'Trust the Process': Comparing Washington's operation with 76ers' rebuild under owner Josh Harris



Washington Commanders owner Josh Harris is no stranger to acquiring a destitute sports franchise and setting the course for drastic changes. In 2011, Harris purchased the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, and it was not long before he began cutting the margins. 

The 76ers dabbled in mediocrity during the 2011 and 2012 NBA regular seasons before the franchise embraced a total rebuild. It hired Sam Hinkie as general manager, and his first action was to trade the team’s highest-scoring player, Jrue Holiday, in exchange for draft compensation. The hair cut continued with Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, Lavoy Allen and others falling to the barbershop floor. Those veterans were primarily replaced by cheap talent from developmental leagues as the team leaned into the idea of tanking to receive early draft compensation. In 2013, it tied the league record for the most consecutive losses (26) in a single season — a record that stood until the Pistons broke it a few months ago. Leadership began to promote the idea of “Trust the Process” with first-year head coach Brett Brown, who had spent the previous seven seasons alongside legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

Philadelphia had a top-5 pick in each year from 2014-17 and used those selections to add the following players: Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. The plan should have delivered big results, but the execution was poor. Still, during the 2017-18 season, the franchise finished with a record above .500 for only the second time since the 2004-05 campaign. The 76ers are now on pace to make their seventh straight postseason appearance.

In 2023, Harris purchased the Commanders from Daniel Snyder. There is not as much work to be done in regards to depleting resources because Snyder did most of the leg work in making that franchise undesirable. 

A year ago, Washington mostly monitored free agency from the sideline. Offensive lineman Andrew Wylie and Nick Gates were the only two incoming free agents who signed three-year deals with the organization. Eleven other players signed one- to two-year deals, which allowed Harris, who officially bought the franchise on July 21, to take inventory of his new investment, including the head coach and general manager. 

Edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat — both pending free agents — were traded midseason in exchange for Day 2 selections. Washington now enters this offseason with five top-100 choices in the 2024 NFL Draft, as well as the most salary cap space in the NFL ($83.5 million). That’s roughly $10 million more than the next closest, according to Spotrac.com. 

When the season concluded, the Commanders were 4-13 and held the rights to the No. 2 overall selection in the 2024 NFL Draft — a prime position to draft a quarterback and the future figurehead of the organization. Head coach Ron Rivera was fired and the front office was re-structured to make room for new general manager Adam Peters, who has been credited with assisting in the construction of some of the best Patriots and 49ers rosters over the past two decades. 

A head coaching hire is all that stood between Washington being able to move forward with its own process. Initially, it was believed that Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was the favorite to fill the role — a first-time head coach similar to Brown being hired by the 76ers. For one reason or another, that union did not make it to the alter. The Commanders turned to Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who has a 46-44 career record having previously served as a head coach with the Atlanta Falcons from 2015-20. 

After Brown dealt with those lean 76ers years, the franchise turned over the on-court operations to long-time NBA head coach Doc Rivers in 2020 with the hopes of adding a penthouse to its construction project. Given its resources, Washington may be closer to making a quick turnaround than Philadelphia had been. 

At No. 2 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft, the Commanders may be able to identify their own Joel Embiid. USC quarterback Caleb Williams, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye and LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels are expected to draw heavy consideration from the organization. Additional draft picks and salary cap space should allow the Commanders to supplement the roster in short order.

Constructing an NBA roster is different than its NFL peer as one or two elite players can make the world of a difference year-over-year in the NBA, but fans may be able to draw parallels between the rebuilding efforts in Philadelphia and now Washington. 

Trust the process.





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