Twenty-three players suited up for the Sixers during the 2013-14 season, a campaign best known as the beginning of general manager Sam Hinkie’s “Process” era, one in which the Sixers endured a historic 26-game losing streak. None of those players are still on the team, but one of them will be back at Wells Fargo Center on Friday night.
Casper Ware won the last time he played in Philadelphia. He had nine points and five assists in the Sixers’ 113-108 win over the Boston Celtics on April 14, just one of 19 victories for the team that season.
He’ll return Friday night as the starting point guard for the National Basketball League’s Melbourne United, the Sixers’ first preseason opponent (7 p.m./NBCSP+).
Ware does not look like the typical NBA player. He’s listed at 5-foot-8, 178 pounds. There have never been any doubts about the 27-year-old’s quickness or playmaking abilities. The biggest question has always been the small stature.
But for a few weeks, on a tanking team playing out the string, Ware got his shot. In nine games, he averaged 5.3 points, 1.1 assists and 0.9 steals.
The Sixers traded him to the Brooklyn Nets in October for Marquis Teague and a 2019 second-round pick. The next day, the Nets waived him.
Since then, Ware has made a successful career for himself in Gemany, China, France and Australia. He’s been an All-Star the last two seasons for Melbourne, leading the team in scoring and assists last season as Melbourne won the NBL title.
But he’s never stopped thinking about making it back to the NBA.
“That’s always the goal,” Ware said Wednesday after Melbourne United’s practice at Temple University. “I’m a guy that says I’ll never give up. My goal is to make it to the NBA and play at the top level. I’m at Melbourne, but I’m still looking forward to trying to get back to the NBA.”
He’s seemingly been close to fulfilling that goal a few times. Ware impressed with the Washington Wizards in the preseason in 2016. And he was the Portland Trail Blazers in summer league this year, though he only played 11.5 minutes per game in Las Vegas.
Last preseason, Ware gave NBA scouts and decision-makers a taste of what he can do in a testy preseason matchup with Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Ware posted 20 points, six rebounds and three assists and held Westbrook to nine points on 3 for 10 shooting. Melbourne nearly stunned the Thunder, falling, 86-85.
Ware is fully aware that another performance like that against the Sixers could be a major boost for his NBA stock.
“You’re always aware of that. It’s a big stage no matter what — it’s the NBA,” Ware said. “Everybody watches NBA games. So you notice that, but you don’t want to dwell on it too much. Just going out there, playing, doing my job, and if somebody sees me and likes me, it happens.
“But you can’t be out there thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to play for somebody to see me,’ or ‘I’m going to play to make a team.’ I just want to go out there and play hard no matter what.”
By the way, while none of the players from the 2013-14 Sixers are on the 2018-19 version, the head coach still is. Ware remembers Brett Brown’s persistent positivity during a difficult first season.
“You’d think with what they were going through, he’d be kind of down,” Ware said. “But he was always up, always active, always interacting with the players. In the mornings you’d see him, he’s got a big smile on his face. Always bringing the energy in practice. You would never know we were going through that losing streak at the time.”
It’s tempting to see Brown as a survivor of “The Process,” and to see Ware as one of its casualties. But if you look at things the way Ware does, his process just isn’t finished yet.