Philadelphia 76ers

76ers and fans have one objective now — winning

Washington guard Markelle Fultz looks to pass against Western Michigan in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

One of the byproducts of the Philadelphia 76ers’ tanking over roughly four years is that fans were stuck in an alternate universe where losing was to be accepted – celebrated, even – and winning was viewed as counterproductive.

Fans weren’t supposed to suffer heartbreak when a winning shot at the buzzer clanged off the rim. They were told it’s part of a better, master plan as losses mounted for the Sixers.

Much like many of the draft picks the Sixers acquired or surrendered during “The Process,” the pitfalls of losing also came with protections. It was OK to feel satisfied after a 20-point defeat. And when the Sixers won, fans were not supposed to know how or what to feel.

Such is life when happiness is measured not by victories but by pingpong balls.

That’s what makes the Sixers’ imminent deal with Boston for the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft – a swap of the No. 3 overall pick and a future first-rounder, per reports – more than just a landmark trade that should fortify Philadelphia’s nucleus and prepare it for an eventual postseason push.

Simultaneously, it’s a watershed moment for the city’s fan base, which has shown remarkable patience and resilience throughout a process that hasn’t exactly resembled a smoothly paved road. (Imagine that: Philadelphia fans and patience used in the same sentence.)

Joel Embiid, the third overall pick in 2014, missed his first two seasons with a foot injury that jeopardized his NBA career before it started. Embiid showed he was worth the wait, storming the league in 31 games this past season, but even that ended prematurely with a knee injury.

Ben Simmons, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, showed glimpses of those Magic Johnson comparisons in the summer league – which, ridiculously, became must-see TV around these parts – but broke his ankle on the final day of the preseason and missed the whole season.

The Sixers used the 12th overall pick in 2014 on Euro-stash player Dario Saric, a Croatian forward who played two seasons in Turkey and didn’t even commit to joining the Sixers until a few months before the 2016 season.

If the road hadn’t been littered with so many potholes perhaps Sam Hinkie, the general manager who set “The Process” in motion, would still have his job.

But the trade for this year’s No. 1 pick leads to Markelle Fultz, the consensus best player in the draft. So the only objective going forward will be collecting wins, not expiring contracts or draft picks.

With tanking in the rearview mirror, a return to normalcy is in store not just for the Sixers but their fans. And that means celebrating victories, grumbling over losses, and prioritizing playoff appearances over pingpong balls.

Geoff Mosher, a longtime Philadelphia sports reporter, is also a host on @975TheFanatic in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffMosherNFL.

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