Was the Sixers Process Worth it? Sixers Fans Have Spoken
This week the Sixers announced record season ticket sales.
Over 14,000 tickets have been sold for the upcoming season. Team President Bryan Colangelo says he envisions the team playing in front of sellout crowds for all 41 home games this season.
Trust the Process.
There are some people dismissing the season ticket sales as just another attempt to try to save some face in their argument that the "process", if you will, isn't working.
The fans however, have spoken.
People that are dismissing the season ticket sales are dismissing that the perceived vocal minority of Sixers fans have become the majority and have fully embraced the Sixers changing their culture, which was mediocrity.
Many times in sports, fans will say you are judged by wins-and-losses - which are definitive numbers. In this case, the number 14,000 speaks loudly - the process is a success.
Who are these 14,000 people?
Is it a mixture of process trusters and anti-processors? Is it just a group of the vocal minority putting their money where their mouth is?
Whoever they are, one thing is for sure, sports has become big business and the Sixers are clearly winning that game.
Success doesn't come easy, you spend money to make money. You take risks, that might not work out. If you want to achieve success, you work your way towards it, it's not just handed to you.
Many teams try to take short cuts, drafting a player high in the draft, then adding that mid-level free agent, to show the fan base they are trying to win now, that's just good enough to bring you to the upper-middle of the pack.
The Sixers have built their franchise virtually from the ground up.
Expecting a complete turnaround in 1-2 years was and is an unrealistic view by what has now become the minority. If an expansion team entered the league, you wouldn't expect them to be title contenders in two years time - it takes time to build a franchise.
The Sixers stripped themselves down to the bare-bones, they were virtually an expansion team that started from scratch and now four seasons later they are ready to take off.
The Sixers story is a polarizing one.
It's old-school vs new-school, young vs old, new-age thinking vs stone-age thinking.
If there is something to take from this is that sports are changing and evolving, and the sports fan has changed. They are smarter, more educated and have more information at their disposal than ever before. They have a better understanding about how the leagues operate, and how bad contracts can cripple you from building a successful team.
10 years ago, who paid any attention to the league's collective bargaining agreement?
What may have worked in 2010 or 2004 or 1998 isnt working today.
I have people who tweet and text into the show all the time asking how do I accept losing, or you have a losing mentality.
Quite the contrary.
I don't accept losing, but I understand it. I hate the way the Sixers had to go about turning their franchise around, but I understood it.
I always said this is not a Sixers problem, this is an NBA problem, that is about to grow unless the league figures out a way to disparage losing.
With that, I understood there was tremendous risk involved. Risk that could potentially damage the franchise for years. However, just four short year later the Sixers have become relevant again.
A fan base that was apathetic, has become vibrant again.
I am quite confused how many people ask how can I accept losing, yet those same people seem to be willing to accept mediocrity. It's something I just can't wrap my head around.
If mediocrity is the alternative, I'll take the risk with the potential to be great.
People will say it's a losing mentality, I would say it's pushing all your chips in the middle of the table with the potential to land a consistent winning hand.
In a league where it is well-known that being stuck in the middle, "NBA purgatory" if you will is almost unavoidable, the Sixers managed to escape that rung of the ladder, setting their sights on greater heights.
It doesn't mean the Sixers will go from 28 wins to 60 win season overnight, but their stay in the middle of the pack could be a short one.
Instead of hoping for the proverbial "lighting in a bottle" approach, the Sixers trusted their ability to land quality players via the draft, and player development rather than anticipating a free agent picks Philadelphia as their next destination.
To me this approach is what has most teams stuck in the middle. Hoping that another player chooses to help fix your team that you were unsuccessful at building yourself through smart drafting and savvy moves, all because you weren't willing to put in the work behind the scenes to develop your own players.
Any team can lose on purpose, but not every team can put the work in to find the right talent. Plenty of teams have been living in the lottery for years, but they haven't landed the right talent to get out. That's where the hard work comes in, trusting your scouts, traveling the globe, searching for talent and having the resources and assets to land the guy you want when the time is right.
You're going to miss on players, that's all part of the game, but the Sixers stockpile of assets allowed them to take a few swing-and-misses. So while Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor haven't worked out, Embiid, Saric, Simmons and Fultz hopefully will.
If you were picking just one guy per year in the middle of the draft with due in part to a bunch of 44 win seasons, you almost have to be perfect each and every year to succeed and advance your way off the middle rung of the ladder.
In today's NBA free agents are not choosing cities, they are choosing players. Chasing rings with their friends and finding the team that puts them in the best situation to win a title is the new free-agent destination.
Golden State wasn't never a basketball hotbed, or a free-agent destination if you will. Once they landed Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the draft - playing games at Oracle Arena sure become much more attractive to Kevin Durant.
