Malcolm Brogdon is gonna be the most hilarious Process Enemy ever

Malcolm Brogdon is gonna be the most hilarious Process Enemy ever

Be honest: You knew this was going to happen. Joel Embiid only played 31 games. Dario Saric was only good for half a season and ended the year on a bum note. Both of them played for a bottom-five NBA team. Malcoln Brogdon put up 75 games' worth of competent-plus numbers for a team that made the playoffs. Him winning Rookie of the Year at Monday night's first-ever NBA Awards was as inevitable as Drake making a joke about his Instagram exes during the opening monlogue, and even hours before it was announced, it seemed like Sixers Twitter was getting testy in anticipation. 

But you know what? It's fine. No, I don't believe Malcolm Brogdon deserved to win over Joel Embiid by any stretch of the imagination -- Dario's case is a little more arguable than we'd probably want to acknowledge -- and I agree with everyone else cackling over how ridiculous Brogdon beating Embiid is gonna seem five years, five months, five JoJo tweets from now. But I'm also kinda looking forward to those next five years, because The Process just got itself a hilariously innocuous new mortal enemy. 

By most accounts, Brogdon seems like a pretty harmless dude. He seems destined to be the 15th best point guard in the league -- the kind of guy who'll get traded in a package for a legit star at least three times in his career by a team attempting to go over the top. His understandable reaction upon accepting the Rookie of the Year award was the slightly over-eager excitement of a guy who hasn't had to give a ton of acceptance speeches in his life; not exactly the coolest dude on the block, but one you can't really hate on either. 

                        [Sixers Twitter shuts down Bucks' Rookie of the Year bragging]

Well, unless you're a Sixers fan. If Sixers fans have demonstrated one thing over the past four seasons, it's that it's not particularly hard for us to hate on anyone, and a well-meaning rookie point guard with a hearty smile is as easy a target as the next. And now, Malcolm Brogdon will feel the true wrath of Process pettiness. 

When Malcolm Brogdon takes the floor at the Wells Fargo Center next year, he will be booed. When Malcolm Brogdon steps in a Wawa next year, he will be booed. If Malcolm Brogdon attempts to stream a song by Hall & Oates or Boyz II Men next year, he will be booed by his Spotify account. Verily, Malcolm Brogdon's NBA existence is about to be very largely defined by just how much hot air the Philly Phaithful is gonna expend just so he never forgets our outrage over how he had the temerity to win an award that one time. (And actually showed up to accept it!)

It's gonna be a lot of fun -- not like the next few seasons will likely be lacking in fun to begin with -- and at the end of the day, we'll probably get far more joy out of Brogdon's Sixers supervillainy than we would have in a single statue in Embiid's soon-to-be-very-cramped trophy case. JoJo himself seems fine with the L, and that's because he knows he has us behind to pick up the vengeful slack. That's what us Process Trusters are good for: We're bitter, stupid and endlessly vindictive so you don't have to be.

Don't Dream It's Over: Nothing ends tonight for the Philadelphia 76ers

Don't Dream It's Over: Nothing ends tonight for the Philadelphia 76ers

Boy, has this last week been fun. The Fultz trade rumors that somehow turned into the actual Fultz trade, the rumored size of assets given up that kept shrinking and shrinking until it practically seemed like Bryan Colangelo pocket change, Retweet Armageddon raining down righteous hellfire from the Bluebird heavens, and a series of increasingly ridiculous trades with depressing teams dealing depressing assets in the name of far-off mutual dreams that may never be realized -- none of which involved the Philadelphia 76ers. There's been a whole lot of cackling, and I wouldn't give back a single chuckle of it. After four years, can't say we haven't earned it. 

So why am I coming around like T.J. McConnell about to dump a whole bucket of ice water on Dario Saric? Because despite everything good that's happened for the Sixers in the last few weeks, I still can't help but think that the most fundamentally important thing hasn't changed, and is still as scary and threatening as ever. 

