Philadelphia 76ers: Could the Brooklyn Nets actually #CompleteTheProcess?

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

After the Philadelphia 76ers made it famous, one look at the current state of the Brooklyn Nets suggests that the spirit of the ‘Process’ is alive and well.

If you’ve tuned into a Brooklyn Nets game in 2018-19, you’ve probably noticed that the team looks scarily similar to the 2017-18 Philadelphia 76ers, and for a good reason.

Much like last season’s Sixers, the Nets have steadily built a solid core of young, ascending players through the draft, trades, and the waiver wire and are now in the midst of a breakout season that will all but certainly end the team’s half-decade postseason drought.

And weirdly, the Nets give a glimpse into a bizarre future where Bryan Colangelo never traded up to select Markelle Fultz first overall.

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I mean think about it: both teams were built around former top-3 draft picks leading their squads (Joel Embiid and D’Angelo Russell), found underappreciated forwards in the mid-first round (Dario Saric and Caris LeVert), and identified undrafted free agents/waiver wire pickups who they developed into legitimate contributors (T.J. McConnell, Robert Covington, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Joe Harris).

However, the two teams’ paths diverged pretty significantly when Elton Brand came to town as the team’s new GM.

Now granted, things really shifted when Colangelo selected Fultz first overall, as it directly flew in the face of Sam Hinkie‘s (or Sean Marks‘) ‘Moneyball’ philosophy of procuring assets to accrue multiple chances to find a star, but I digress. At the time, the Sixers were a young team with the perfect mix of ascending talent and veteran role players ready to take the next step into contention together.

Fast forward to present day, and Brand has pulled off two major, franchise-altering trades to craft arguably the best starting five in the Eastern Conference while sacrificing the vast majority of the team’s assets in the processes.

Was it the right move? I’d like to withhold judgment on that until July rolls around, as Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris could easily decide to leave the City of Brotherly Love for greener pastures, but as things presently stand it’s hard not to feel optimistic about the team’s playoff chances once April rolls around.

But at what cost?

After carefully crafting a system, identity, and a family-like closeness among a collection of underdog players, Brett Brown is now effectively coaching his third team of the season; crew mercenaries with 8-15 playing on a lame duck contract.

Compare that to Brooklyn’s philosophy.

On a recent episode of The Lowe Post, Joe Harris, the reigning 3-point shooting champion, highlighted just how important the Nets’ culture has been to their surprising turnaround. After failing to land a marquee free agent or an immediate contributor in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Nets’ ragtag collection of players rallied together to become one of the tougher outs in the East.

The team even had to weather a stretch without their best player, LeVert, who suffered a right leg injury early in the season and put together a very solid 23-19 record over that stretch (just like when Embiid sustained an orbital fracture last March).

With the Nets now without a doubt New York’s best basketball team, it’s only a matter of time before a top-tier talent, like Butler, will sign a max deal to #CompleteTheProcess and transform the team into a legitimate top-4 contender for the foreseeable future.

But do they have enough talent to get it done?

Because the Nets are ahead of schedule, the team was never actually able to take advantage of having their own pick and adding a top-10 player in the draft, as their 2019 pick will all but certainly be in the 20s when everything is said and done.

Is a young core of Russell, Levert, Dinwiddie, and Jarrett Allen really good enough to compete for titles even with another top-40 player like Khris Middleton, Julius Randle, or even Kevin Love (via trade)? Now that could all change if Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving opt to spurn the Knicks and take their talents to NY’s other team, but as Philly fans saw last season, banking on free agency to take a step forward is a scary proposition.

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Ultimately, whether or not Kenny Atkinson‘s club can surpass the Philadelphia 76ers and become the new Beasts of the East will depend on a variety of factors out of their control, but with seven additional draft picks and two max contracts worth of cap space on the books over the next three seasons, the Brooklyn Nets could actually accomplish what Sam Hinkie always dreamed of all those years ago.