PHILADELPHIA — The 76ers’ organization could have trademarked the term “The Process,” which describes the total reconstruction that began five years ago and finally will culminate with a playoff berth this season. With the Nets’ regime approaching the end of their second rebuilding season, coach Kenny Atkinson was asked if he ever sought advice from Philly counterpart Brett Brown, who had a 75-253 record his first four seasons.
Atkinson said he wouldn’t feel comfortable approaching a division rival but admitted he sees similarities. “I observed very closely their whole process,” Atkinson said before Tuesday night’s game at Wells Fargo Center. “Understanding our situation is a little bit different, but we’re really trying to take all the good things. Just Brett’s spirit . . . he just competed every single game. You respected how hard they played. We’re trying to simulate that.”
Effort has been the Nets’ trademark all season, but they were run off the court by a 76ers team playing without injured Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, 121-95. The talent gap was evident for the 76ers (47-30) as rookie of the year favorite Ben Simmons orchestrated a fast-paced attack, scoring 15 points with 12 rebounds and six assists while getting 19-point help from veteran JJ Redick.
The Nets (25-53) were led by Spencer Dinwiddie’s 16 points and former 76er Jahlil Okafor added 15. The got 13 each from former 76er Nik Stauskas and Joe Harris plus 10 from DeMarre Carroll, who left the game in the third quarter with a left hip strain. But they were pounded on the boards, 56-36.
Atkinson was understandably disappointed with the defensive effort, in particular, from his team, which yielded runs of 16-0, 13-0 and 11-0 to the 76ers and trailed by up to 30 points. “Philly was great,” Atkinson said. “From a physical and mental standpoint, we weren’t ready to play. It wasn’t there. We were just not engaged . . . It was a layup-a-thon.”
Atkinson’s caveat about the Nets operating in a “different situation” from the 76ers is critical. In five years of the 76ers’ Process,” they benefitted from eight first-round picks, including six lottery picks and four top-three picks, Embiid and No. 1 overall picks Simmons and Markelle Fultz.
Nets general manager Sean Marks inherited a cupboard left bare of draft picks because of an ill-fated 2013 trade with Boston. He was able to trade for late first-round picks to take Caris LeVert at No. 20 in 2016 and Jarrett Allen at No. 22 in 2017, and the Nets have Toronto’s first-round pick this June, which currently is No. 28.
Marks also swung deals that brought D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in 2015 from the Lakers, and Okafor, the No. 3 pick in 2015, and Stauskas, the No. 8 pick in 2014.
It’s impressive maneuvering, and Atkinson said the Nets have to treat Allen, LeVert and Russell as their lottery picks and develop them. But it’s not the same as having Embiid when he is healthy and Simmons, who is a dominant point guard. “they’re a juggernaut,” Atkinson said of the 76ers. “It’s great that they have continuity. They know what Brett wants and what they need to do. I’m jealous. They’re a program.”