By Andrew Curran (@andrewjc417)
[Editor’s Note: This piece was meant to run around the New Year, but because my editorial skills are on par with Sergio Rodriguez’s defense (in that I mean well, but you could ultimately do much better), the piece was forgotten about until now. Please do not hold Andrew accountable.]
First off, I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays and is loving this great stretch of Sixers basketball to kick off 2017! It’s around that time of the year where we look back and assess the past 12 months of our lives, and I thought it would be fun to look back at what took place for the Sixers in 2016. The Sixers faced plenty of adversity over the past calendar year, but we also have a lot we can look back on fondly. So without further ado, I present to you “The 76ers Year In Review”.
Airing of Grievances
Let’s start with the negatives. Festivus was a few weeks back, and for those non-Seinfeld fans, it’s a holiday meant as a negative contrast to Christmas, consisting of the Aluminum Festivus Pole, the Feats of Strength, and the Airing of Grievances. I already covered the pole and Feats of Strength components this week in gym class, so the only thing left for me to do is to complain about what bothered me regarding the Sixers this year.
The most obvious issue right now is the big man logjam. This conversation has seemingly carried on all year so I’ll make this quick. For me, ideally, both Okafor and Noel go. In my opinion, Richaun Holmes is a capable backup behind Embiid (you can read why I think Holmes is awesome here).
Now that we got that out of the way, the pileup of Sixer losses in early 2016 really stung, but we knew that would happen going into the year. But you know what really grinded my gears? The Joel Anthony trade.
On February 18th, a three team trade occurred between the Sixers, Pistons, and Rockets, which landed Philly Joel Anthony and a 2nd round pick. They released Jakarr Sampson to make room for Anthony. It was kind of an “eh” trade. Nobody felt too strongly. But then a few days later, Donatas Motiejunas, who ended up in Detroit as part of the deal, failed his physical, and the trade was rescinded. So to sum that up, the Sixers cut Sampson for nothing. I was actually fine with losing Jakarr since he may be my least favorite Process-Sixer ever. But the mounting frustration of countless losses really made my blood boil, and on top of that, the 76ers couldn’t even get a trade to go properly for them!
Oh, it gets worse. In an effort to stop Philly from tanking, the NBA very blatantly shoved the Colangelos in, which jettisoned Sam Hinkie out. Sensing that he would essentially be forfeiting all power to Bryan Colangelo, Hinkie resigned with full support from the Philly faithful on April 6th.
I possess absolutely no animosity for Hinkie. He left when they cut The Process short, and as Ron Swanson says, “Don’t half-ass two things, full ass one thing”. Hinkie appears to lives by that motto (check out this great article on SI about Hinkie). What infuriates me lies in the lack of logic. The whole point of The Process was to not go back to the middle, but cutting The Process short seemed/seems like a significantly short-sighted move by management which may very well result in just that, except for the fact that the roster might already possess enough transcendent young stars to overcome it.
Enough about basketball politics, what about the actual team? Well, in short, the 2nd half meltdowns probably took several years off my life. Every game had roughly a quarter of purely unwatchable basketball, as time after time victory slipped through the Sixers’ fingers. Not to mention, it always seemed like teams were inclined to make some sort of insane buzzer beater against Philly. The Harrison Barnes corner 3 to win it for the Warriors, the Emmanuel Mudiay game winning half court heave for the Nuggets, and many more to end quarters were just soul-crushing, and part of the reason the recent game-winners by Robert Covington and TJ McConnell were so sweet.
Finally, how could we forget about Ben Simmons’ foot? On the last practice of the preseason, Ben suffered a Jones Fracture in his right foot, delaying his rookie season by months, perhaps even derailing the whole year (although his recent traveling with the team bodes well for a debut in the not-too-distant future). The Sixers-ness of that whole situation blows my mind. The freak accident took place at such an inopportune time, in uncanny, Sixers-like fashion.
Now for the things that made us smile. On May 17th, the 76ers won the draft lottery for the first time since 1996, when they took Allen Iverson with the first overall pick. Sixers fans were alive for the first time in years. People embraced and cheered and celebrated and had that one key thing: hope. The Process generally lacked happy moments, but winning the lottery made it all worth it for Process Supporters, casual fans, and Apostles of Hinkie alike. It marked a turning point in 76ers history.
On June 23rd, the Sixers officially drafted Ben Simmons, marking the beginning of a new era in Philadelphia sports. Sam Hinkie, of course, was not around when the draft took place, but I like to think he watched it and smiled. Without his presence, The Process still lived on.
We all knew Philly would get Ben; reading his name on draft night was just a formality. The pleasant surprises came when Colangelo selected Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Furkan Korkmaz 24th and 26th overall, respectively. I, as well as many others in the Sixers community, had my eyes on those two, I really didn’t think Luwawu would fall into the Sixers’ lap, but he did, and we should all be thankful. As much as it pains me to say this, Bryan Colangelo deserved an A+ for the draft.
“Whatever, Saric isn’t coming over this year and Embiid will never play basketball again,” insisted the critics. Well, on July 14th, Saric came to the USA with a giant middle finger in tow for all the doubters. The Croatian Sensation fulfilled his promise to come over in 2016, turning down millions of dollars in the process. If he had waited another year, he would have been freed from the rookie pay scale, but he stuck to his word and that alone should plant him in the hearts of Philly fans for eternity.
Then, on October 4th, Joel Embiid played in his first ever preseason game. It was wonderful, but meaningless. The real test took place on October 26th. On this day, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric played in an official NBA basketball game. Once again, I’m sure Hinkie watched with a smile. Since then, Saric hasn’t been too shabby and Embiid has been outright dominate, the runaway Rookie of the Year favorite and on the cusp of an All-Star selection. Most importantly, he has not appeared to be affected by his past injuries (knock on wood).
While the Sixers still have the logjam in the frontcourt, as long as it doesn’t impact him in the long term, Simmons’ injury might not have actually been the worst thing in the world in the long run. It gave the Sixers a little more time to figure out the big man situation, and the rehab time may help Ben add/improve a facet of his game, similar to Embiid when he honed his outside shot during his recovery process.
All in all, 2016 treated the 76ers tremendously. A superstar was born, and another one may be on the horizon. Things did not go perfectly (they never do in Philadelphia), but 2016 gave us hope. Joel Embiid alone rejuvenated the city, and things are looking up in Sixers-ville. Here’s to an equally great 2017 (already off to a hot start on the court) and thank you for your support!