The Philadelphia 76ers are no longer vying for the lion’s share of ping-pong balls in the NBA lottery. With a depleted Eastern Conference, cracking the top eight seems to be in the cards this season.
Spanning the past four seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers have largely been the laughing stock of the league, with a plethora of NBA personnel mocking former General Manager Sam Hinkie’s long-term plan which came to be known as The Process (thanks, Tony Wroten). Despite sporting the worst record in the NBA over the past four years, Philadelphia has only managed to land the No. 1 pick once (2016).
Although some might attribute such a phenomenon to poor luck, the Sixers have only once found themselves at the bottom of the league’s totem pole — in 2016, when they finished with the 3rd worst winning percentage in NBA history (.122).
In 2014, the Milwaukee Bucks finished 15-67 while the Sixers ended 19-63. And in 2015, the New York Knicks edged out Philadelphia for the East’s worst record, going 17-65 compared to the Sixers’ 18-64 record.
While the East’s dire state in recent years prevented the Sixers from landing Karl-Anthony Towns and forced them to sacrifice a future asset for Markelle Fultz, the team will now likely benefit from such ineptitude.
Entering the 2017-18 season, there are no less than three vacant playoff spots in the East as many teams are likely to tank in preparation for a loaded 2018 draft class that includes Michael Porter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III.
Barring a miracle, the Sixers will not win the NBA championship next year. Nor will they make the Finals — or even the Eastern Conference Finals for that matter. Yet gaining valuable postseason experience will be vital to the team’s development and in particular, their cornerstone triad of Fultz, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
For those franchises who build championship-caliber teams from the ground up, each season is a stepping stone on the path to a title.
Take the Golden State Warriors for example. In 2013, the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2007, advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals. The following year, they made it back-to-back postseason appearances, losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Finally, in 2015, the team broke through, winning their first NBA title in 40 years.
Before winning the 2015 NBA Championship, the Warriors used the prior two seasons as a learning experience, understanding how to handle the stark contrast between regular season and playoff basketball. With three homegrown superstars of their own, the Warriors are where the Sixers hope to be in the coming years.
Playing in a conference devoid of depth, the East, which once served as a roadblock to The Process, should now afford the Sixers a playoff spot, fostering a certain level of maturity in their young core during high-pressure situations.
The Sixers won’t be 2018 NBA Champions, but next season will be the first step on the team’s return to prominence. The significance of postseason experience cannot be overstated and the East will soon provide Philadelphia with this valuable commodity.