Last week, I flew nearly 2,500 miles—from Seattle to Philadelphia—to write what I thought would be a feature on a Sixers team ready to soar to new heights in the post-Process Era. But after watching the team stumble out of the gate to a 1-3 start, I began to realize I’d allowed myself to fall victim the same trap that gets so many sports fans…I let myself believe that my team was the exception to the rule.

Team building in the NBA is a complicated process, and unless a perennial All-Star free agent (or two) decides to up and take their talents to your city it’s usually a lengthy one too. From the Thunder, to the Warriors, to the Timberwolves, the recent history of the league shows us time and time again that young teams—even supremely talented ones—need adequate time to work through inexperience before they take the leap from potentially great to actually good. At worst, fans are inherently impatient, and at best they are unrealistically optimistic.

The three cornerstones of the Sixers’ rebuild—Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz—have played just 41 combined NBA games and only three together as a group. Still, that didn’t stop Las Vegas oddsmakers from setting the team’s 2017-18 over/under at 41.5 wins, a number that is higher than any Sixers win total since 2004-05. They bought the hype (or at least the gullibility of bettors). So did the fan base.

This summer the Sixers sold over 14,000 season tickets, the most of any team in the league, and they expect to sell out all 41 of their home games this year. But after the team opened the season 0-3, many formerly brash Sixers fans went into all-out panic mode, scouring WebMD in the hopes of finding a medical explanation for Markelle Fultz’s inexplicable shooting woes and wondering aloud whether or not coach Brett Brown was the right coach to lead the post-tank Sixers. One Embiid/Simmons-led win over the Pistons later, and some of that anxiety has been assuaged. But with basically an entire season to go, the Philadelphia faithful need to accept the fact that, despite all the preseason hype, the Sixers just aren’t ready to win yet. 

Philadelphia is the second-youngest team in the NBA, with a roster that averages just 24.7 years old. And not only are the Sixers young, but they’re a team that leans heavily upon its youngest players, with redshirt rookie Simmons and 19-year-old actual rookie Fultz splitting the brunt of the ballhandling duties. TJ McConnell, three years removed from going undrafted, is basically the Derek Fisher of the team’s point guard rotation. We all knew this heading into the season, but we overlooked it.

In a kind of backwards way, the Sixers should be thrilled that the Philly faithful are freaking out right now. Last season, the team opened the season 0-7. The year before, they lost their first 18(!!!) games. And the season prior to that, they started out 0-17. Sure, those Sixers teams were memed into oblivion as a result of their ineptitude, but nobody was all that surprised, especially not Sixers fans. This is the first season since the Andrew Bynum fiasco of 2012-13 that the team has had to deal with any real expectations, and the franchise looks drastically different today than it did then.

Five years ago, the Sixers were led by a three-headed braintrust that featured Rod Thorn, Tony DiLeo, and Doug Collins. They housed their practice court at a local medical college, forcing players to contend with intramural co-ed leagues when scheduling evening shooting sessions. They ranked 22nd in attendance, lower than that of any market Philadelphia’s size. And they limped to 34 wins while playing Spencer Hawes 30 minutes a night. Today, the organization has been professionalized from top to bottom, and for the first time since the Iverson years the Sixers aren’t an afterthought.

The Sixers are a team scarred by a half-decade of unwatchable basketball and unfathomable roster instability. It is in this period of post-traumatic growth that we’ll begin to see glimpses of what this team might look like once everything comes together.

Walking into the team’s brand new, 125,000-square-foot training facility for shoot-around on the morning of the Sixers’ 102-92 loss to the Celtics, the vibe was different than it had been in years past. And even if Embiid and Simmons are still learning to play together and Fultz is still figuring out how to shoot a basketball again, there was a cautious sense of confidence one could feel emanating from the players and the coaching staff.

“This is the most optimistic we all—and when I say ‘we all’ I mean the city, the organization, the fans, coaching staff, all of us—have been by a lot.” Brown said before reminding reporters that the team isn’t getting ahead of itself. I’m not sure they listened… and the fans certainly didn’t either.

It’s easy to have high hopes for this year’s Sixers. Joel Embiid is a bonafide star in the making. Ben Simmons looks awesome, as he did in the preseason, at summer league last year, and during his lone season at LSU. JJ Redick is the team’s biggest free agent get since Elton Brand. And Robert Covington, Dario Saric, TJ McConnell, and Richaun Holmes have all become valuable rotation players. By year’s end, these Sixers could look very different than they do today, and fans should keep in mind that patience has yet to steer them wrong in recent years. Process architect Sam Hinkie said “we’ll all know” when the end result has been achieved. We should be take him at his word and be honest with ourselves—we’re not there yet.

For a fanbase that in recent years has had to find joy in the development of JaKarr Sampson, Dario Saric’s EuroLeague highlight reels, and endless Tankathon simulations, the illusion of contention is certainly appealing. The fairytale story is that the Sixers—ugly, plump caterpillars that they once were—have spent the past four years patiently cocooned and will this year emerge as beautiful butterflies capable of reaching new heights. The reality is that while the rebuilding process may end when a team acquires the requisite number of franchise-altering prospects, that transition brings with it a new task: building.

The Sixers are a team scarred by a half-decade of unwatchable basketball and unfathomable roster instability. It is in this period of post-traumatic growth that we’ll begin to see glimpses of what this team might look like once everything comes together. They’re clearly not there yet, and we Sixers fans need to delay our satisfaction just a bit longer. We trusted Brandon Davies’ process, so we sure as hell should have the patience to trust Ben Simmons’ process.