Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and is now writing for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
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As many illustrious Philadelphia 76ers games as we may recall from the first three years of the Sam Hinkie era -- the MCW game, the Isaiah Canaan Game, the James Anderson Game, even a couple contests we never got to name after anyone in particular -- just as many memories were formed during those prime Process years by watching games starring other teams that owed the Sixers picks in the upcoming drafts.
You remember it, don’t you? Long nights of watching the Pelicans, the Heat, the Lakers and so many others as we mentally performed various forms of the Lottery-Protected Lambada in rooting for these teams to lose, and then win, and then win some more and then lose a couple to be on the safe side, to assure that they delivered the Sixers the best possible first-rounder that June. Uh-oh, the Kings and the Thunder are playing each other tonight? Well, let’s watch and see if there isn’t a way we can root for them *both* to lose, somehow. For a true Process Truster, it was the ultimate in character-building viewing.
Sadly for the Sixers, those days are mostly in the rearview. Tanking has begat prospects has begat winning has begat making trades to actually decisively get better now, rather than to maybe potentially get better by next Leap Year. In 2018, for the first time in what feels like a decade (and is actually the first time in a half-decade), the Sixers currently can secure no better than a 14% chance of picking in the upcoming first round of the draft with any selection except their own. Dark days indeed for the Sixers, my friends, dark days.
And that is why, in this most rare of circumstances, we thank our dark lord Sam Hinkie for the Boston Celtics. For while the 76ers were accruing draft picks with a high-profile tankathon that confused and angered Dave Silver so much that attempted to force the team to pivot to video, the Celtics were stealthily doing the same. And as the C’s dispatched the Sixers with little more than a thrust of Al Horford’s buttcheeks last May, the pundits whispered in the ears of vulnerable Process Trusters to warn of that most bone-chilling of postscripts: The Celtics could have four first-round picks in next year’s draft.
Yep: The team that already seemed to have the Sixers outnumbered, outgunned, and somehow even out-youthed was going to replenish their arsenal to a positively stupid degree -- likely with lottery talent, as all three of the picks owed to them were from teams who missed the playoffs last season. That pack of also-rans was led by the Sacramento Kings, who hadn’t even sniffed the playoffs since Peja Stojakovic was a big enough NBA star to co-host the Golden Globes or whatever. Worst of all, of course: We gave ‘em that friggin’ Kings pick, for the privilege of essentially swapping the draft rights of Jayson Tatum for The Backup Point Guard Who We Are Definitely Not Gonna Talk About By Name. The Cus Crisers using that pick to select the latest of their 25 two-way wings with imminent All-Star potential would’ve been the biggest insult since Boston stole Dana Barros from Philly in free agency in 1995.
But as Stephen A. Smith would say at this point, HOWEVAH. The Clippers owe Boston the Celtics a lottery-protected first-rounder from a 2016 draft night trade, one that would be most optimal for the C’s if L.A. just barely crept into the playoffs, giving them a No. 15-16 type pick next summer. But the red-hot Clips -- led by former Boston fixture Doc Rivers -- have instead gotten out to a 15-6 start, good enough for the best record in the West. Another pick comes via Memphis, which is top-six protected this year, top-eight next year and then totally unprotected in 2021. Not looking likely it’ll get that far, though: One year after a 22-win season, the Grizzlies have started 2018-’19 by winning 12 of their first 20, congealing beyond the renewed health of franchise pillars Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the rookie breakout of blue-chipper Jaren Jackson Jr., and $24 million worth of locker-room support from Chandler Parsons,
And then, the Kings. A loss last night -- to the Clippers, anyway -- dropped them below .500 for the first time in over a month, but Sacramento has still been one of the surprise stories of the NBA for how they’ve overplayed their projections. De’Aaron Fox looks like a future All-Star, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic seem one of the league’s most promising wing shooting tandems, and Marvin Bagley III… well, a No. 2 pick is a lot to spend on a frontcourt bench scorer, but he can do that pretty well at least. The Vladfather himself might’ve only pegged his squad for 29-53, but they’ve played more like a 40-something-win squad this season: not likely good enough for the playoffs in the West, but good enough to ruin any Boston fans’ Duke-scouting fantasies for the summer.
Will it last? Maybe not. The Clippers may start playing to their talent level, the Grizzlies might rediscover their love of visiting the IR over winter break, the Kings may lapse into KANGZ-ness at a moment’s notice. But in the meantime, this is the most fun Sixers fans can have without Marc Zumoff orgasming mid-broadcast: Watching Clippers-Kings on a Thursday night, knowing that no matter who wins, the Celtics lose a little bit. It’s enough to give you that old Process rush, of there being more important matters for the Sixers’ future than whether or not the Sixers actually won or not, of there always being a game beyond the game -- or at least a game after the game, a game you could flip to during the game. As a true Process Truster once rapped, there’s levels to this shit.
And if those C’s picks don’t pan out to more than, say, the 12th, 20th and 25th picks? Well, that’s still pretty nice if you’re Boston, but that’s a lot of mid-level prospects to bring into a roster that already has more guys than it knows what to do with. They’d almost have to package a couple of ‘em in a trade for something big -- but that might then be it for the big swings Danny Ainge has left in his tired forearms. Regardless, it’s just a romp to witness this team everyone (understandably) declared the future of the NBA now struggling to stay over .500, with no financial flexibility and possibly no major reinforcements on the way. Hell of a way to convince ourselves the Sixers aren’t that far behind the Celtics after all, really.
And in the meantime, you know who has a way worse record -- and what appears to be a much drearier future -- than any of those squads? The 7-13 Miami Heat, who are capped out and aging and might not be able to rebuild much of consequence before they have to hand off their unprotected first-round pick to Philly in 2021. But that’s still years away, and as this Kings team in particular is teaching us, a whole lot can change in that timespan. So let’s focus on the concerns of today, and watch enough Grizzlies games we start having dreams of Kyle Anderson and Marc Gasol anti-fast breaks. Nothing will ever be more Process than watching a basketball game between two teams that are not the Sixers for petty reasons of validation and vindication on the Sixers’ behalf.