How to Be a Fan of the Tanking 76ers
The Sixers are going to be bad this year.
Of course, you knew that. The Sixers may have the third-most victories and third-most playoff wins in NBA history — as the team reminded us in bizarre ad campaigns the last two years — but they are also frequently disappointing. It is a franchise that has turned Hall of Famers like Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham and Moses Malone and future Hall of Famer Allen Iverson into two NBA Championships. Two! That’s equal to the number of titles won by the Phillies, one of the worst-run franchises in sports history.
It’s going to be an odd season for the Sixers, so I’ve compiled a Q&A to help Sixers fans through this tank-tastic season.
Why are the Sixers trying to lose?
The conventional wisdom in pro basketball is that you need a superstar to win. TrueHoop, an ESPN NBA blog about the NBA, notes that, since 1986, every NBA title team but one has involved at least one of these 11 players: “Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant [and] Dirk Nowitzki.” (The 2004 Pistons are the exception. Yes, ex-Sixers coach Larry Brown led that team to a title and not Philadelphia. This is what being a 76ers fan is like.) The 2014 NBA Draft is thought to be exceptionally deep. So the Sixers are tanking in an attempt to land the first overall pick in the draft. They can’t say this, really, but it’s what they’re doing.
So should I be cheering for the other team?
No! Please, no. The goal of sports is to win. The Sixers are not going to win much this year, but there’s no need to suck the fun out of being a fan. The season’s just going to be weird. But, as a Sixers fan in the early-to-mid 1990s, I think I can help. Rooting for a bad team can actually be kind of fun! There are no expectations. There is no pressure. If the Sixers lose, eh, whatever, it happened. And the games where they pull off upsets are going to be a blast. The team will be excited. You’ll be excited. And that it’s coming with a supposed plan for the future to build makes the season even better.
So how are they going to lose? Start shooting into their own baskets?
No, though that would be awesome in a weird sense. The Sixers are going to try to win games this season, they’re just not going to be very good. In the offseason the Sixers made an attempt to plan for the future. They traded Jrue Holiday, the team’s 24-year-old All-Star point guard, to the New Orleans Pelicans for the rights to Nerlens Noel, a promising center from Kentucky, and a draft pick next year. Noel would likely have been the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, except he tore his ACL late in the college basketball season. He likely won’t play this year. They have a roster stocked with young players: All but one player was born after 1988. Every single person on the Sixers roster except Jason Richardson — who might not play — is younger than the 1987 NES game Double Dribble.
How bad are the Sixers going to be?
They are literally 9,999-1 odds to win the NBA Championship at LVH (née Las Vegas Hilton). The Sixers’ 16.5 over/under projected win total is “the lowest that LVH sports book oddsmaker Jeff Sherman can remember putting up on any NBA team in the last decade or so,” the Associated Press wrote.
I’d prefer an NBA Jam-aged team, but that’ll do. So they lose a ton of games, get the first overall pick and draft whomever they want?
Well, no, because there’s a lottery. But if the Sixers finish with the worst record in the league, they get the biggest chance at winning the lotto. Even if they don’t, the deep draft means they can get a solid player at the No. 2 or 3 selection also. The Sixers also have the No. 1 draft pick of the Pelicans — yes, the Hornets are called the Pelicans now — and that could land in the lottery, too.
Weren’t the Sixers in the playoffs two years ago? What happened?
The Sixers haven’t been horrible since Allen Iverson left in a trade in the middle of the 2006-07 season. They made the playoffs four times, advancing to the second round two years ago as the No. 8 seed after the Bulls’ Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the first playoff game. They pushed the Celtics to 7 games in the second round that season, so the idea was that they were just a piece away from contending. (The Sixers weren’t touching the Heat, but you get the idea.) But the Sixers’ trade for Andrew Bynum fell flat — he never played a game due to knee injuries — and they sputtered to the No. 9 seed. In the offseason, the Sixers parted ways with coach Doug Collins (replacing him with ex-Spurs assistant Brett Brown) and hired a new GM, Sam Hinkie, a forward-thinking stats dork formerly of the Rockets.
Rather than have yet another so-so year and be beholden to mediocrity, the idea is to trade valuable assets like Holiday for prospects and draft picks, then move forward with a young core.
Hmm, intriguing. Will it work?
Remember that 2007 season? Part of the idea of getting rid of Iverson was so the team could tank into the lower regions of the NBA to draft star center Greg Oden, a can’t-miss prospect from Ohio State. (It probably wasn’t going to happen, but it was an idea.) Turns out Andre Miller, who the Sixers acquired in the Iverson deal, was deceptively great. The Sixers won 35 games and drafted Thaddeus Young. This year, the Sixers have made sure that doesn’t happen by trading away an All-Star for a player who will not play this season and a draft pick, so they should avoid that fate at least.
Then again, Young turned out to be better than Oden, whose knee injuries have prevented him from getting on the court much in the NBA. Oden played just parts of two seasons with Portland and is now attempting a comeback with the Heat. The real prize of that draft turned out to be Kevin Durant, now starring with the Oklahoma City Thunder. There are some who question if tanking even works as a strategy. Cleveland tanked for LeBron James and he didn’t win a title there. The team that tanked for Kevin Durant was then based in Seattle. (Not that the Sixers are moving anytime soon, I hope.) The Jerry Stackhouse/Allen Iverson combo didn’t work out.
Of course, there’s a chance this particular strategy could work. Why not? There’s always the chance the guys the Sixers drafted this year will be great and the guys they pick next year are even better.
So who’s still on the team this year? Who do I watch for?
Of the players who received significant minutes over the last few seasons, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen are back. Of these, Young will probably be the best player, though he may be traded.
Yeesh. Any new guys?
Yes, this offseason the Sixers acquired every single player you’ve never heard of. The most exiting one is Michael Carter-Williams. Not entirely for his talent — he can’t really shoot — but because he’s Jrue Holiday’s replacement as the point guard of the future. He’s going to get a lot of minutes to learn this season.
Hmm. Okay, so they’re going to lose a lot and have a bunch of guys I’ve never heard of. Can’t hurt to start fresh. Anything else I should know?
Allen Iverson’s announcing his retirement this afternoon. The team will probably retire his number later this season.
Aw. Do you think he’ll do the Hulk Hogan cup-his-hand-to-his-ear thing?
Sounds great. When’s the first game?
Tonight, against the two-time NBA Champion Miami Heat.
Hey, you know, the Heat are playing the second night of a back-to-back… one can always dream.