Cleveland isn't exactly the first place that comes to mind when thinking about a winner. Drafting Kyrie Irving and luring hometown hero LeBron James back to the city by the lake and all-the-sudden it became a much more attractive destination for Kevin Love. Do you think he signs off on a trade to Cleveland if King James and Kyrie aren't going to be his teammates?
Neither do I.
Fans are now more accepting of losing on-the-floor, if they are winning off-of-it.
It's one thing to lose and be a poorly run organization with no direction or hope, the NBA is filled with them.
However each year the Sixers added a new piece that had you seeing progress. While the wins on the court were not there, they were starting to compile talent (and assets). The team trusted their ability to find talent, stockpiling as many draft picks as teams would send their way to find their own players, rather than try to lure other teams mid-level players away.
The reality in sports is that you're simply not going to win the championship every year, while it should remain the goal, it's not realistic. Organizations know that and it's time for the fans to understand that too.
Teams are now building with a bigger picture in mind. Sure, we might be lousy for 3-4 years, but if those 3-4 years yield 10-15 years of consistent success, isn't that worth it? Rather than 10-15 years of climbing to the middle of the ladder for the hope that one year you break through, only to fall back to the middle of the pack.
The Sixers are the perfect example of that.
From the 1991-92 season to 1997-98 season the Sixers didn't make the playoffs one time. Finally they added a player that could help get them there - Allen Iverson.
With Iverson the franchise took a steady rise in victories - soaring from 22 wins, to a playoff appearance in just two years. By Iverson's fifth season the team was in the NBA finals, almost taking a team of vagabonds and castoffs to the promised land, before falling short to the Lakers in 2001.
In essence, they caught lightning in the bottle.
Would you rather take that approach again with one star player surrounded by guys like Tyrone Hill, George Lynch, Aaron McKie and Dikembe Mutombo.
Or take this approach with multiple top-level talents, which is needed in today's NBA to succeed.
The team could never land the player to complement Iverson, picking in the middle of the draft and whiffing on picks throughout the Iverson era.
After the magical 2000-01 season, the Sixers filled the standings with sub-50 win teams, good enough to make the playoffs, but not bad enough to find Iverson any help - NBA purgatory if you will.
For 10 years the Sixers tried.
They brought in player-after-play to pair with Iverson. Derrick Coleman, Chris Webber, Keith Van Horn, and Glenn Robinson were all acquired to try and help Iverson get the Sixers out of the middle before they finally sent him to Denver in 2006.
From 2007 on the Sixers, led by Andre Iguodala, hung around the middle of the pack, with a plethora of unmemorable season, a few first-round exits, capped off by a 2012 first round series win over the Bulls, before bowing out in seven games to the Boston Celtics.
That was the highlight of the post-2001 Sixers, a first round win over a depleted Bulls team.
The team knew they had hit the ceiling with that team, so they took a swing - and missed. Trading Iguodala away, replacing him with big-man Andrew Bynum, the team hoped Bynum was finally the star player which is sorely need in today's NBA.
He never stepped on the floor and the "process" was born.
The "process" wasn't never about losing, it was about changing the culture.
It was about giving the team a chance at sustained success in a league where mediocrity is the status quo. The league has hood-winked fans to accept mediocrity because somewhere mixed in with mediocrity might be the 2000-2001 Sixers once every 10 years.
Is this guaranteed to work? Absolutely not.
But I for one was willing to sacrifice a couple of 38 win, first-round exit seasons for the 75 wins over the last three years because in the end they have been building towards something over a number of years, not just trying to piece it all together one offseason at a time.
Losing is hard, and its definitely isn't fun - but this team is about to be.
In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne was in prison for a crime he didn't commit and was determined to get out. Think of the Sixers as Dufresne, stuck in a league that rewards mediocrity searching for a way out.
Dufresne took a rock hammer, taking 19 years to finally find a way out of his jail cell - so far it's only taken the Sixers three years.
Over the three year span, many players have come and gone, but they have zeroed in on their core.
Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Ben Simmons and now Markelle Fultz. All drafted by the team. All developed by the team.
These are the guys the Sixers hope will attract free agents to Philadelphia - not their 38 win season.
Guys like Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, Richaun Holmes and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot are the type of late rounders and free-agent pickups that the team has worked hard to develop, resisting going out and bringing in costly mid-level free-agents that help bring teams to the middle-of-the-pack.
That's what the league wants.
Pay mediocre talent, to help make a ton of mediocre teams, that has a bunch of fan bases all believing they can catch lighting in the bottle.
When the reality is - if you don't have a super-star (or three), you don't have a realistic chance.
The Sixers are hoping they have found their three and all the hard work behind the scenes will pay off.
It sure has at the ticket office.