The Philadelphia 76ers followed The Process with a decade on the treadmill of mediocrity. Is this the year they finally get off?
The Process is dead. Long live the Process Part Deux.
The 2020s were not kind to the Philadelphia 76ers. After spending most of the 2010s going to unprecedented lengths to escape from the Treadmill of Mediocrity, the Sixers have been stuck in that exact purgatory for the past decade.
Since the 2020-21 season, they've been floating around .500 every year, winning no more than 44 games and no fewer than 38. They've neither been good enough to contend for a championship nor bad enough to land another top-tier superstar in the draft.
How did they get here? Glad you asked.
2020 offseason: The Sixers had high hopes after hiring Doc Rivers, who once compared Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They tried to trade Tobias Harris and Al Horford, but shockingly, no team wanted to take on a horrendous contract in the midst of a pandemic without premium assets attached. Instead, the Sixers #RunItBack one year too late.
2020-21 season: The honeymoon phase didn’t last long for Embiid and Rivers. Horford remained a clunky fit alongside Embiid and Simmons, and the Sixers offense never got on track. The Miami Heat knocked them out in the first round of the playoffs, and Embiid subtweeted the front office about Jimmy Butler after every loss.
2021 offseason: Realizing the Sixers' championship dreams had been foiled by front office blunders, Embiid demanded a trade. The Sixers packaged him with two unprotected first-round picks to the Houston Rockets for James Harden. Meanwhile, Josh Richardson fled to Miami in free agency to rejoin #HeatCulture.
2021-22 season: Much like every other player to come through Philadelphia in recent years, Harden immediately forgot how to shoot upon putting on a Sixers uniform. He became the first player in NBA history to hit less than 30 percent of his 3s while taking 10-plus attempts per game. The Boston Celtics knocked the Sixers out in the first round of the playoffs, as backup Celtics guard Markelle Fultz hits the series-clinching free throws in Game 4.
2022 offseason: Harden declined his $46.9 million player option and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers to join forces with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, where he immediately remembered how to shoot again. The Sixers fired Rivers with three years left on his contract and hired Mark Jackson as his replacement. Behind the scenes, Simmons and Rich Paul began contemplating a Klutch Sports power play to get him out of Philly.
2022-23 season: Simmons broke the Sixers shooting curse and began knocking down 3s! However, Horford was a broken-down shell of himself at this point, confirming all concerns about handing him a gigantic four-year deal during the summer of 2019. Simmons was named to the All-NBA first team, but his supporting cast let him down in yet another first-round playoff exit against the Celtics.
2023 offseason: Like Embiid did two years prior, Simmons demanded a trade. The Sixers eventually caved, shipping him to the Chicago Bulls for Lauri Markkanen, LaMelo Ball and a future first-round pick. Unfortunately, they didn't realize that both Markkanen and Harris should be playing the 4.
2023-24 season: The Sixers finally leaned into the 3-ball with LaMelo, Harris and Markkanen, but they were completely devoid of rim protection without Embiid or Horford in the fold. They also badly missed Simmons' defensive versatility, particularly when they ran into Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the Celtics yet again in the first round of the playoffs.
2024 offseason: Harris walked in free agency, leaving the Sixers with plenty of cap space and no one to spend it on. Word traveled around the league about the Sixers' behind-the-scenes dysfunction, causing the top-tier free agents to spurn them without even granting a meeting. The Sixers instead attempted to recapture their past glory, signing Jrue Holiday (heading into his age-34 season) to a four-year max deal.
From this point forward, the Ball-Holiday-Markkanen core kept the Sixers surprisingly competitive — they had competent guard play for a change! — but they weren't a legitimate threat to Tatum and the Celtics or the Giannis Antetkounmpo-led Miami Heat in the East. They effectively turned themselves into the late-2010s Orlando Magic: just good enough to sneak into the playoffs as the No. 7 or 8 seed and then get walloped in the first round.
After missing the playoffs in 2025-26, the Sixers pledged to reevaluate their front office structure, but they wound up re-hiring three of Bryan Colangelo's former deputies to eventually usurp general manager Elton Brand. Meanwhile, CEO Scott O'Neil seizeed control as the Sixers' shadow president, looking for win-now quick fixes to sell more season tickets.
The long-term planning that was a hallmark of the Sam Hinkie era was now a relic of the past in Philadelphia, as Brand realized the ColangeCronies are angling to take over as his replacement. Trade conversations with other franchises go nowhere, as rival GMs and team presidents genuinely have no idea who has final decision-making power on the Sixers.
In other words, the late-2020s Sixers are akin to the year 2020: Every time you think they can't get more depressing, they do.
They overcame the behind-the-scenes backstabbing to maintain some semblance of relevance throughout the decade, but in 2029-30, the wheels finally appear ready to fall off. Ball and Markkanen both have zero interest in re-signing with the Sixers when they become free agents the following offseason, which will leave them woefully devoid of top-end talent. They haven't found a Giannis or Kawhi Leonard-esque prospect with their assortment of late-lottery and mid-first-round picks, so they'll be left with a bunch of No. 4 options who are forced to cosplay as primary offensive threats.
In May 2030, Josh Harris and David Blitzer decided to sell the majority stake of the Sixers to Meek Mill, which is the first genuinely positive development for the franchise in nearly a decade.
Meek’s first act as new team governor? Rehiring Sam Hinkie.