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The Process worked for the 76ers. Let’s also praise other NBA rebuilding projects

There’s more than one way to rebuild in the NBA. While we heap praise on the 76ers, don’t forget the rise of other teams in the last five years.

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The Philadelphia 76ers won their 50th game of the season on Sunday, reaching a simultaneously monumental and meaningless threshold. The mark declares an arrival even if 48 or 49 wins really isn’t all that different.

The Sixers have reached a critical checkpoint in The Process. It’s notable that Philadelphia isn’t just sneaking into the NBA playoffs with a low seed: the Sixers are legitimately worth fearing. Fourteen-game winning streaks don’t lie.

This whole grand success has burnished the already iridescent reputation of Sam Hinkie, wherever he is. Here is the realization of Hinkie’s supreme vision: that by aiming for the bottom and focusing on the long view at the cost of even mild short-term success, the Sixers could leap straight from the bottom to heights otherwise unreachable. He was right. It worked.

Hinkie isn’t around to celebrate this zenith, of course: he resigned while reaching the appointed nadir two years ago, months after a demotion in favor of Bryan Colangelo. Persistent whispers indicate the NBA pressured the Sixers to push Hinkie aside, embarrassed and angered by his gambit.

When Hinkie left, Joel Embiid hadn’t played a single NBA game, Ben Simmons was months away from being drafted, and Markelle Fultz was, one assumes, getting fitted for senior prom. The NBA, in the meantime, has loaded the proverbial dice to prevent another Hinkie from sprouting elsewhere.

It’s likely we will not see another Process, because the odds no longer make it a smart play. Hinkie, then, was one of a kind.

The nagging question, though, is whether The Process and Hinkie were true historic genius or should be remembered more as a quirky, successful cult favorite buoyed by the devotion of rapid Philadelphians who bought in and turned a high-achieving Oklahoma MBA into a venture capitalist Rocky.

Even with the Sixers winning 50 games and looking like a problem for the Eastern Conference for the next 10 years, something always stops me from genuflecting at the altar of The Process. That something looks a little like this chart.

This is a five-year look at every team that finished within five wins or losses of the 76ers back in 2012-13, the year before Hinkie took over. Philadelphia won 34 games that season; Hinkie burnt down the roster in a series of moves to begin The Process. Six other teams won between 29 and 39 games that 2012-13 season: the Wolves, Blazers, Wizards, Pistons, Bucks, and Raptors.

Fve of them — everyone but the Pistons — will be in the NBA playoffs this weekend.

The Raptors will have 50 wins; in fact, they can still get to 60! The Blazers could also end up with 50. Toronto, by the way, had the same number of wins as Philadelphia (34) back in 2012-13. Portland had 33 in what was Damian Lillard’s rookie season.

One presumes that if Hinkie had been hired to run the Blazers that summer, he would have kept and built around Dame. But the same can hardly be said of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry in Toronto. At that point, Jrue Holiday was much more valued than DeRozan ... and Hinkie traded him immediately!

It is truly amazing that the Sixers have gone from 10 wins to 50 in two years. Hinkie and his Process certainly played a major role in that: he drafted Embiid despite his injuries, after all, and set the course that allowed Philadelphia to be in position to pick Simmons. Hinkie maintained the salary cap flexibility that allowed his replacements to add J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson, and other key role players. Hinkie hired Brett Brown and empowered him. (Brown doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his role in the rise of this team. The paychecks are probably better than respect anyway.)

But going all the way back to the beginning: is it really so unique that the Sixers went from mediocre to awesome in five years? The Raptors were mediocre five years ago; they have been to the playoffs every year since, including a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals and the top seed this year. The Blazers were mediocre five years ago; they have been to the playoffs every year since in the Western Conference. They will likely finish with the same seed as Philadelphia this season.

Even the Wizards -- a franchise no one would mistake for a stable, reliable winner — will make its fourth playoff trip in five years this spring. Washington has won three playoff series since The Process began. If it turns out that the Wizards meet the Sixers in the first round, which is possible, Washington might actually win that series, too.

The Timberwolves are an interesting comparison: Minnesota didn’t immediately sell everything after a 31-win season in 2012-13. They ran it back and fell just short of the playoffs. Then they sold it off — Kevin Love, more specifically — and bottomed out. That won them Karl-Anthony Towns in the draft where Hinkie’s 76ers took Jahlil Okafor over Kristaps Porzingis. That was the only season in the past four in which the Wolves were worse than the Sixers. Despite that, Minnesota isn’t far behind Philadelphia right now.

The Wolves rebuild came in the shadow of David Kahn and was presided over by two basketball coaches (R.I.P. Flip), and it got Minnesota to a similar level the Sixers have thus far reached: two stars, a few questions, and some hope.

How singular could Hinkie’s Process be if it can be matched by haphazard, old-school NBA rebuilding? How special is it if it could be taken over and completed by an old-school NBA lifer like Bryan Colangelo?

This isn’t to diminish what the Sixers actually are. When Joel Embiid goes into the Hall of Fame, Hinkie’s deep, committed faith in him will light the way. Simmons -- who, again, was drafted after Hinkie left, but would almost assuredly have been Hinkie’s pick — is a revolutionary player worth losing 72 games for. There are still Hinkie-acquired chips to cash in, which is astounding. (Those chips — Markelle Fultz and the Lakers’ 2018 lottery pick, namely — could be good enough to call for yet another assessment of The Process. We’ll see.)

This is also the start of potential greatness for Philadelphia — they won 50 games while ultra-young and still holding cap space. The Raptors and Blazers are both older and capped out. That’s a real credit to Hinkie’s plan. It could help Philadelphia land freaking LeBron James this summer. Or, more realistically, this summer’s version of Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson.

This is not to say that Hinkie’s plan failed. The Sixers could win the East! Any plan that took that 34-win team from five years ago to this point is worth commending.

But at the same time, let’s not ignore the other teams who were in similar boats in 2013 that have also excelled. The Process worked. So did a few lowercase-p processes. As you heap praise on Hinkie’s work, don’t forget the nods for Toronto’s Masai Ujiri and Portland’s Neil Olshey. Of course, those two are probably too busy still leading NBA teams to worry about getting due praise.

Perhaps Hinkie will soon get another chance to be busy leading an NBA team. Clearly, he deserves it. And you’re lying if you claim you’re not eager to see what route he’d take given another shot.

Maybe that was Hinkie’s greatest victory of all: he made us invest deeply in a horrible, boring team until that squad sprouted something truly beautiful. Without The Process, these 50-win Sixers would just be a nice story, not one of the stories of the season.

Thanks, Sam.