I still remember when Joel Embiid was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, people/pundits/Twitter eggheads openly mocked “The Process”. Part of it was because of the tape delay that showed Embiid donning his very best McKayla Maroney face after his name was called. But a big faction of the internet didn’t believe the big man with lingering foot issues would ever become one of those top end talents that Sam Hinkie was always posturing for.
If I had a dollar for every Greg Oden comparison I saw that night I’d have so much money I could make this my full time job.
Was losing, losing and losing some more ONLY worth an injured Embiid —who has come to not only embrace “The Process” but is THE PROCESS — Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter Williams and Jahlil Okafor?
It turns out that it was:
It DEFINITELY WAS:
As we discussed on our latest episode of the Second City Sports podcast, the Philadelphia 76ers aren’t only a fan favorite to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, they’re also the third favorite to win the whole damn thing in Vegas at +800 (behind only the Warriors and the Rockets).
Do you remember what Hinkie’s goal was when he started and created this brand of tanking?
What we look at is, how do we add to what we’re doing in a way that gets us closer to our goal? We don’t think that it will necessarily be linear — that every year you will add five wins and after 10 years you will get to 50. That’s not the way we think about the world. We think that it comes at fits and starts, and you have to be prepared to put yourself in a position that you might be able to make big leaps.”
“We’re focused on how to put the building blocks in place that have a chance to compete in May. Those teams win in the high-50s. They don’t win in the teens and they don’t add two or three wins a year and they don’t add a win a month for a little while to try and get to where they’re going. They get all the way to the 50s. And they get there usually on the backs of great players. We are still — as much as I’ve talked about how we make decisions and as much as I’ve talked about our organizational goals and our player development — it is a players-driven league, still. When we have a set of players that can carry us deep, that’s the only way, that’s the only way to get where we’re going.”
NBA Championship contenders usually win 55+ games a year. To win 55+ games a year, you must have great players. The only way to get great players is to draft them at the top of the draft (Embiid, Ben Simmons) or have the assets to be able to acquire them (*cough* LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson *cough*).
Look at what the Sixers had to do to get to a point where they are actual contenders in the league AND for actual stars (with help from The Sixer Sense):
2013 Draft: Michael Carter-Williams(11th overall)
July 12th — Jrue Holiday + Pierre Jackson (Pelicans) for 6th overall pick (Nerlens Noel) + 2014 1st round pick (Elfrid Payton (later traded for Dario Saric)).
August 14th — Brett Brown hired.
August 22nd — 2014 2nd round pick for Tony Wroten.
February 20th — (1) Lavoy Allen + Evan Turner (Pacers) for Danny Granger + 2015 2nd round pick. (2) Spencer Hawes (Cavaliers) for Henry Sims, Earl Clark + 2 2014 2nd draft picks.
February 26th — Danny Granger waived.
2014 Draft: Joel Embiid (3rd overall), Elfrid Payton (10th overall), K.J. McDaniels(32nd overall), Jeramy Grant (39th overall).
June 26th — Elfrid Payton (Magic) for Dario Saric + 2015 2nd round pick.
August 23rd — Thaddeus Young (Timberwolves) for 2016 Cavaliers 1st round pick, Luc Mbah a Moute + Alexey Shved.
February 19th — Michael Carter-Williams (Bucks) for Lakers’ future 1st round pick (Top 3 protected in 2017).
2015 Draft: Jahlil Okafor (3rd overall), Richaun Holmes (37th overall).
July 9th — Arturas Gudaitis + Luka Mitrovic (Kings) for Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, 2018 1st round pick + right to swap picks in 2017 draft.
December 24th — Tony Wroten waived. 2016, 2017 2nd round draft picks (Pelicans) for Ish Smith.
2016 Draft: Ben Simmons (1st overall), Timothy Luwawu-Cabarrot (24th overall), Furkan Korkmaz (26th overall).
August 26th — Kendall Marshall (Jazz) for Tibor Pleiss + 2 2017 2nd round draft picks
November 1st — Jerami Grant (Thunder) for Ersan Ilyasova + 2020 1st round draft pick
2017 Draft: Trade No. 3 overall pick and either the Lakers 2018 1st round pick (#1 overall protected) or the Sixers/Sacremento 1st round pick in 2019 for Markelle Fultz.
