When Keyzer Soze infamously said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist,” at the end of The Usual Suspects, he wasn’t just talking about the con he’d just gotten away with. He was also foreshadowing what Sam Hinkie would do to Sixers fans.
The combination of Trae Young’s late-game dagger and Danilo Gallinari’s steal and breakaway dunk didn’t just send the Atlanta Hawks to the Eastern Conference finals, it also broke the Philadelphia 76ers and officially ended “The Process.” Former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie’s plan of losing on purpose to load up on lottery picks was supposed to turn Philly into a juggernaut in the East. And with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, “The Process” had given Philly fans the young cornerstones they needed.
Until it didn’t.
As good as Embiid was in the series, playing on a torn meniscus, he couldn’t get it done by himself, as his running mate was exposed as a fraud — and that’s putting it nicely. Simmons only attempted three shots in the fourth quarter of the seven-game series, going 3-for-3. And in 34 career playoff games, he’s only made five shots outside of ten feet.
A team in which the center has a better jump shot than the point guard — who refuses to shoot — is never going to win you anything in the playoffs. From three-pointers to mid-range jumpers to free throws, Simmons doesn’t want to take any of them. It’s so bad that the 6-foot-10 athletic wonder turns down dunks.
“I don’t know the answer to that right now,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said after the game when asked if Simmons could be the point guard on a championship team. The answer to that question is “hell no.” And Rivers knows it even if he can’t say it.
After the game, Embiid took to social media to apologize to Sixers fans for not getting the job done. It was a post that felt like a mixture of “Ben didn’t help me,” and “This might have been my last game playing for you all.” Simmons owned up to his failures during his postgame press conference, as it’s already been reported that Philly will look to possibly move him. And after Rivers was brought in to win the games that former coach Brett Brown couldn’t, Rivers lost his fourth-straight Game 7 a season after blowing a 3-1 series lead to Denver.
All three of them — Simmons, Embiid, and Rivers — have to go.
However, here’s the problem. Even if the Sixers do an entire rebuild, there’s nothing to suggest this team will get it right in the future. Here’s a look at what the Sixers have done in the draft with their top picks over the last decade.
- 2011: With the 16th pick, Philly took Nikola Vucevic. They traded him the next season. Vucevic is now a two-time All-Star, which is one less selection than Simmons.
- 2012: Philly drafted Moe Harkless, who has proven to be a serviceable forward in the league, at No. 15. He never played a game for the Sixers, however, as he was traded before his rookie season began.
- 2013: After a draft-day trade, the Sixers wound up with Nerlens Noel, who had been picked by the Pelicans at No. 6. Philly also drafted Michael Carter-Williams at No. 11. Noel missed his entire rookie season due to injury and was later traded due to Philly drafting three big men in three straight drafts. Carter-Williams came out the gate on fire, looking like the best player in the draft, then quickly fizzled out, He is currently on his sixth team.
- 2014: Philly struck gold that year with Embiid, even though they already had Noel. Embiid wound up sitting out his first two seasons due to injury. The Sixers also got Dario Šarić that year in a draft-day trade. In his time in Philly, Šarić was a good role-player before he got traded. He’s now in Phoenix, where he is three wins away from making the NBA Finals.
- 2015: With Noel and Embiid on the roster, Philadelphia drafted Jahlil Okafor at No. 3, giving them three players who all played the same position. Okafor averaged 17.5 points per game as a rookie. However, due to some off-the-court issues and the team finally realizing that three centers can’t play together, he was traded.
- 2016: Simmons was the No. 1 overall pick that year, with Philly taking the one-and-done star out of LSU. He missed his entire rookie year due to injury. In college, Simmons was 1-for 3 from deep. And in the NBA, he’s 5-for-34.
- 2017: This is the draft in which the Sixers could have had Jayson Tatum. Instead, they wound up taking Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick. Tatum is one of the 20 best players in the league, while Fultz’s career has been saddled with shoulder and knee injuries.
- 2018: After winning a national championship at nearby Villanova, Sixers fans were excited that the team took Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 overall pick, as his mom was a team employee. But then, the Sixers traded him to Phoenix. Bridges is now starting on a team in the Western Conference finals.
- 2019: Philly wound up with Matisse Thybulle, who was originally drafted No. 20 by the Celtics. Thybulle is one of the best defenders in the league and has been an important piece for the Sixers.
- 2020: The Sixers grabbed Tyrese Maxey out of Kentucky with the 21st pick. Maxey was a spark off the bench for Philly in the postseason and came up huge in some big moments.
This list is what Sixers fans have had to endure over the years, as their front office has made dumb decisions by drafting the wrong players or sending the right ones away too soon. And while the Sam Hinkie era only lasted from 2013 to 2016, fans bought in on “trusting the process,” hoping that all the losing would pay off.
That all went away on Sunday night, and Sixers fans are still wondering if they’ll ever make it back to the conference finals — something that hasn’t occurred since Allen Iverson’s 2001 squad.
Losing sucks. But, do you know what sucks even more? Believing that you can win by losing on purpose. Sixers fans have no one to blame but themselves. This is what happens when you try to cheat the process.