Over the last five years, ‘The Process’ has become a term that has entered the lexicon of the league. It is a term which has been used by everybody from basketball hipsters to the talking heads who populate cable television. When Sam Presti moved to tear down the Thunder and enact a rebuild, ‘The Process’ tag was quickly attached to Oklahoma City.
As much as I respect ‘The Process’ and feel that it was an innovative idea, the Thunder’s rebuild cannot be referred to in the same way. There are too many differences between Sam Hinkie’s regime in Philadelphia and Presti’s stewardship of the Thunder. The core difference is that there is a roadmap for rebuild that exists for the Thunder.
Over the last ten years, the rebuilding process has been refined and professionalised. There have been numerous teams who have pulled the plug on a middling roster and embraced the tank. Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas, these are just a few of the teams who have undergone a complete re-design over the course of the decade. There have been differences between every single team and how they pursued a rebuild in the NBA.
When the Sixers initially took the path of trading away Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday, they were plunging into the unknown. The natural cycle of an NBA team involves a period of rebuilding but the Sixers approached the fall differently. Sam Hinkie analysed every aspect of his roster and realised that the only way for Philly to compete was to start with a blank sheet.
Sam Hinkie catches a lot of flak for blatantly and publicly choosing to tank but many people fail to understand that the man from Marlow, Oklahoma was clever and dogged in his pursuit of the long view. Hinkie chose to completely tear down his roster to acquire a team who could be a contending side; it would have been a different story if Hinkie had those pieces on his team.
At a very basic level, this current iteration of the Thunder is very different to the Process Sixers. Unlike those Sixers, the Thunder have intriguing, young talent on the roster. The Paul George trade meant that Presti was able to get a building block in the form of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The presence of Gilgeous-Alexander, Bazley and even Luguentz Dort to some extent means that the Thunder cannot be compared to the Sixers. The Thunder have talent on the roster; the purpose of the tank for this season will be to acquire that trajectory-bending superstar in the Draft.
The other key point that has to be noted about Hinkie’s model is that ‘The Process’ encompassed everything about the organisation. The idea of trusting the process was pervasive; the process-oriented approach related to everything from player development to the team’s coaching.
This approach was effective for the Sixers but one of the key weaknesses of the ‘The Process’ is that the model did not consider an end goal. It does go without saying that the aim of all NBA franchises is to win a title but there was never a defined target or objective that signalled the end of the rebuild in Philly. Some people make the point that ‘The Process’ is still ongoing to this day for the 76ers.
The issue with this approach is that a lack of planning can make achieving that long-term goal much more difficult. Organising a successful rebuild is vital to ensuring sustainable success but the same can be said for managing the movement from the NBA’s middle class to true contender status.
While the Thunder are embracing ‘The Process’ when it comes to player development, there is difference between this iteration of the Thunder and the Sixers’ teams of the mid 2010s. The Dallas Mavericks laid out the road back to contender status with their Doncic-Porzingis pairing.
The Mavericks’ plan is brutally simple and efficient; draft a young superstar and then add a complementary All-Star talent. The Thunder can carry out the same roadmap; Gilgeous-Alexander is a young star and the Thunder will have the opportunity to add another blue-chip prospect in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Oklahoma City also have the assets to put together a trade to acquire a player like Karl Anthony Towns; this trade may not immediately be possible but it is certainly viable in the long-term. There are teaching moments that can be learned from the Sixers and Mavericks. Presti has to be cognisant of these lessons and trust himself to carry out this difficult process.
In the last ten years, we have seen countless teams blow it up and never make it back to playoffs. Phoenix have not sniffed the playoffs since Steve Nash left the franchise for Los Angeles and the Suns have been through various cores before eventually finding a star in Devin Booker who might be able to turn the tides. The same can be said for the Kings and Knicks.
The common feature between all of these teams is that they blew up the rebuilding process much too quickly; all of these teams lost the appetite for sacrificing the short-term for long-term success. The Thunder have to exercise patience for the next few years in order to make the next decade successful.
There are lessons to be learned from every rebuild over the last ten years and it would be incredibly wise for the Thunder to evaluate each project and identify which lessons should be adopted. The Sixers’ trust in player development should be a requisite for the Thunder as should Donnie Nelson’s thoughtful approach to team building.
Oklahoma City have a blank sheet at the moment and all of the assets to build a lasting winner, another era of Thunder greatness. It is time for the ‘Precess’ to take place; the Thunder have everything in their own hands to ensure that level of success down the line.