed to a new contract and the salary cap position has not been tapped into.

The intriguing move for Philadelphia, was certainly the Fultz for Tatum & LA18 or SAC19. It isn’t so much the performance of the individual players involved (this will be debated and discussed as long as any of the participants are in the NBA). It is the principles being used to make the decision.

Danny Ainge’s motives are clear to me. If I read from the Sam Hinkie resignation letter, he speaks to the need for a contrarian viewpoint.

Howard Marks describes this as a necessary condition of great performance: you have to be nonconsensus and right. Both. That means you have to find some way to have a differentiated viewpoint from the masses. And it needs to be right. Anything less won’t work.

Again, time will tell if Danny is right, but it is clear that he had a differentiated viewpoint from the masses.

Getting back to trying to understand what principles motivated Colangelo to make the trade. The trade is certainly justifiable. If you believe that Fultz is a certainty to be a star guard for the next 10 years and he will be part of a young big three nucleus that will take the Sixers to the top then the trade is justifiable.

I am trying to understand if the move represents in some way a movement away from longest view in the room. To me the bet on Fultz is a bet on Embiid, and Simmons as much as it is a bet on Fultz. By that I mean that if Embiid and Simmons were not on the roster would have the Sixers made the trade?

Since Hinkie arrived the Sixers have drafted height. That is consistent with higher risk reward nature of drafting bigs. The nature of the 2017 draft was weighted towards guards and wings. With a top three pick it seemed likely they could find a quality wing or guard with the third selection.

How the Sixers came about the third pick in 2017 is interesting. Having their own pick swap between Sacramento from a great trade, (mostly brokering cap space). The Sixers had full rights to Lakers 2018 and Kings 2019 first round selections.

Poor finishes by the Sixers in 14, 15, 16 were rewarded with the third, third, and first picks in the NBA draft. Joel Embiid’s play combined with Noel, Covington, Saric, and Ersan Ilyasova gave the Sixers a 31 game glimpse of the future, but when Embiid went down ago getting only pennies for Noel and Ilyasova was more valuable than any incremental wins they would have achieved the balance of the season.

Getting back to the question I asked earlier if Embiid and Simmons were not on the roster would they have the Sixers made the Fultz? My thought is they would not have. They would have taken the player that had the greatest potential to be a star with the third pick, they could have counted on a poor record in 2018 to lead to high lottery pick, along with full rights to LA/SAC.

Let’s talk about how wins are fungible, it is clear that through last year the Sixer’s were incented to lose and they were willing to differ winning to take chances on injured players (and draft and stash) with high upside until they were fully healthy while achieving a higher lottery position.

While your teams draft position is negatively impacted by wins the value of cap space and other team’s picks that you possess are positively impacted by wins. The first idea of cap space being positively impacted by wins is easy to understand just looking at Durant moving to Golden State, best player to move going to the team with best record.

Jayson Tatum is an example of a rookie going to very good team his individual performance is lifted by the team as well as "learning how to win", especially with the expectation of playing into the playoffs. It can also be assumed that with a high pick you can also get talent as well as fit (and fit is takes on a higher order of precedence relative to talent the closer you are to contending). A talented player that fits, while achieving more sooner while under a rookie contract is extremely valuable to going from good to great.

Sometimes the player a specific team needs to go from good to great is nowhere to found in the draft. You may need a player that is proven winner with well-established strengths. Let’s call that player Kyrie Irving, if Kyrie was not player that could help the Celtics win now and have a relatively high probability of staying it would have been a mistake to trade the Brooklyn 2019 for him. If Sacramento had the resources to trade for Kyrie it would have been a mistake for them to do so, as he would not have been sufficient to lift them from a poor team to contending and he would gone after two years of frustration.

Getting back to the Fultz trade. I believe the Sixers should have held full rights to LAL18/SAC19. They should have constructed the roster to have a high probability to make the playoffs in 2018 and in 2019. This should have finished out the 2016/17 season not playing out Noel and Ilyasova who were contributing to the Sixers moderate success in in 2016/17. Even if that meant Noel walked away for nothing last summer. (BTW – I have no real way of knowing this – but if either Ben or Joel were capable of playing at all last season after they were shut down – I would like to think they would have been played if they weren’t risking further injury).

Realistically the Sixers were going to struggle with inexperience, fit, and learning how to win this season as well as the readiness of Embiid to be in the lineup on a consistent basis (it is a difficult balancing act to manage his minutes to make the playoffs as well as being healthy for the playoffs), with Fultz in the lineup.

I would have like to see – the Sixers use their third pick last summer to acquire Jimmy Butler. In my mind the keepers of Simmons, Covington, Saric, and Butler is the basis of a 45 win team, and with Embiid on the floor a 60 win team. But more importantly Butler would have accelerated the value of the other keepers as well as raising the value of the cap space and the value of LAL18/SAC19.

The reason why Butler is a perfect fit for the Sixers, they need to define who they are going to be when they grow up. They are collecting very good players (elite in some areas incomplete in others). But who are they going to be when they grow up?

The Sixers identity should be "the hardest team to score on in the history of basketball". That is their DNA, this is who they should be.

I see Embiid as a modern day Bill Russell, I see Ben Simmons as a great multi positional defender, I see Covington as a great wing defender, and I see Butler as a great wing and ball handler defender. I understand that JJ is a great 3pt shooter, but why give the opponent a position to attack (does it make sense in this context why I would have been so slow to give up on Noel and Ilyasova – love that he is always among the league leaders drawing charges).

What I dislike about the current core of Sixers is fitting their offense together is train wreck, especially closing games in the half court, when it matters the most. Their offense is so turnover riddled in pressure situations, that they get killed in transition and don’t get to play their strongest hand – half court defense. They don’t have any efficient 5-level offense players (3P, Mid-Range, Rim, Getting Fouled, and making Fouls, Passing to open players when you draw two) without turning the ball over. JB is a 5 level offensive player.

Once you start to see the Sixers with an identity selecting players with right purpose can take shape – do you want an Avery Bradley to lock down a Step Curry? Or do you want a longer version like Elfrid Payton that can guard ball handlers and switch on to wings? Whether you like Bradley’s or Payton’s game isn’t so much the point as it is identifying how you want to win and the players that best serve that purpose.

So, If you have read this long, I have a question for you as the Sixers try to go from good to great. Who do you want the Sixers to be when they grow up?

Your comments are much appreciated – TNB.

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