A Deep Dive into the Death of “The Process” in Philadelphia (Part 5/Final Part)

Benjamin White ‘23

Following elimination from the 2021 playoffs at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks, the 76ers and their fanbase were left dumbfounded once again. With the exception of Kevin Heurter’s 27 points on 10-18 shooting, Atlanta’s offense was kept in check again. Young was clutch in the game’s closing, but Simmons and the 76ers defense did a phenomenal job slowing him down, as he was held to 21 points on 5-23 shooting. The killer for Philadelphia was its own offense. Embiid had 31 points on 11-21 shooting but had 8 costly turnovers. Harris had 24 points, but on an unimpressive 8-24 shooting. Simmons, the guy touted as a generational talent, a guy capable of being a star as a lead ball handler, finished with 5 points on only 4 shots. The three maximum contract players for Philadelphia struggled, and the role players failed to step up, with Curry having a fine offensive game, but playing poor defense, and Thybulle making untimely mental errors that cost them. The general consensus at the time of the defeat was that everyone could have done more to help the 76ers win, but ultimately, it was Simmons who took a majority of the blame. Simmons finished the series averaging single-digits in points per game, while only making 15/45 free throws, an atrocious 33.3% from the free throw line. In a post game interview, Doc Rivers was asked if Simmons could be the point guard on a championship team, to which Rivers responded, “I don’t know the answer to that right now” [11]. Embiid also called out Simmons in a post game interview, albeit more indirectly, saying that “I thought the turning point was just we had an open shot and we made one free throw and we missed the other and then they came down and scored”, referring to the play in which Simmons passed up an open dunk [12]. For years, Philadelphia, its organization, and its players had supported Simmons throughout his shooting struggles, celebrating on the rare occasions in which Simmons would even just attempt a three pointer, backed him up when media members criticized his performances, complimented his versatile skill set, but Simmons’ offensive skill had not progressed from his rookie season. Both Embiid and Rivers would publicly support Simmons following their post game comments, as Simmons became the face of public scrutiny. For Philadelphia to improve, they either needed Simmons to improve, or they needed to trade him. “The Process” was falling apart at the seams, and an offseason of trade rumors would mark a 2021 time of death for Hinkie’s grand scheme [6].

With the 2021 Draft approaching, Morey set his sights on a goal of offloading Simmons by then. However, Morey refused to lower his extremely high asking price. The draft passed, and Simmons remained a 76er. The plan then became to move Simmons before free agency, to maintain some sort of cap space flexibility. Free agency passed, and Simmons remained a 76er. With Morey not budging on his asking price, and the trade talks going nowhere, nothing transpired regarding Simmons moves. Morey and Philadelphia suddenly became adamant publicly that Philadelphia was content running it back, however, the damage was already done, and Simmons was not looking to return to Philadelphia. By late August, it was reported that Simmons and his agent, Rich Paul, had spoken with Philadelphia about having no desire to remain a part of the 76ers, with Simmons planning not to show up for training camp [13]. There would be significant financial ramifications if Simmons chose not to report to training camp, but Simmons and his camp stuck their ground, and continued to try and force Philadelphia to make a move. Weeks had passed, training camp was approaching, and Simmons remained a 76er. The drama continued though, with a report coming out that Simmons officially would not report to training camp in the upcoming week, and he intended to never play again for Philadelphia [14]. Simmons stayed true to his word, and took fines for missing out on media day, training camp, and currently, the NBA preseason. Simmons failed to evolve and grow as a player the way his co-star in Embiid had over time, yet it was Simmons who was demanding his way out. With Rich Paul leading the way in this demanding-out process, Paul’s reasoning for Simmons wanting out is reportedly that Simmons has been “mentally exhausted”, as Morey and the 76ers brass have failed to pay attention to Simmons’ “state of mind” as a result of the four years left on his contract [15]. While there is no guarantee as to what actually transpired internally, the public quotes between Embiid and Simmons accurately represent the difference between the two players. With the story of media-day, where NBA players meet with the press for the first official time of the season, being Simmons’ absence, Embiid handled the situation with professionalism. Embiid was quoted as saying that the only thing he was disappointed about with Simmons was that they had not won anything together, but that they were capable of accomplishing much more, saying, “I would look at it in the way that look at what we’ve been able to do. Obviously we haven’t done anything in the [post]-season — I gotta be better, everybody’s got to be better, but in the regular season we’ve been so good and so dominant that we know it’s working. So I think it’s all about taking the next step, and everybody just playing up to their potential” [16]. A few days later, a report from Simmons camp came out that part of Simmons reasoning for wanting out of Philadelphia was to not play with Embiid, as while it was nothing personal, Simmons reportedly felt as if Embiid’s style of play was not beneficial towards Simmons’ skillset [17]. Embiid, who’s had a majority of his NBA career consist of jumping through hoops for Simmons, going from a mobile, low post threat who thrived with the ball in his hands, turning into a capable jump shooter, stretching out to the high post, knocking down three pointers, and playing in a more off-ball role to help Simmons, was reasonably frustrated by the report. Embiid called the report “surprising”, as he felt that “our teams have been built, whether it’s the shooting needed or stretch five and that stuff, I feel like he’s always had it here”, referring to Philadelphia usually relying on perimeter oriented players to cater to Simmons needs, while calling the whole thing “borderline disrespectful” [18]. While Simmons remains a 76er, it is only a matter of time before he is moved. Embiid, the face of “The Process” may remain, but ultimately, the idea of a process was about acquiring generational talent. Philadelphia believed to have found two players who fit that criteria, but squandered two legitimate chances to make the Conference Finals, and are about to lose half of their star-duo. Embiid can keep the 76ers a playoff team for years to come, but “The Process” can officially be labelled a failure.