This isn't to say that Markelle Fultz isn't great, or won't be great. I hope he will, and I think there's a pretty good chance that he will. Sixer fans should be pumped to watch him for this year and many more after it; I certainly am. Whatever else we do tonight to fortify ourselves around him -- dealing into the late first-round, taking draft-and-stash projects or attempting to snag another role player or two in the second round -- it's all good news. He and Ben Simmons should make for a playmaking combo to rival that of any other team in the league, almost instantly. 

But the Sixers' most important player -- maybe their only truly crucial player -- is still Joel Embiid, and probably always will be. 

The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor had a semi-rant on the Bill Simmons Podcast this week that I was furious I didn't get to make first, when asked by Simmons about whether the Sixers' core was just gonna be beautiful forever. "It's gonna be really good for a really long time -- if Embiid stays healthy," he stipulated. "He's really the big part of that, I think. He is the cornerstone. He's the generational talent. He's the potential Hall-of-Famer. He's a level above Simmons and Fultz as a prospect, in my opinion. I think Fultz and Simmons, I would have them rated similarly... but Embiid is that guy." 

This is still where I'm at. Everything looks beautiful for the Sixers right now, but it all still hinges on a guy who's played 31 games in three NBA seasons. Pull that thread and everything unravels.

Maybe "unravels" is an exaggeration. Maybe Fultz is as good as we all think, maybe he and Simmons mesh beautifully, maybe even without Embiid, the Sixers embrace some epic small ball that even leans on a Robert Covington/Ben Simmons frontcourt, which makes them the most exciting young team in the league. Can that team win a title? Can that team contend for a title? Can that team even claim to be one or two veterans away from contending for a title? To me, the answer is pretty decisively no. 

Consider two hypotheticals for a moment. In one, pretty much everything goes right for the Sixers' current roster: Fultz becomes Kyrie Irving with better defense, Simmons wedges himself somewhere between being a poor man's LeBron and a poor man's T-Mac, Dario Saric thrives as a sixth man, Covington shoots 38% from three forever. But in this scenario, Joel Embiid gets hurt and stays hurt, never playing even half a full season for the Sixers. And in the other one, everything goes catastrophically wrong -- to the point where the Sixers have to immediately rip up virtually their entire team construction and start from scratch. Except this time, Embiid gets healthy and stays healthy, averaging 70+ games a year for the next decade. Which of these hypotheticals do you think would leave the Sixers in better shape? 

It might sound crazy, but I think I'm asking for Door No. 2 on that one. And I think Our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie is, too. 

I believe that with a healthy Joel Embiid, this team will essentially never be less than pretty good again. We were already headed there last year, where with zero NBA experience and only a handful of NBA-caliber teammates -- one of whom spent months in a shooting slump, one of whom had yet to break through the rookie wall, one of whom took months to supplant Sergio Rodriguez on the depth chart, and one of whom spent most of the time either injured or chained to the bench -- JoJo was still well on his way to dragging this team to respectability when he went down. The Sixers were 7-2 in Embiid's final nine games of the season, including real wins over the Raptors, Clippers and Bucks. Even with his minutes limit and back-to-back restrictions, he very likely could've gotten the team to near-.500 if he'd played a full season. Give him some better teammates -- as the Sixers are gearing up to do -- and there's no reason he can't lead us to the playoffs right away.

Without JoJo, we can still be good eventually, maybe even great -- but for the moment, our ceiling remains only as high as Exciting Young Team status. And in that sense, we're no different than the Timberwolves, or the Suns, or (gasp!) the Lakers, or any other team who's gotten to take a number of swings in the recent lottery, but still hasn't made the clear jump from rebuilding to just plain building. And without JoJo, that final jump from great to elite becomes damn near impossible to make. Because O'Connor is right: Simmons and Fultz are blue-chip prospects, but even in their best-case scenarios, it's hard to see them being the best guy on a championship team. And Embiid unquestionably has that potential. And that's the guy you need to contend for titles. 

