What it Means to “Trust the Process.”

Boy, it seems everywhere you turn these days in the Philadelphia area you’ll hear the mantra, the catch phrase, the battle cry, “Trust the Process.” For the uninitiated, the phrase came about due to a philosophical shift initiated by Sixers’ then newly-crowned GM, Sam Hinkie. The thought process was that a team mired in mediocrity had no way to escape the quagmire of just being kind of good. Not good enough to contend or attract top tier free agents, and not awful enough to draft blue chip prospects. The answer is obvious, when you can’t get better, the only thing in your control is the ability to get worse and improve your odds of landing young talent through the draft. The earliest record of the phrase I can find was from an interview with, then Sixers guard, Tony Wroten.

“They tell us every game, every day, ‘Trust the Process,'” guard Tony Wroten says. “Just continue to build.” 

And this tweet:

But damn if that doesn’t take some courage. To expect your fan base to contend with years of intentional losing is a risk not many organizations are willing to chance. Actually, if that’s it, if that’s your whole plan, it’s way too much to ask. While the national media, along with the old guard of local reporters and sports talk radio personalities, latched on to the tanking as a gimmick, a way to steal money from the league and its fans, there was something deeper going on. “It doesn’t take a genius to lose” was a phrase I heard and read too often to count, but those who “trust the process” look a little deeper than seeing the numbers in the L column tick up nightly.

What people outside the process (trusters) have a hard time comprehending is that losing wasn’t The Process, it was merely part of it. Part of the process was accumulation of assets, and finding every angle to make those assets as valuable and fruitful as possible. Part of the process was optionality, keeping the team financially flexible, and being able to take on other teams’ bad contracts for valuable draft picks. So yeah, anybody can lose games and assemble a bad team, but only Hinkie could raise the Tank, Assets, Optionality Triforce. While this column isn’t an “Ode to Sam Hinkie,” every time I think about trading Michael Carter Williams, coming off of a ROY campaign, to get a conditional Lakers pick that had trouble conveying, only to trade that pick three years later, building off of a genius pick swap deal with the Kings, to leap over the Lakers themselves to get the number one overall pick this year…..I get a little misty.

Trusting the Process in Philly means you’re kind of a badass. Not the biker gang badasses that claim to be “Raider Nation.” No Trusting the Process nets you Gordon Gekko level badassery. You’re part of a team that won every trade for a three or four year span. Your GM bucked the status quo of the league so hard, they made the team’s ownership replace him. When the Sixers finally do win, it won’t be because they outbid anyone, or got absurdly lucky in lottery. When the Sixers win, it’ll be because they were patient and craftier than their rival front offices. They didn’t defy the odds, they altered them.

Trusting the Process in Philly means you’re a die hard. It means that you’re not there just for the destination, but you love the journey as well. You love the stashing of European players, follow their careers from afar, watch them in international play, and revel in the payoff when they finally sign with the big club. It means you watch summer league like it’s your church. For God’s sake, you probably listen to a podcast named after the rights to a Puerto Rican National Team player.

Trusting the Process in Philly means you’re mentally tough. Not only do you buy into a process that you know will be arduous, but you can shut out or shout down the nay sayers, the Howard Eskins, the Angelo Cataldis. Plus, you can deal with heart ache. Losing what adds up to being your first round draft pick for an entire season on four different occasions either breaks you, or hardens your resolve. Plus, a little suffering makes those sweet moments all the sweeter. Watching Joel Embiid last year was like going into diabetic shock for 31 nights. You were probably so delirious you put a selfie of you with a cat over your head on Instagram.

The process represents a cultural shift in the city. Going the way of the polar ice caps are the much beleaguered 700 level fan. While Philadelphia will always and forever embrace the hard working athlete, the blue collar the city wore like a badge of honor is fading whiter and whiter every day. The baby boomers are making way for the millennials. The win at all costs mentality is yielding to a more measured intellectual approach that has an end game going beyond the best record attainable this season.

About 15 months ago on this site I wrote the following:

“In this writer’s mind, if the Sixers do ascend to greatness, it’ll be attributed to the fortitude of Hinkie, and his commitment to a process whose end was always in question. If they fail and return to the vicious cycle of mediocrity, we’ll always wonder if Hinkie, left alone to tinker in his laboratory, could have put together a questing party strong enough to bring a parade to this basketball town. Maybe it’s Hinkie who’ll be laughing as his mom brings his Salisbury steak downstairs to his dark basement lair, because he knows, it’s the 76ers who crit-missed.”

What we can say now looking back is that the Sixers were not foolish to entrust Bryan Colangelo with the treasure trove of assets that Hinkie amassed. Colangelo didn’t go on a spending spree, loading up with bad contacts and accelerating the process that would have lowered the team’s ceiling. Basically, he didn’t go all New York Knicks. That goes a long way to making process trusters a happy bunch. Would Hinkie have fared better so far? It’s hard to say. It’s possible he could have kicked the can farther down the road, but I doubt it.

No matter what, don’t let the old guard fool you. Hinkie’s plan was more than losing. Hinkie Truthers and Process Trusters aren’t a bunch of fools that fell for a scam, they just favor contending and vying championship over years of staying out of the lottery.

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