PHILADELPHIA -- James Brister has watched The Process unfold right in front of his eyes for the past three seasons. From his seats in the last row of Section 120 at the Wells Fargo Center, he has seen all of the growing pains, all of the roster turnover and all of the losses under Sam Hinkie.
"It's been tough. It's been tough," Brister said Friday night. "But all the consistent, hardcore fans have still been here."
Like most others who pay close attention to the Sixers, Brister wasn't overly surprised to hear that Hinkie stepped down as general manager and president of basketball operations late Wednesday.
"We knew it was coming," he said. "We bought into it, we bought into the plan. And it's sorry that they had to get rid of him before we saw the final product."
Brister's sentiment was echoed in several corners of the arena on Friday night -- the first Sixers game of the post-Hinkie era. Inside the locker room and in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center, players and coaches alike said that Hinkie might have laid the groundwork for a revival in Philadelphia.
"I think Sam put this team together thinking that with time, if we stick together, maybe it would pan out," Nik Stauskas said. "But obviously we'll never know fully what his end product was going to look like."
The product on Friday looked the same as it had through most of Hinkie's three-season tenure. The Sixers lost 109-102 to the Knicks, falling for the 13th time in 14 games. They are an NBA-worst 10-68 on the season and have dropped an NBA-high 196 games over the last three seasons.
So it's fair to call the Hinkie era in Philadelphia a failure, right? After all, he alienated agents and rival executives, failed to draft for need and oversaw what arguably was the worst three-year stretch in NBA history.
But some say it's too early to conclude Hinkie's tenure was a failure.
"I think in time we'll all better judge that," Sixers coach Brett Brown said Friday. "I feel like we stayed almost true to the course, true to our expectations, true to the plan, most of the years. ... I feel like in the light of day, down the road, we'll take a deep breath -- assess the Michael Carter-Williams trade -- and be far better judges [of the Hinkie tenure]."
Brown spoke to Hinkie on Thursday at the team facility shortly after the executive's resignation became public.
"I asked him, 'What do you think? What do you think about the free agents? What do you think about the draft?' " Brown said. "We talked about how it would have continued to grow the team."
Philadelphia will have up to four first-round picks in the draft this June and could have upward of $60 million in cap space this summer. The Sixers haven't been serious contenders for free agents, but Brown, maybe a bit optimistically, thinks players will consider Philadelphia this summer.
"I think if we're all honest it's going to be a challenge to get Kevin Durant to come to the Philadelphia 76ers. So we live in real time," Brown said. "If you're aspiring to jump into a championship team in Year 1 or 2, well, probably if we're all realistic, that's going to be a challenge [for the Sixers].
"We think we have a lot to offer from practice facilities, young players that have an upside that everybody recognizes, to the current players that we're growing. ... We're very confident that we can attract some free agents to come here."
Only time will tell if Brown is right. But it's hard to see Philadelphia landing any top-tier free agents.
Still, die-hard fans such as Brister are optimistic. The 45-year-old Philadelphian remembers rooting for Julius Erving and Moses Malone, for Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson. He sees brighter days like those ahead for the Sixers. And he thanks Hinkie for giving him hope.
"With all the draft picks, all the younger guys, we're looking up," he said. "So we've got to look forward to what Hinkie had laid out."