What does that mean for tonight, then? Just that Markelle Fultz may feel something like the last piece of the puzzle now, but there is no last piece of the puzzle -- since the most important puzzle piece is at perpetual risk to slide out of place at any point. Of course, the Philadelphia 76ers would hardly be the first team to build around players who were considered to be at perpetual injury risk at some point in their career -- the Warriors were just led to a championship by two of 'em -- but few of them have a player with an early history quite as intimidating as Joel's. If the question is when Sixers fans can stop worrying about the rug being pulled out from them at any point in the post-Process, the answer is never. 

That sounds more dire than it really is, though. Embiid may not ever be a safe bet, but he's ours, and he only comes around once every few years -- if it was easy to get him, we'd have at least three of him by now. Having one at constant risk of breaking in is still infinitely preferable to having none, and now that we seem to finally have the pieces around him to really grow this team around him, we at least have a chance of becoming something transcendent, which is more than the great majority of teams have. But Fultz doesn't make that chance anywhere near 100%, and neither would anyone else in this draft. Only when Embiid is enshrined in Springfield as a 12-time All-Star and five-time champion will we be able to truly cackle in peace.

Now my Sixers fan heart is Fultz

Now my Sixers fan heart is Fultz

It's been lottery night all weekend for Sixers fans, since the news started to trickle out Friday that the Philadelphia 76ers were deep into talks with the Boston Celtics to swap picks in the upcoming NBA draft -- presumably for the Sixers to take Markelle Fultz, consensus No. 1 pick and potential franchise point guard. Now, a variety of sources (including NBA omniscient narrator Adrian Wojnarowski and Sixers Twitter's own Derek Bodner) report that the deal is done in principle, with only a Monday phone call awaiting for it to become official. The Sixers will trade the No. 3 pick and the L.A. first-rounder still owed to us for 2018 -- with protections on the pick (only conveying if it lands between 2-5) meaning we may end up owing Boston our 2019 first-rounder from Sacramento instead -- in exchange for the No. 1 pick. 

If this seems like a huge win for the Sixers, that's because it probably is. The Colangelos took a handful of the crown jewel assets of Sam Hinkie's tenure -- the pick swap and first-rounder from the Nik Stauskas heist of summer 2015, the Lakers pick from the robbery-in-retrospect Michael Carter-Williams deal of the '15 trade deadline, and don't forget the Saric/Payton swap of draft night '14, which gave us our '17 1st-rounder back from Orlando -- and synthesized them into the guy who could truly be the final piece, without selling the farm to do so. It's a major accomplishment, and both our current GM and our Once and Always Dark Lord deserve all the credit in the world for pulling it off. 
 


Fultz, at least as advertised, is just about everything the Sixers are looking for in a lead guard. Shooting, playmaking, athleticism, intelligence, and (potentially) defense -- I won't pretend to know how good Fultz already is or could be (like a lot of us, I only know the YouTube stuff) but smarter people than myself seem to think he's an elite two-way talent, and to match him with the couple other elite two-way talents we already have on the roster could make for a pretty cool next 5-10 years of post-Process Sixers' ball. He seems to be the perfect complement to Ben Simmons especially, as a guard who can devastate on or off the ball. You know those Chris Paul/Blake Griffin pick and rolls that always seem to end with DeAndre Jordan slamming down the easiest alley-oops in the world? Picture that with Fultz, Simmons and Joel Embiid and you have a pretty good snapshot of how beautiful the Sixers could be in a year or two's time. 

