The Philadelphia 76ers may have to start over this offseason, rebuilding everything from the ground up. That sounds like a job for The Process.
By the beginning of the fourth quarter of Game 7, you could tell it was going to be a difficult offseason for the 76ers. At that point, they trailed by 26 points and elimination was just 12 minutes away. Joel Embiid and James Harden had combined for 22 points on 7-of-26 from the field.
After the game ended, Emiid threw his teammates under the bus despite his own no-show. The 76ers then promptly fired Doc Rivers, a move Embiid wasn’t informed about ahead of time and was reportedly unhappy with. And now those James Harden to Houston rumors are about to come true.
The 76ers seem to be coming apart at the seams. With precious few draft assets, a cluttered cap sheet, a flawed and disgruntled star and another who wants to fade away rather than burn out they aren’t going to be able to turn things around quickly. This situation calls for a comprehensive strategy, a multi-year campaign to strengthen their roster, their financial position, their NBA Draft assets. A step-by-step approach, guided by specific, inflexible values. A plan. A Process, if you will.
That term is loaded for the 76ers and their fans but just because it didn’t work last time doesn’t mean it won’t work this time.
The Process 2.0: A proposal for the Philadelphia 76ers
Before we dive in too deep, my proposal rests on two essential steps — re-signing Paul Reed and hiring Mike D’Antoni to coach a team full of young guards and wings who are just going to fly all over the court and push at every opportunity.
The first step on the trade front is moving Embiid and if you’re trying to load up on draft picks, the Knicks look like they could be the most likely trade partner.
The Knicks get to take a swing at a championship core. The Thunder get a young, reasonably priced, defensive-minded center. The 76ers get Barrett, Fournier to try and turn into something else and fix a mistake by reacquiring Joe. He was a second-round pick of the 76ers, never really found his footing in their rotation but finally blossomed in Oklahoma City in his third season as a pro, hitting 40.9 percent of more than 5 3-point attempts per game.
On the draft front, the 76ers get the Thunder’s No. 12 pick this season, two of the Knicks’ own picks (2026 and 2028) and all of the extra protected picks the Knicks currently hold — DAL, DET and WAS for 2024, MIL for 2025.
This might be the biggest reach, but if Harden wants that extra year on his next deal (and the Rockets are willing to give it to him) they’d have to work out a sign-and-trade. The Rockets would have to negotiate an annual salary they could fit into cap space and (in my fantasy here) send back the No. 20 pick, Usman Garuba (the least ready of the Rockets’ young bigs) and Dashien Nix (a 21-year-old point guard who might need another year or two in the G League). The Rockets get Harden and keep the No. 4 pick, and every other pick they’re owed after this draft.
Finding a team who might be interested in Tobias Harris is hard and to get a package that fits into our Process 2.0 mindset, we have to loop in the Pacers. They give up Jalen Smith and two late first-round picks (No. 26 and No. 28, from the Cavs and Celtics) to get John Collins. The Hawks save a bunch of money, getting off two years of Collins’ salary for the expiring deal of Harris and getting a player who might actually fit better as the spot-up shooter they seem to want at the 4. If he works out, Atlanta could conceivably sign him at a more reasonable salary at the end of next season.
When the dust settles from that trade, the 76ers would have the following core of 25-year-old-or-younger players:
- De’Anthony Melton
- Tyrese Maxey
- R.J. Barrett
- Usman Garuba
- Paul Reed
- Jaden Springer
- Isaiah Joe
- Dashien Nix
They don’t have anyone who looks like they could be the best player on a championship team but Maxey and Barrett have ‘second-best player potential’ and Reed and Melton both look like solid role players. In Garuba, Springer, Joe and Nix, they have a collection of upside gambles, perhaps finding another high-level role player or two from that mix. And to go try and get that next foundational star, they have refilled their war chest of NBA Draft picks:
- No. 12 pick in 2023
- No. 20 pick in 2023
- No. 26 pick in 2023
- No. 28 pick in 2023
- Own in 2024
- DET in 2024 (via NYK)
- WAS in 2024 (via NYK)
- DAL in 2024 (via NYK)
- MIL in 2025 (via NYK)
- Own in 2026
- NYK in 2026
- Own in 2028
- NYK in 2028
That’s 13 first-round picks over the next six drafts, including four each this year and next. While none of these picks look particularly valuable on their own, they could be packaged to move up for specific players. To some fans it will look like a depressing scenario, setting up years of mediocrity and plenty of finger-crossing. But for others, maybe it gives you that old familiar tingle … ?
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D’Angelo Russell is a defensive problem
Through two games, the Lakers have been outscored by the Nuggets by just 11 total points. But that margin balloons to an eye-popping minus-41 if you just look at the minutes D’Angelo Russell has been on the floor.
Russell has long been one of the worst defensive guards in the league but the Nuggets have exploited him to a huge degree through the first two games of this series. When he’s been matched up with a bigger player, like Michael Porter Jr., they’ve targeted him in the paint, with Nikola Jokic dragging Anthony Davis, his help defense and rim protector, away from the basket.
And even when dragging him into the paint didn’t lead to his man scoring directly, it set him up as a help defender around the basket, a role he’s woefully ill-equipped to manage.
Even when his man was not posting up, he was often stationed in or near the corner. And with Jokic dragging Davis out towards the free throw line and the top of the key, Russell was frequently left in a position where his required rotation was crashing down into the paint.
Through two games, Russell has been the closest defender on 12 Denver shot attempts within six feet of the basket. That’s considerably more than 3.9 such shots he defended, on average, per game during the regular season. Unsurprisingly, the Nuggets are 8-of-12 on these interior shots over Russell.
Those are strategic things but he’s made plenty of other defensive mistakes. Completely ignoring his transition opportunities and giving up a wide-open dunk to Jamal Murray. Half-heartedly trying to stop the ball on another break, leaving one teammate to defend two shooters, resulting in a wide-open 3. And in that crucial fourth-quarter stretch, dying on a screen that made LeBron James a step late rotating to Michael Porter Jr., in what was the fourth of five consecutive 3-pointers for Denver.
In theory, Russell’s offensive contributions outweigh his defensive problems and that’s how it worked for much of the first two rounds. But against Denver, he’s 7-of-19 from the field and 1-of-8 from beyond the arc and the lineup that has worked most consistently for the Lakers is Rui Hachimura taking his place in a more traditional frontcourt arrangement with Austin Reaves and Dennis Schroder in the backcourt.
Russell’s shooting has the potential to break a game open for the Lakers, but if Denver keeps exploiting him like this on defense and Hachimura keeps shooting the way he has, L.A. might need to really cut his minutes.