NBA Saturday: The NBA is Trusting The Process

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Two years ago the Philadelphia 76ers won 10 games, they ranked 28th in league attendance and statistically were the worst team in the NBA by a wide margin.

For next season, however, the league is pegging Philadelphia as one of their most marketable clubs.

On Thursday, the NBA released the schedules for their opening week and Christmas Day games. The third game of the league’s new season features the team who struggled to reach double-digit wins just two years ago. On Christmas Day — a jolly basketball tradition — the Sixers kick things off for the league at noon. The Sixers will even take a trip across the pond and play the Boston Celtics all the way over in London on Jan. 11.

Finally, the NBA is trusting the process.

Next season marks the first time the Sixers are actually fielding a roster of players that can compete on a nightly basis in the NBA since 2012-13 when the team went 34-48. Featuring the likes of Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, J.J. Redick, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid, Philadelphia has something to show for the copious amounts of losing they produced since 2012.

Even with the NBA looking to cash in on the fruits of Philadelphia’s losing labor — as they should — had the league gotten their way back in 2014, this Sixers marketing machine may not have even existed.

In 2014, the owners of the league voted on a policy that would have changed the current draft lottery system that allows the team with the worst record in the league a 25 percent chance at winning the top overall pick. The Sixers were at the heart of the debate when the vote for reform arose, as the change was expected to thwart Philadelphia and other teams from openly tanking in order to get higher draft picks.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver voiced his concern when the reform failed to garner the 23 votes it needed to pass.

“My greatest concern right now is frankly about perception,” Silver said in 2014. “I think there’s an unfair pressure on some of our teams to under-perform because there becomes this view in those markets that they’re better off performing poorly in order to win over the long term.”

It is reasonable to expect a league to try and resist one of their team’s from openly putting out a sub-par product. But in the era of super teams, where the top contenders throughout the NBA feature as many as four All-Stars, the avenues to building a club that can compete with that level of talent are limited.

In the simplest of explanations, tanking built one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA for next season. Instead of continuing to shame the manner in which the Sixers arrived at this point, the league is making a smart decision to capitalize on the interest in Philadelphia basketball.

Next season the Sixers project to sell out every home game, and have already sold a record-setting number of season ticket packages. A quick scroll through NBA Twitter will yield common and consistent questions of intrigue about the Sixers’ ability to compete next season with so many young but also talented players. At the very least, there is a general feeling of excitement about watching the Sixers play basketball next season. All of this on the heels of four years that saw a tally registered in the loss column for Philadelphia 253 times.

The league could have waited around for a season to see if the hype around the team would pay off. There are more than a few reasonable question marks that accompany the Sixers’ excitement. Will Embiid be able to stay on the court? The same question goes for Simmons, who missed all of his rookie season with a broken foot. How will four of the team’s core players — all under the age of 24 — deal with the spotlight and competitive nature of the NBA? It isn’t a slam dunk that the Sixers will live up to the hype next season, or any season for that matter. But the league is placing a certain level of trust in what the franchise has been able to accomplish up until this point by betting that the Sixers will carry their intrigue valiantly throughout this upcoming season.

With the third game of the year, the league pits this new-look Sixers team against the Eastern Conference heavyweight Washington Wizards and John Wall. The second night of the new NBA season is being placed in the hands of a team that figures to be right in the thick of Eastern Conference finals contention next season, and a team that just drafted first overall for the second consecutive year.

The last time the Sixers appeared in a game on Christmas was back in 2001, where Allen Iverson got his Finals rematch with the Los Angeles Lakers. Sixteen years passed without the league giving Philadelphia another Christmas present. Rightfully so, as most of those teams fielded by the Sixers didn’t deserve national recognition.

With the start of the new season right around the corner, the anticipation of the Sixers’ success and interest should only grow. Once players like Simmons and Fultz suit up for preseason, a flashy pass or a deep three-pointer will make its rounds on social media and drum up more conversation heading into opening night for Philadelphia.

But no matter how this first season of competitive basketball in a long time shakes out for the Sixers, the NBA made the right call by putting the ball in their hands and letting them show the rest of the league what they can do with it.

Becoming nationally relevant doesn’t signify the end of the process, however, it’s just another step.

“Sometimes people don’t understand the definition of the process,” Embiid told Jessica Camerato on Draft Lottery night. “The process is not just about getting over what we’ve been going through for the past three or four years. I feel like the process is going to keep on going. It’s a process to get over that hump. Then it’s a process to make the playoffs. Then it’s another process to get to the Conference Finals and then another process to get to the Finals and win an NBA championship. It applies to everything in life. We’re always going to be trusting the process.”