As the Sixers take on the Magic tonight, it feels appropriate to take stock in two very different, yet very similar rebuilds. Orlando and Philly have been connected since the summer of 2012. That year, Dwight Howard was traded to the Lakers, Andre Iguodala was traded to the Nuggets, Andrew Bynum was traded to the Sixers, and Nikola Vucevic was traded to the Magic. This would set each franchise off in different directions. The Magic were beginning their rebuild post-Dwight. Bynum infamously never stepped foot on the floor for the Sixers and the Process began the following summer.
Fast forward a few years and it appears the Sixers are well on their way toward title contention. The premise of the Process was simple. Increase the chances of acquiring stars by tanking for top picks. Value second rounders and un-drafted free agents because they offer cost-controlled production. Finally, maintain cap flexibility so that you can cash in when the time is right. Clearly, the Process has paid off. The Sixers have stars in place in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They found diamonds in the rough in Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell. Financially, Philly is set up to make a run at a max level free agent for at least one more summer.
Today, life is great for Sixers fans, but we have not forgotten rock bottom. During the height of the Process, Sixers fans were suffering. The quality of play was intentionally sub-par and the die hard fans were subjected to Hollis Thompson, Casper Ware, JaKarr Sampson, among others. Fortunately, the Sixers came out the other side.
The Orlando Magic are the worst case scenario of the Process. They have effectively tanked since that Dwight Howard trade prior to the start of the 2012 season. Since then, the Magic have averaged 26 wins a year, hired four coaches, and picked in the Top-10 in the draft in six of the last seven years. They don’t have much to show from it.
The first pick of their rebuild was Victor Oladipo. The Magic would later flip Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for Serge Ibaka, targeting a delusional run at the eighth seed in 2016. They whiffed on 2015 first-rounder Mario Hezonja, who signed this offseason with the New York Knicks. Finally, they traded Dario Saric for Elfrid Payton. Payton is on his third team in three years while Saric is thriving in Philadelphia.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about some of the positives from the Magic’s rebuild. Aaron Gordon has added excitement to the roster, although he has still yet to reach his full potential. Jonathan Isaac has all the tools to become a star, however his rookie year was pretty nondescript. Their 2018 first round pick, Mo Bamba, possess the longest wingspan in the NBA at 7 feet, 10 inches. That has to be worth something.
The Magic’s story shines a light as to how far the Sixers have come with their Process. Tanking offers no guarantees, and like the Magic, the Sixers have missed on their fair share of top picks. However, the organization mostly trusted the process and it has led to the resurgence that Sixers fans have been prognosticating since 2013.
The Sixers never cashed in early to try and make a run at the playoffs. They trusted Brett Brown’s ability to develop talent while allowing him the patience to build continuity within the organization. In a tale of two rebuilds, the Sixers enter tonight’s game as a 12.5 point favorite over the Magic and the game probably won’t even be that close.