Trust isn’t rewarded in every relationship, but those Philadelphia supporters who believed in the 76ers’ proverbial “process” all these years apparently are on the verge of something very good.
Just two seasons ago, the Sixers went 10-72 and sparked a conversation about changing the draft lottery.
On Tuesday, they arrive at Target Center for a late 8:30 p.m. tip all even for the season with a 13-13 record despite their current four-game losing streak.
The league’s laughingstock not so long ago while they accumulated both draft picks and losses galore, the Sixers will be featured by ESPN in consecutive games this week: Tuesday and Friday at home against Oklahoma City.
The Sixers are must-see TV after they patiently waited a full season or more for young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to heal from injury. They’ve surrounded the two with other young players such as Dario Saric and Robert Covington as well as veterans JJ Redick and Amir Johnson, among others.
“You look at the way they built their team,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They’ve got some guys they can build around and they’re young, so they’re going to get better. And they added the right veterans to the mix, so that adds to the development of the young guys. They’re tough. Their defense is very good. They shoot the three. They do a lot of things well.”
Here’s a look at how the Sixers, coached by Brett Brown, were built by General Manager Sam Hinkie, who wasn’t employed long enough to see “the process” through, and Bryan Colangelo:
Embiid, drafted third overall in 2014, almost certainly would have been drafted first overall if he hadn’t sustained a stress fracture in his foot. He didn’t play at all during his first two NBA seasons and played only 31 games last season. This season he has played 21 games while the team manages his workload.
But when he has played, well, the only things standing between him and Springfield, Mass., could be time and his suspect health history.
Just how good can he be? Maybe even better than he is funny on Twitter.
“Great, great,” said Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins, 2014’s No. 1 pick who played one season with Embiid at Kansas. “There’s nothing really he can’t do. He can do it all at 7-foot. Everyone has seen it. He got better every practice, every game. He was getting bigger, stronger, more confident. He’s a monster.”
Embiid has missed the 76ers’ past two games because of back stiffness. Philadelphia is 12-9 this season when he plays, 1-4 when he doesn’t.
He told reporters he expects to play Tuesday. He is listed as questionable.
If he’s healthy
The No. 1 pick in 2016, Simmons also missed his entire first season because of a foot fracture, but in 23 games this season has proven himself to be a most versatile big man, perhaps the best of his kind since LeBron James and before that Magic Johnson.
He has 14 double-doubles this season, six of them in points and assists.
“You hate to compare players, but he’s so gifted,” Thibodeau said. “Anytime you have a player his size who can pass the way he can and just his ability to make plays. His vision and his decision-making, that’s innate. It’s in him. It makes everyone else so much better.”
The $23 million man
The Wolves were among the team that pursued Redick in free agency last summer, but they couldn’t compete with the Sixers, who had so much salary-cap room they could pay Redick $23 million for one season.
“Redick has had a great career,” Thibodeau said. “Everywhere he goes, he wins. How they complement those guys is important. You want to make sure they’re the right type of veterans who practice the right way, prepare the right way.”
And don’t forget …
The 76ers also have this year’s No. 1 overall pick — combo guard Markelle Fultz, who has played just four games because of a shoulder injury.