We’ll All Know: Markelle Fultz Trade Puts Finishing Touch on Rewarding Rebuild

A few weeks ago, I posted an article arguing why the Sixers should select Jonathan Isaac in the 2017 NBA Draft. That article no longer matters.

Today, the Sixers and Celtics finalized a blockbuster trade sending the number one overall pick to Philadelphia. Markelle Fultz will be a Sixer. Let that sink in.

The trade negotiations played out on Twitter beginning on Friday night, sending the NBA media into a frenzy. Fultz, who was planning on making a final visit to Boston, was rerouted to Philadelphia. Process podcasts Sixers Beat, The Stepover, and The Rights to Ricky Sanchez all posted “emergency” editions. #FultzWatch was the most entertaining 24 hours of Sixers Twitter in recent memory, at least until The Rights to Ricky Sanchez unleashed #RTArmageddon today.

Fultz is the perfect addition to our budding dynasty. He is the perimeter scorer  Philadelphia fans have been calling for since the departure of Allen Iverson. A core of Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz should set the Sixers up for sustainable success in the next decade.

Bryan Colangelo survived trading with Danny Ainge, only giving up one extra first round pick to perhaps the most feared negotiator in the NBA.

I do not want to write much more about Fultz, at least not right now. Just about every Philadelphia writer loves the trade and loves Fultz’s fit with the Sixers. I do not feel like I have any original content to offer on the topic. Instead, since the trade for Fultz truly vindicated Sam Hinkie, I want to write about my experience of the Process as a whole.

I still remember watching the 2013 NBA Draft, the true beginning of the Process. When Hinkie trade Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel, all I felt was confusion. Hinkie’s philosophy was so different from anything that I had ever experienced. I was a freshman in high school at the time, too young to remember Iverson’s glory days. Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams were the franchise staples throughout my childhood. The Sixers were always looking for a superstar, but they never had a way to find one.

I remember being so excited when the Sixers signed Elton Brand, unaware that he was coming off of a torn Achilles that would sap him of his All-Star abilities. Maybe, I thought, he could lead us to the 4th seed.

Unfortunately, Brand failed to make a difference, and the Sixers continued to toil in the middle of the standings. Still, I got my hopes up for our first round playoff series each Spring. My “Run With Us” rally towel was my most prized possession.

The 2010 Draft Lottery was another memorable moment. The Sixers jumped into the top three and ended up with the second pick. It would be the first time in my life that the Sixers picked higher than ninth.  In the first 12 years of my life, the Sixers neither had a top five draft pick nor signed a marquee free agent. No wonder they sucked. That is why I was so excited about Evan Turner.

Evan was my favorite player on the team at first, before I realized he wasn’t that good. Before Joel Embiid, I had never rooted for someone harder than I rooted for Evan Turner. I felt such a rush whenever his jump shots actually went in. Early in his rookie year, he scored 23 points against the Suns, and I thought he would be a star. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.

As Turner’s development was stagnating, Jrue Holiday was blossoming into an All-Star guard. He became my new favorite player. His silky jumper and smooth drives to the basket captured my attention. Holiday broke out during the 2012 playoff series against the Celtics, one of my fondest memories of that era. Sure, the Sixers would have lost to the Bulls if Derrick Rose had not shredded his knee, but I took what I could get.

The offseason following that series, the Sixers traded Iguodala, Vucevic, and Harkless for Andrew Bynum. Bynum, I thought, could redeem Elton Brand and get us to the fourth seed.

Alas, Bynum never played a game and the Sixers stumbled to a 34-48 record. The season was not all bad, though, because Holiday averaged 18 and 8 and made the All-Star team.

At that time, I watched most Sixers games but did not read much about the team online. Thus, I was barely, if at all, aware of the changing ownership and management. I saw that the Sixers hired Hinkie, but I knew nothing about him and figured his tenure would not change the course of the organization. That brings us back to the 2013 NBA Draft.

