Ben Simmons leaned forward to the microphone and answered in his typical calm demeanor.
“The process is never-ending,” the Sixers point guard said in Shanghai when asked whether the team had completed its rebuilding objective.
The response received a strong nod of the head from teammate Joel Embiid, who was sitting next to Simmons on the podium.
Now I’m not one who is going to argue whether the process will last forever. What I will tell you is that the Sixers’ development is actually just getting started.
Don’t freak out just yet. Yes, I understand the depths from which this franchise has pulled itself out of over the past five years. It’s hard to forget starting lineups that featured players such as Hollis Thompson, James Anderson, Isaiah Canaan and the list goes on.
Those early-process lineups are some of the most guess who moments in NBA history and are a major reason Brett Brown compiled a 75-253 record during his first four seasons as Sixers head coach.
But the Sixers were never going to be that bad forever. They were bound to hit on enough of those lottery picks and the players would eventually get healthy to prove their worth on the court.
That perfect storm came to fruition last season as the Sixers rolled out a core of players mostly developed in their own organization that blazed a trail to 52 wins and a playoff series victory for the first time in six seasons.
Now comes the hard part.
Just about every franchise (minus the Sacramento Kings) has dealt with some sort of major overhaul and been able to get back to respectability. However, very few teams have continued up the ladder to make the leap to serious contender.
The obvious model is Golden State, which currently sits on three championships in four years. The Warriors won 23 games in 2011-12, made the playoffs with 47 wins in 2012-13 and cracked the postseason again the following season with 51 victories. They finally broke through with 67 wins and an NBA title in 2014-15.
But not everyone can crack that code to move from very good to elite.
Look at the Toronto Raptors, who have notched at least 48 wins in each of the past five years but never sniffed the Finals. A lot of that had to do with LeBron James dominating the Eastern Conference. Still, elite teams figure out a way to get over the hump.
Think back to Michael Jordan’s Bulls eventually knocking off the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons. Glance at James’ Cleveland Cavaliers finally dispatching Larry Brown’s Pistons or how his Miami Heat Big Three took down the Celtics’ version. Even the current Warriors had to navigate the minefield that is the Western Conference to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.
The Sixers believe they’re ready to be that next squad that rises from the ashes to the mountaintop, even if it means going through that green nemesis in Boston.
“The goal this year is obviously going to the Finals and competing for the championship,” Embiid said. “We’re just going to do our job, come out every night and compete and win every game we can.”
That objective will be much more difficult than just screaming “trust the process,” and it starts tonight in Boston.
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