Smallwood: Embiid, Saric now officially part of 'The Process'

100616_saric-wizards_1200
Dario Saric tries to block the Wizards' Jason Smith.

EARLIER THIS WEEK, Joel Embiid asked longtime Sixers public address announcer Matt Cord to add his new self-claimed middle name "The Process" to his official introduction.

It didn't happen Thursday night when the Sixers played the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. It didn't matter.

After two seasons and 136 losses of waiting, Cord simply saying, "A 7-foot center from Kansas, No. 21, Joel Embiid" was all the crowd in South Philadelphia wanted to - no, needed to - hear.

It was almost enough to make the city forget that No.1 overall pick Ben Simmons was not in the building as he begins recovery from surgery to fix a broken bone in his right foot.

OK, I overexaggerated that. It will be a miserable number of months waiting for Simmons to get back on the court, but I digress.

Joel "The Process" Embiid???

Hmm.

Personally, considering the last three seasons of horrific basketball most associated with the Sixers' rebuilding program, I'd like to ban that expresssion, but if Embiid wants to be called "The Process," I'll oblige.

It's not as catchy as "The Big Aristotle" (Shaquille O'Neal) or "The Big Fundamental (Tim Duncan), but if Embiid can develop into half the big man as those two legends did, he can name himself whatever he wants.

If Dario Saric, the other lost-and-found member from the Sixers' 2014 lottery class, wants to come up with his own moniker, that's fine too.

Anything would be better than what they had been affectionately known as the last two seasons - "The If Brothers."

In truth, "The Process" might be the most appropriate nickname for Embiid.

As the No. 3 pick in 2014, the big man from Cameroon was the first prize from the Sixers' plan of tanking seasons to acquire high lottery picks.

For Sixers fans, the previous three years have consisted of looking down a long, dark tunnel at a pinpoint of light that required faith to believe it would move closer.

Even with Jahlil Okafor coming in last season as the third overall pick, the mystery of when or whether Embiid and Saric would arrive was a dark cloud hovering over the franchise.

Since Embiid missed his first two seasons because of two surgeries to the same foot and Saric spent two years playing in Turkey, Sixers fans have waited more than 800 days to see these guys play at home.

They needed a salve, and seeing these two guys play, especially with the injury to Simmons, provided that.

Officially, Embiid and Saric debuted as Sixers in Tuesday's preseason opener against the Boston Celtics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

The broadcast drew a 1.6 rating - the highest for a Sixers preseason game since 2011. Officially, that game was a home game for the Sixers.

Still, while schedule adjustments such as that are made well in advance, the club might have not have moved the game to UMass had it known Embiid and Saric definitely would play.

No matter, Thursday night's 125-119 double-overtime loss to the Wizards was the biggest meaningless basketball game in South Philadelphia since Oct. 26, 1996, when the building still went by its original name - CoreStates Center.

On that night nearly two decades ago, Allen Iverson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft, made his home debut for the Sixers in their only home preseason game against the Golden State Warriors.

It was the first basketball game in Philadelphia's new multi-purpose indoor arena. Iverson scored 17 in front of 11,016 fans.

Iverson, who just entered the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this summer, was a natural-born scorer, so to expect Embiid or Saric to put up points as he did would be unrealistic.

Saric had 14 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes, while Embiid, who is on a 12-minute limit for now, had five points, three rebounds and a blocked shot.

Of significance, Embiid played all of his 12 in the first half, which was a positive step in testing the stamina of his healed foot.

But it wasn't about the numbers Embiid and Saric put up. This simply was about them finally playing in Sixers uniforms in South Philly.

From the standpoint of anticipation, this was on par with Iverson's Philadelphia debut. The attendance was 10,440, only about 4,000 fewer than what the Sixers averaged last season.

"I think it was very important," said coach Brett Brown, who more than anyone has had to go on the faith that things will get better.

"These two players we're talking about have been in redshirt years where we draft them, but nobody sees them.

"We've talked about them and now, here they are. Both Dario and Joel come on the court and we see they are for real. Those are real players. They are young, and I expect them to be around a long time in this league."

Whether you agreed with the philosophy behind what the Sixers did, everything about it relied on hope for the future.

Two decades ago, a similar atmosphere surrounded the Sixers franchise. Then Iverson arrived and changed everything.

For the last two seasons, Sixers fans have waited for Embiid and Saric to play in South Philadelphia. Now the hope is that Thursday's debut is the start of era of basketball even better than what Iverson delivered.


smallwj@phillynews.com @SmallTerp