Nerlens Noel was expected to go first, but injury concerns led Cleveland to take Anthony Bennett instead, dropping Noel into the middle of the lottery. The newly named Pelicans took Noel sixth. Soon after that, a trade was announced. The Sixers would be sending Jrue Holiday, my favorite player, along with a first round pick, to New Orleans for Noel. I was heartbroken and dumbfounded. Why would the Sixers trade away Jrue, their only good player? And give up a first round pick?

Later that night, the terms of the trade were clarified. The Sixers would receive a Pelicans first round pick along with Noel in exchange for Holiday. After trying to make sense of the trade, I suddenly realized that the Sixers were tanking.

I knew instantly that the next few years would be filled with losing, but my sudden realization actually made me feel much better. I could live with Hinkie trading away my favorite player if there was a purpose. Hinkie’s fresh and bold strategy gave me hope.

I have to admit that I barely watched games during the next few seasons. Sadly, I have no memory of watching Henry Sims play. Most of my contact with the team came from the official Sixers Twitter account, where I endured countless Ja[car emoji] and Canaanball puns. I was more interested in Hinkie’s team building tactics. The trade deadline and draft season were, and still are, the most entertaining times of the year.

I was amazed by Hinkie’s daring plan and trading acumen. When Hinkie spent two lottery picks in 2014 on Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, neither of whom would play an NBA game for the next two seasons, all I could do was laugh. Classic Hinkie. The Carter-Williams and pick swap trades were pure genius. Hinkie working his magic at the trade deadline and on draft night was way more interesting and creative than Ed Stefanski trading for Jason Kapono!

I have to admit that there were days when I did not trust. For me, the low point of the Process was Embiid’s second injury. I had never imagined that Embiid missing two seasons was possible. I found myself angry at Hinkie and wondering if Embiid would ever take the court. My YouTube search history consisted of Lou Williams’s game winner against the Heat in the 2011 Playoffs, Andre Iguodala beating the buzzer against Kobe’s Lakers, and Iguodala beating the Magic with a stepback jumper in the 2009 first round. How ignorant of me.

I continued to ignore the real games and focus on the rumor mill during the 2015-16 season. However, Hinkie was not producing the same results. He stood pat and took Jahlil Okafor in the 2015 Draft. The constant maneuvering was missing. I know now that his grip on personnel decision making power was slipping. At that time, I felt that the Sixers were completely hopeless. The Lakers and Kings picks seemed so far away. Noel’s development was slowing as he was forced to play power forward to make room for Okafor. The team didn’t win a game for the entire first month of the season and barely avoided finishing with the worst record of all time. It was demoralizing, to say the least.

Near the end of the season, Hinkie resigned. I was so frustrated with the losing that I was okay with ownership (and possibly Adam Silver) pushing out Hinkie. Little did I know, I was jumping off the bandwagon right as things were about to get better. Now, I wish he could have seen the Process through.

In between the end of the season and the draft, I discovered podcasts. A Google search of ‘sixers podcast’ led me to the Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast, which turns out to be the only podcast about the Sixers.

Spike Eskin and Mike Levin’s humorous way of talking about the Sixers brought back my trust in the process. I had to learn to laugh about the team again, like I did during the first half of the process, and not be so frustrated by the present.

Watching Joel Embiid play for the Sixers this season was an amazing experience. He’s the first superstar Philadelphia has had since Iverson, and I barely remember that era. Even though the Sixers only won 28 games, last season was more enjoyable than any of those first round playoff exits. Long live January 2017.

The fans are back too. The Wells Fargo Center was packed during January, and the additions of Fultz and Simmons should create an electric environment on opening night this October. I cannot wait to be in the WFC during a high-stakes playoff game.

I still expect the worst, and the worst often comes. The 2016-17 season brought season-ending injuries for Embiid and Simmons. There will be more hardships as this team grows into a contender. Learn to embrace those obstacles, because the journey is often as, if not more, enjoyable than the destination. Trust the Process.

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