After four consecutive trips towards the bottom of the NBA standings by the Philadelphia 76ers, “Trust The Process” could be about all a jaded fan has left to hold onto, but the vibe and the feel surrounding this team is starting to change. They’d like their journey to start resembling that of their division rival Toronto Raptors who similarly spent five seasons in the NBA Lottery before climbing back to respectability in a process of their own.
“(The Raptors) are a really good example. I respect the path they have taken to be in this position and to watch them play in the Eastern Conference Championship last year and be as competitive as they were,” 76ers head coach Brett Brown said. “They are still sort of young and growing. I think it is an excellent example for us. I think Bryan Colangelo deserves a lot of credit for being a significant part of that.”
It had become apparent that numerous top draft picks wasn’t going to be enough to revive the 76ers chances, so in April after some direct interference by the NBA head office, the 76ers went out and hired an executive who had successfully started the process of turning around a losing franchise before. Two-time NBA Executive of the Year Bryan Colangelo.
Colangelo had a long run of success with the Phoenix Suns, although some people might (mistakenly) be giving a lot of that credit to his Dad, but what happened in Toronto is all his doing, the good, the bad, and the rebuild.
Maybe it was luck, the type of luck the 76ers would lovingly embrace, but Colangelo made the off season moves during his first year in Toronto that reversed a four-year slide and immediately made the Raptors a playoff team. Some bad luck, bad coaching moves, an infamous first overall draft pick in Andrea Bargnani and the disastrous free agent signing of Hedo Turkoglu can be blamed for the Raptors quick reversal of fortune, but the 76ers should be secure in knowing Colangelo can identify talent.
The Raptors team that just went to the Eastern Conference Finals has Colangelo’s fingerprints all over it. From current head coach Dwane Casey, to the draft picks of DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, to the trade for Kyle Lowry, the Raptors rebuild might have taken too long for Colangelo to see it through to the end, but the result of the process looks pretty solid.
Success in Toronto probably wouldn’t have happened if incoming president Masai Ujiri hadn’t kept things together and built on what came before him. Ujiri kept the best of what Colangelo was able to do, maintained a strong element of consistency and added to the process rather than changing course.
“I look at this team (Toronto) and they have been able to keep it together,” Brown said. “I think there is a culture of defense. There is a culture of good people and I think those cornerstones are part of most successful teams.”
Toronto showed patience in the face of demands from the fanbase to get better faster and the 76ers are going to face the same challenges going through the development process with their young stars.
“You go from growing to developing to winning is when those guys develop into guys making winning plays,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “Some guys take longer to develop. It takes time. There is no magic wand where you can rush the process. It’s how hard guys work, how hard they commit to the program and Philadelphia is doing it the right way. They are committed to the program. Brett Brown is one of the bright basketball minds in the league as far as teaching, developing, growing.
“(The 76ers) have a course. They are growing. They are sticking to it and we started out here doing that. We flipped it a little bit and made some moves to accelerate the process so to speak.”
Colangelo has already started making moves to reverse his team’s fortunes, but there is no way to force the growth of Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahil Okafor or Nick Stauskas. Rookies Dario Saric and Ben Simmons (once he’s cleared to play) will be behind this group in experience and only time will fix that. Additional trades to bring in veterans to ease the big man logjam are undoubtedly in the 76ers future, but these can’t be forced either. Doing things right takes time.
“But again, there are no set number of years that you can say, (for example) in year two we should be here because you don’t know how fast those players are going to develop,” Casey said. “If you have a philosophy and a belief system that you have that should help you win eventually, you have to stick to it. If you are flip-flopping every year with every number that you read or suggestion you go with, you are not going to be very successful. You can’t just change every day or every week or every month with the wind.”
Despite being an active GM, Colangelo showed a lot of patience during his rebuild of the Raptors and not every move he made worked out. But, if anything, he stuck to his core and kept looking for the right additions. Things didn’t happen overnight and he didn’t get to finish the job, but if the 76ers can follow the same process, there is no reason they can’t end up on the same path as Toronto.