What's more, the timing of the deal couldn't have been much better. Sixers fans worrying about a major overpay of an aging free agent like Kyle Lowry to help make the team immediately better shouldn't toss those fears out the window, exactly, but they can certainly breathe a little easier than they were a week ago. There's no major fixes currently needed, really: Adding Fultz to our lineup from day one next season gives us -- knock on Ronnie Wood, James Woods, Wood Harris and several VHS copies of 1999 dramedy The Wood -- a complete young core to go out and compete with pretty much immediately. Dream with me for a moment: 

Starting 5: Fultz-Stauskas-Covington-Simmons-Embiid

Next 5: McConnell-TLC-Henderson-Saric-Holmes

VP in Charge of Bench High-Fives: Jahlil Okafor

Ain't gotta dream no more -- in October, failing any one of several potential crises to afflict the Sixers in the interim, this will by our Day One reality. And that's not even included any further free agents, or whatever we do with our quartet of second-rounders. But the most important part of this is that we isolated the guy we wanted, and we got him. And now we're ready; truly, finally ready. 

Is there a "but"? Well, sure. First off, make no mistake: We paid a high price for this. That Lakers pick is one of the most valuable draft assets in the league right now (NBA Assets ranks it 11th among all current and future draft picks, and 35th among all assets) and I'd say it's at least 50% likely to convey to L.A. next year as a top-five pick. That's not nothing, certainly, and if Boston really didn't see Fultz as being a better player and/or fit for them than Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum -- both likely available at No. 3 -- then you could say they essentially added a top 5 pick from us for nothing. (And for the record, unless the Kings make a dramatic turnaround net year, I think Sixers fans probably should root for the Lakers pick to be as high as possible next year -- so that either we get it at No. 1 or the Celtics get it at 2-5, and we get to enjoy the '19 Kings pick unfettered, which should also be top 10 at the very least.) 

And there's another minor "but" to be found here in that if Boston was willing to part with Fultz this easily, we might want to consider that there could be a reason why. Not that Celtics GM Danny Ainge's judgment is infallible by any means, but he has a pretty good track record with trades like this, and doesn't pull the trigger easily -- he's not Vlade, in other words. Of course, Markelle makes more sense in Philly, where we have no blue-chip guards, than in Boston, where they already have Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Still, if Ainge believed Fultz to be the generational talent some Sixers fans are billing him has, it's hard to believe he wouldn't have taken the point guard anyway -- and indeed, some reports have already trickled out that Boston passed on Fultz in part because they didn't believe he was a "winner." That sounds like bulls--t, certainly, and it's easy to dismiss it as such, but again, Ainge isn't an idiot: If he had real concerns about Fultz, we shouldn't disregard them outright just because LOL BOSTON. 

One more thing: Sixers fans certainly don't want to think about this today, but before we start camping out on Broad Street in advance of the parade next June, we should take a moment to consider how uncertain everything still is for this Sixers team. Lest we forget, in four combined player seasons between Embiid and Simmons, we've only actually seen 31 games' worth of (mostly) healthy performance. JoJo lived up to and above expectation over those 31 games, but they didn't exactly quell fears that injury concerns would plague his beautiful body for the entirety of his career. 

Meanwhile, we've still never even Simmons and Embiid healthy on the court together, or to get any kind of assurance that the broken foot that ended up knocking Simmons out for the season won't be a continued hindrance for the 6-foot-10 point forward. Hell, we don't know for sure how good Simmons actually is, or how he fits with Embiid and the rest of this Sixers team, or if he even shoots with the correct hand. We hope these two dudes are Sixers' fixtures forever, but both are still very far from safe bets. Markelle Fultz is such an appealing get for Philly in large part because of how brilliantly he seems to slot in alongside Simmons and Embiid, but if those two dudes can't stay on the court with him, giving up the Lakers' pick to move up for him might start to seem like an overpay. 

Still, these are relatively minor misgivings when you consider how the implicit goal of the NBA for about as long as smart people have been running teams has been to find three star-caliber talents to build around -- preferably players who mesh together on and off the court, and who are all on roughly similar developmental timelines. The Sixers, at least for one shining, pre-tragedy moment, appear to now have that; and we still have Dario, RoCo, all our own future draft picks and one hammer pick still owed to us. The Process is complete, Retweet Armageddon lies just around the corner, and the lingering promise of the last four years has finally been paid in Fultz.