J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson each sign one-year $23 million contract.
If that’s hurting your head, you’re not the only one. What an incredible string of moves that led to counter moves that led to even bigger moves down the line.
Now, some of you are probably asking yourselves what does this have to do with the Bulls?
To put it simply, there are two reasons.
“Philly is the model for what they did for all those years, and now look at them,” said Paxson. “They’ve got some high draft picks, they hit on a few of them and now they’re in position.
2.) The immediate opposite of THAT ^:
“We did this year what we felt was in the long-term best interests of the Bulls,” Paxson said Thursday. “It’s not a situation that any of us want to ever be in again. It goes against everything as a competitive person that you believe in, but it’s the way the system is set up. To be very honest, we believe we’ve done it the right way.”
So, the Sixers are in position to take over the Eastern Conference because of what they did for “all those years”, and the Bulls have decided to go up against them (and the Celtics who have been just as savvy at building their roster and assets) after just one year of mocking that model plan?
I’m not going to insult your basketball intelligence. The Bulls and Pax DO have pieces in place from the Jimmy Butler trade that have pushed them to a different starting point than the Sixers had. Plus, the outlook for the future is at a more advanced stage than many of the other Tankathon teams the Bulls have been jockeying with all season.
When it comes to the current roster, Lauri Markkanen should be the only untouchable. The Finnisher has asserted himself well during a trialing rookie campaign and probably has the highest NBA ceiling of anyone currently on this roster.
Kris Dunn showed flashes of a developing a (read: average) jumper while playing stifling defense out on the perimeter. But assuming he’s going to be able to find his inner CP3 heading into the prime of his career is a fools errand I’m not sure I want to go on. I like Dunn, quite a lot actually, but if someone called Pax this summer inquiring about him, it should be something Bulls management should consider.
In terms of Zach LaVine, insert every single shrugging emoji that exists. I don’t know where I stand on him. He’s athletically pleasing. He’s a defensive monstrosity. And I’m still not sure he knows how to dribble-drive with his head up. I’ll come to a conclusion on him once the contract is negotiated. But, I’m worried that a team like, say, Memphis or Phoenix will end up giving him a max contract offer sheet like the Nets did with Otto Porter a few summers ago, and I’m not sure if the Bulls would be willing to match it.
Outside of that, the Bulls have some nice pieces. Pieces that they shouldn’t grow too attached to (as this organization is want to do). Robin Lopez, Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine and Justin Holiday should be a kicker in any deal that benefits the Bulls in either future drafts or for a star that is wanting out of their current situation.
Maybe I’m being pessimistic. Maybe I’m riding the fence as my co-hosts often joke about and the minute that Michael Porters Jr’s name is announced as a Chicago Bull on June 22 I’ll change my tune. But that doesn’t mean that the principal of tanking for another season or two wouldn’t be extremely beneficial heading into the Anthony Davis sweepstakes.
After watching what the Sixers have done, there has to be a part of you that believes in a plan that would bolster the organizations assets through tanking. That doing so would benefit the Bulls with a better, long term outlook than immediately shooting for the seven seed next season.
Doesn’t Markkanen, 2018 lottery pick, 2018 22nd pick, 2019 lottery pick, 2019 20th pick (RoLo and say, Portis), 2020 lottery pick and heaps of cap space give you more feels than hoping they can use their “managed” salary cap on a the second tier talent that GarPax generally end up signing?
It’s the first one. Every time.
Moving forward with the current roster and whatever they do in free agency (which is the ultimate wild card as they have never been able to land an All-Star caliber player with a bag full of cash and a power point) as Paxson is hinting at is more of the same old, same old. It’s putting the Bulls back in the race with a car that always gets stuck in the mud a lap before the finish line. It’s more half steps. More half measures to get back into the playoffs.
Because anything can happen when you’re there. Or so they want you to believe.
Making the playoffs has been and always will be an acceptable resolution for this front office — who have now been in their current roles for nearly a decade. And maybe that’s an acceptable resolution for most Bulls fans. But when I take a look at the ultimate landscape that is the Eastern Conference and general NBA, LeBron James may have one foot out the door, but there are two or three teams that are on the verge of taking his place at the top of the mantle.
And the Bulls aren’t one of them.