And so, as is typical for the basketball and the sports world in general, people like to assign blame. The interesting thing about the failure of “The Process” is that there is no perfect answer as to who is alone at fault, because honestly, everyone kind of is in a way. For the general managers, Hinkie’s failures of the 2015 draft combined with the pendulum swinging too far and too radical regarding his tanking attempts removed him of the ability to complete his process. Colangelo’s 2017 draft trade has haunted and will continue to haunt Philadelphia for quite some time. Brand going all in on 2019 was reasonable, but his panic in the 2019 offseason when things took a turn for the worse is indefensible. While it is difficult to know for certain what happened with Daryl Morey and Ben Simmons, Morey likely could have done more throughout the past year to prevent the relationship between him and Simmons from becoming unsalvageable. As for coaches, Brett Brown’s inability to distinguish different roles and lead the locker room in 2019 closed Philadelphia’s brief title window, and when it reopened in 2021, Doc Rivers and his drop coverage allowed Trae Young to tear Philly to shreds, and the alternative schemes were not productive enough, other than just relying on sheer defensive talent of individual players. With a star-center playing on a meniscus tear, Rivers needed to mold a heavily communicative and reliable defense, but he never did. As for players, every rotational player from the past four years of the 76ers roster could be blamed for Philadelphia’s failures. While the Markelle Fultz situation is difficult to understand, he certainly is not completely blameless in failing to live up to expectations. Redick’s three point shooting often was not at the same high standard in the playoffs as it was in the regular season. Butler struggled with his outside shot throughout the Toronto series and was inefficient in the key game 7. Horford never should have been signed as a 76er, but he still could have been far more productive in his role. Richardson was never going to be able to replace Butler’s production, but his offensive inconsistency was a detriment to the team. Curry’s defensive struggles and Thybulle’s mental errors were costly to Philadelphia in game 7 of the Atlanta series. Harris was practically a no-show throughout the 2019 playoffs, and while he was more reliable in 2021, he still never lived up to his absurd contract. Simmons’ reluctance to improve as an offensive player hindered three different 76ers playoff runs. Even Embiid is not dismissed of fault, as his difficulties scoring against Gasol and Ibaka in the Toronto series, and his trouble with ball security in the Atlanta series, where he averaged nearly 4.7 turnovers per game, prevented the 76ers from advancing further as well [2]. However, with how eventful the past few years have been for Philadelphia, it is easy to forget that Embiid has only played 5 seasons of NBA basketball. Rome was not built in a day, and the plan for Philadelphia, the idea of their process, was always centered around the long term growth of generational prospects. That process has fallen apart, with the 76ers jumping to expedite their process, and now, half of their generational talent arsenal is headed for departure, with Simmons on his way out. Just because “The Process” is dead, it does not mean the future is all bleak. Embiid’s progression as a player from year to year has been apparent, as he has gone from a raw prospect to an MVP caliber player in a short amount of time. He has had his fair share of shortcomings, just like everyone else associated with the 76ers, but that’s just normal for basketball. For reference, it took Michael Jordan 7 seasons to win his first championship, and LeBron James 9 seasons to win his first. What’s important for Philadelphia is to remember that incompetent front office decisions played a large role in the death of the process, and Embiid played a large part in keeping it alive. Going forward, Embiid is the sole star of Philadelphia, and it is up to Philadelphia to surround him with a supporting cast capable of competing with the best of the best, as long as Embiid continues to improve from year-to-year the way he has throughout his career. And so, as Philadelphians patiently await the Simmons saga to play itself out, the 76ers move on into a new era, one that hopefully will not be headlined by deliberate losing, first round picks incapable of shooting, panicked front office decisions, or squandered leads in pivotal playoff moments. 


[1] https://howtheyplay.com/team-sports/The-Philadelphia-76ers-Trust-the-Process

[2] https://www.basketball-reference.com/

[3] https://www.nbcsports.com/philadelphia/the700level/forget-jojo-you-can-call- him-joel- process-embiid

[4] https://www.si.com/nba/2018/06/07/bryan-colangelo-fired-76ers-barbara-bottini -jerry- colangelo-sam-hinkie

[5] https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2831827-jared-dudley-ben-simmons-is-an- average -player-if-you-keep-him-in-half-court

[6] https://www.espn.com/

[7] https://www.si.com/nba/76ers/news/jimmy-butler-fond-sixers-brett-brown

[8] https://hoopshype.com/2019/06/14/toronto-raptors-roster-nba-draft-trade-free- agency -roster-construction/

[9] http://www.espn.com/nba/salaries

[10] https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2922004-james-harden-trade-rumors-76ers- are- most-likely-destination-for-rockets-star

[11] https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/celtics/doc-rivers-makes-surprisingly- candid- ben-simmons-remark-after-game-7-loss

[12] https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nba/news/joel-embiid-ben-simmons-76ers- game-7/znype3hzqwe21gx3vx5qnz5nj

[13] https://nba.nbcsports.com/2021/08/31/report-ben-simmons-doesnt-plan-to-


[14] https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/32250236/sources-ben-simmons-report-


[15] https://nba.nbcsports.com/2021/10/04/report-ben-simmons-felt-mentally-


[16] https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/doc-rivers-joel-embiid-speak-on-ben-


[17] https://phillysportsnetwork.com/2021/09/28/nothing-personal-but-ben-


[18] https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/joel-embiid-calls-ben-simmons-