On Saturday night, word emerged that the trade between the Sixers and Celtics, in which Philly sends Boston three first round picks to move up to select Markelle Fultz first overall, will be formalized soon. The general consensus seems to be that this move is the culmination of the fabled Process that Sam Hinkie died for, and that Fultz is the final piece to the puzzle that will allow the 76ers to contend for years to come.
Given that the Sixers provided a deliberately terrible product for four seasons, in which they went 75-253, there damn well had to be an all-in moment in which the team cashed in its compiled assets for a franchise cornerstone. Clearly, the new brass believes Fultz is that.
Maybe the core will indeed all gel into place in two or three years, hoping that LeBron has finally aged beyond his unconditional dominance on the Eastern Conference, and that they’ll have the bodies to stack up with the Celtics. (Let’s put aside for the moment that there was far more dignity in how the Celtics have assembled their own stack of assets.)
The three players who the 76ers will rely on most to return to relevance are Fultz, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid. Fultz is the solid three-point shooter you desperately need in today’s game, but missed six of Washington’s final eight games this past season with a sore knee. How will he hold up for years of accumulated 82-game — and lots more if The Process’s aspirations pan out — wear and tear?
Simmons missed his entire rookie season with a foot injury. Embiid showed flashes of brilliance last season. With his great personality, everyone on the planet is rooting for him to succeed. But, after missing the entirety of his first two seasons in the NBA with a foot injury, he wound up playing just 31 games before going under the knife for arthroscopic surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee. It goes without saying that the health of Simmons and Embiid is not a given.
Sam Hinkie’s Process should indeed be considered a triumphant success if this core of 76ers winds up contending for championships. That’s the ultimate goal, and if you win one then whatever you did to get there short of enabling violent crime is justified. But, in addition to the question mark of whether this team will even ultimately perform, the 76ers have a lot of injury risk in the fruits of this journey.
The Simmons injury was kind of a freak occurrence, but Embiid and Fultz had known injury histories before the 76ers added them. There is some luck involved in collective team health, but you can also tilt the actuarial tables in your favor more than the Sixers have done. If this team can’t stay healthy enough to compete for championships, we will have to characterize The Process as a major failure.
The jury’s still out.
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