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NBA Saturday: The Philadelphia 76ers Are Entering A New Era

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Over the course of the last 1,457 days, the Philadelphia 76ers made move after move, beginning with the draft night trade of Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel in 2013, to set themselves up for the future with no regard for the present.

On Friday, the team finally introduced what appears to be the last segment of setting up for the future when Markelle Fultz trotted across the stage to be crowned the newest Sixer.

For the second year in a row, an introduction was in order in the city of Philadelphia for the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Last June it was Ben Simmons. This June, Fultz joined the party. Adding Fultz to a core that features Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric — two of whom are finalists for the 2016 Rookie of the Year award — gives the fan base of a team that has lost 253 games over the last four seasons some tangible product instead of wishing on a draft pick.

After four long losing seasons, the Sixers are looking to switch gears and make a dent in the win column next year. Just ask their newest franchise player.

“That’s the goal coming in this year,” Fultz said Friday about turning the Process into result. “We’re gonna try and turn it around this year, that’s the goal. I’m pretty sure (Simmons and Embiid) got the same objective and we’re all going on the same page.”

Fultz even believes the new Sixers quartet can propel the team to a place they haven’t been since 2012, the playoffs.

“Yeah, I’m serious when I say that,” Fultz said about making the playoffs next season. “That’s not just me talking because I’m a player, I really think that we can do that.”

The importance of Fultz’s addition to the Sixers isn’t just that Philadelphia added arguably another top draft talent, but that they added the player best suited for their team as well.

When Simmons was drafted, it gave Sixers’ fans a dream of pick-and-rolls with 7-foot-2 center Embiid. The 6-foot-10 point forward Simmons was lauded for his passing ability and vision. Embiid possesses a rare shooting touch for a player of his size, hitting 36-of-98 three-point attempts last season, and allows Simmons to play to his strengths by feeding the versatile big man.

In the ever-changing NBA game, three-point shooting is held at an absolute premium. Last season, the Sixers were the 25th ranked team in the league when it came to hitting the deep shots. Fultz shot 41 percent from three-point range in his freshman season at Washington, giving another weapon for Simmons to find on the court.

While the fit on the court between the current Philadelphia players and Fultz seems too good to be true, it’s the culture that the organization hopes to build that can pull the Sixers out from the league’s basement into a perennial contender, which was their original vision four years ago.

“We’ve had four years as a consistent staff to work efficiently and purposefully,” head coach Brett Brown said on Friday. “That’s what I get most excited about. We’ve felt, and I’ve really felt, for the past year and a half mostly that it can inherit, it can absorb talent and the system will start to grow. That’s my old home, that’s culture. That’s what we hope to build here. Something that has a chance to experience annual success, not to be something that’s gimmicky or tricky. We’re not skipping steps, we’re setting up something solid that will always revolve around development and relationships, and growth of our players, elite world class fitness. All those things morph into how I see the world and how I want to grow the program.”

By trading up for the No. 1 pick to draft Fultz, general manager Bryan Colangelo displayed that he is ready to flip the switch on his team’s narrative. Gone are the years of starting lineups featuring the likes of Tony Wroten and Henry Sims, and the fanbase is taking notice. Shortly after announcing the trade up to the top pick last Monday, Philadelphia sold a franchise record 14,000 season ticket packages and projects to sell out every home game for the upcoming season.

“The fan base is responding and reacting to the way this team not only plays on the court but the way they present themselves to the public,” Colangelo said. “It’s a fun group. It’s an attractive group. It’s a marketable group. But they are good basketball players and they are coming together at the right time, and we’re going to try and make the right decisions to finish this project.”

As a result of finally making a move for a player that fits the roster in Philadelphia – as opposed to just drafting best player available, like the Sixers did from 2013-15 when they drafted three straight centers – the coaching staff and front office are finally in a position to shape a team that is balanced enough to become a competitive force. It just so happens that the balance Philadelphia is in a position to have is anchored by four lottery picks.

“We are now at a place where you can actually touch people and positionally feel that we’re balanced in the people that we’re touching and how we hope to build the program,” Brown said of his team’s roster. “It gives you far greater clarity of what those pieces need around them to let them have the best chance of playing excellent basketball.”

So, as the Process ran it’s course and rattled the league’s cage from within, a team with actual promise is left standing at the end. While many throughout the NBA looked down upon the franchise in Philadelphia that was openly losing, a team committed to its plan and its marketing scheme encapsulated an entire city into the notion that losing for the present was winning for the future. Brown even acknowledged that the team can’t dismiss the resources former general manager Sam Hinkie (originator of the Process) left behind for the club to make their final move possible.

With their sights finally set on putting a competent basketball team on the floor in hopes of winning games, the Sixers are sitting pretty. Along with Fultz, Simmons, Embiid, and Saric, the team is still the owner of all of their own first round draft picks, as well as whichever draft pick of the 2018 Los Angeles Lakers and 2019 Sacramento Kings doesn’t end up in Boston as a result of the Fultz trade. Not to mention Philadelphia boasts the second-most cap room in the entire league.

When all of the optics are laid out, the Process did its job. Philadelphia’s plan to lose now so they could win later has delivered all of the fruits it promised and then some. Now, the team’s decision makers are poised to give the city a level of product they’ve been waiting for since Allen Iverson took the franchise to the 2001 NBA Finals.

Their latest No. 1 pick, however, isn’t interested in just sitting back and looking at how bright the present and future are. He’s ready to make results happen. And for the Philadelphia 76ers, that attitude couldn’t come at a better time.

“I’m fully invested in this organization and I’m thankful I got this opportunity,” Fultz said. “Now that I’m here, I’m going straight to work.”

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About Dennis Chambers

Dennis Chambers

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.