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I'll admit it: I've wondered if we'll ultimately remember Collargate as a bad thing for the Philadelphia 76ers. As much fun as we all had with it at the time, as righteous as it felt for Ben Detrick to expose the Colangelos as a far greater embarrassment than Sam Hinkie ever was to the franchise, the timing of it was pretty far from ideal: It left the team a laughing stock, and without a GM, right before they were to attempt to sell the NBA's elite free agents on the stability and seriousness of their organization. If the Sixers struck out with the big names this summer, would we look to the Detrick report as why, and rue the day The Ringer decided to make household names out of Eric Jr. and Still Balling?
Probably not. Lest we forget, Detrick was originally given the story because of his long track record of hating on the Colangelos, and he had that because Bryan Colangelo was not a good GM. He wasn't a particularly bad GM, either -- if you were to rank all 30 of the league's head string-pullers, he'd probably rank higher than 22, but lower than 17. He was good enough to build a Sixers team that could win 16 straight regular-season games, but not one that could outlast the Celtics in the playoffs.
And most importantly, he would've wanted no part of the moves the Sixers made last night.
Last night was some old-school Process shit -- and goddamn, was it both dizzyingly jarring and thirst-quenchingly refreshing, like dropping "T.R.O.Y." in the thick of a playlist of SoundCloud rappers. The Sixers got The Guy: Their guy, a local guy, a guy who both smart people and dumb people agreed was good (and good for the Sixers), a guy whose own friggin' mother could already be found on the franchise's org chart. And yet, rather than drive off into the I-95 sunset with him, they flipped him to Phoenix for Zhaire Smith and an unprotected, Miami-owned first-rounder in 2021. (They also traded two second-round picks this year for four second-round picks in the years to come, and took a guy nobody heard of with a late first-rounder.) Our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie was undoubtedly breakdancing on the streets of Palo Alto upon seeing how well the coach he handpicked five years ago had internalized his cursed lesson plans.
To say that Bryan Colangelo Would Never is a dramatic understatement. BC demonstrated on numerous occasions -- whether trying to implausibly sell the shitty Nerlens deal as "trading for a first-rounder," or attaching a second-rounder to ship Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas to Brooklyn rather than just waiving both, or turning state's evidence on his wife instead of admitting how he occasionally shit-talked Embiid over a couple glasses of sangria -- that PR was just as important a priority to him as doing what was best for the team. Can you see him drafting the NBA-ready player everyone wanted, then trading him in the midst of a fanbase-wide victory lap -- while the kid was doing his first interview as a Liberty Baller, no less -- for a dude who might not be good for a couple years and a draft asset that might not help us until 2021? Not bloody likely.
And I'll be honest: I went into this draft hoping the Sixers would draft conservatively. I was worried about them giving up future assets to trade up for a light player upgrade, or trading out altogether for veteran help that would ultimately prove inessential -- and trading down seemed unlikely to provide enough of a win around the margins to be worth our while, either. Drafting Mikal Bridges and leaving it at that would've been fine: This wasn't some overly safe move made to pander to the team's risk-averse fans and general #FromHere enthusiasts, this was drafting a really good player who made perfect sense on this team. The Sixers didn't need to go High Process with it.
I'm glad they did, though. Firstly, because the draft -- which had long served as the Championship Parade to the lottery's Super Bowl victory for Process Trusters -- was starting to slip out of our hands. Last night at Barclays, the Philly presence was there, but disconcertingly mid; it was mostly just normal-looking kids wearing jerseys of the city's biggest stars of past and present. When Rick Kamla announced the Sixers as coming up next, he received a polite, medium-sized cheer in response. It felt like the Sixers were just any pretty good team, not the franchise that had essentially run draft night since Dave Silver took over. I wasn't ready for that level of bland respectability; the headline-grabbing chaos of last night felt much more comforting.
And secondly, because if this year's playoffs showed us anything, it's that we're not in a place where we can coast just yet. We're set to be good for a long-ass time, but we're still trailing the Celtics, both in terms of current roster and future assets. If we want to keep pace with them in the years to come, we need to keep pushing, keep improving, keep thinking big-picture. Maybe the unprotected Miami pick helps us land Kawhi Leonard -- and I do sorta believe Gregg Popovich wants to trade him here, if he has to trade him at all -- or maybe it just gives us a talent boost three years from now, when we're capped out and Miami is very likely in a down period. But, regardless, it's a huge future asset to have, and the kind we were finally starting to run out of. Bite our lip and close our eyes, because we're back to taking the longview.
In the meantime, will Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet be good enough to lessen the sting of losing Mikal Bridges? I couldn't possibly say. The chance that Bridges makes First Team All-Rookie next year while our new guys struggle to find minutes is real, as is the possibility that we strike out big in free agency, Pop stops returning our calls, and we return next year with a slightly less-loaded version of the team that lost in the semis this year. But man, winning championships is hard, and you don't get there by taking the path of least resistance. Sam Hinkie understood that, of course -- and despite our predictions of him taking a coachy GIve Me My Guys Already approach, looks like Brett Brown does too.
But Bryan Colangelo, once again, would never. And that's why, as painful as it may end up being this summer, and as much of a black mark as his scandal and dismissal might've been on the franchise, I still think it's for the best that he's gone. We can't pretend that we're so clearly on our way to the top that all we have to do is keep moving in a straight line from here to get there -- we have to still be able to take a small dip now to make a big spike later, and we need a guy in charge whose vision isn't too narrowed by his high collars to be able to realize that. And that's why after last night, Detrick should officially never have to pay for a drink in Process Territory again.