Sixers have too much heart to tank

Posted: November 15, 2013

DON'T WORRY, "Tank City" proponents. The season is only 10 percent completed and the rigors of an 82-game NBA grind say it is highly unlikely that the Sixers can continue to succeed at the present rate that has them off to a shocking, 5-4 start.

Obstacles happen in a long season.

Of the active players on the roster, the Sixers have yet to face a significant injury to a key producer.

The schedule has been extremely friendly with seven of nine games at the Wells Fargo Center. The team has played two back-to-backs, but one was a 90-minute train ride from Washington back to Philadelphia.

But the landscape will change quickly.

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams, the early leader for rookie of the year, sat out Wednesday against Houston with a foot injury that doesn't seem too serious, but you never know.

Starting tonight in Atlanta, the Sixers have their first real road trip with games in New Orleans tomorrow and Dallas on Monday.

At the end of December, they make their first West Coast swing with stops at Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers, then begin the New Year in Denver, Sacramento and Portland. It's part of a season-long six-game trip.

January is their busiest month with 17 games, including five back-to-backs. After March 1, only nine of their final 22 games are home and they end the season with four of their last five on the road.

In other words, there is plenty of time and opportunity for the Sixers to be exposed as having made a sprinter's start in a grueling marathon.

When all is said and done, they will end the season having one the three worst records in the league and earn a top five pick in the 2014 draft.

That will be the reality of putting together an undermanned roster with little depth and experience.

The Sixers have shown that they will play with a lot of heart, energy and determination for rookie coach Brett Brown, but those intangibles can only compensate so much for inferior talent.

So while things don't look like they will be as bad as expected, the "Tankadelphia" manifest will ultimately produce the desired result - a high pick in a draft expected to be top-loaded with franchise-player prospects.

But what if the Sixers continue their magical run through the winter?

And what if president/general manager Sam Hinkie realizes the toxically negative effect that gutting a team contending for a playoff spot would have and doesn't ship every contributor except for Cater-Williams out of town at the trade deadline?

What if the Sixers do what they did last season, hover just below .500, just miss the playoffs and get a pick around No. 10 in the draft?

The world would not end. The Sixers' future would not be irrevocably ruined.

Nobody talks much about it, but there is a Plan B.

For the Sixers to maintain their current level of effectiveness throughout the season, a few positives for the future would have to happen.

First, Brown and his staff would have to coach their behinds off.

If Brown & Co. can coax 34 wins (last season's total) out of this group, it would unquestionably verify that Hinkie did indeed find the right coach and motivator to guide this program forward.

Since solid point-guard play is one of the most important components in today's NBA, Carter-Williams will have shown that he has the potential to be an elite one.

Swingman Evan Turner, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, and center Spencer Hawes, picked 10th overall by Sacramento in 2007, will have shown that they do have potential and their past underachievement might have been due to a bad mix with former coach Doug Collins.

Players like Tony Wroten, James Anderson and Lavoy Allen will have shown they can be counted on to add depth to the roster.

I am not being naïve about this.

I understand that the only thing worse than the Sixers finishing just like last season would be if they made the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed and then had to surrender their 2014 first-round pick to the Miami Heat to complete the 2012 trade for Arnett Moultrie.

What I'm saying is that if the Sixers win enough games so that they end up picking top 10 instead of top five, it doesn't mean the future is dead.

It would mean that you have more in the coach and current roster than you originally believed and would have a young nucleus to work with.

Rookie center Nerlens Noel, who will likely sit out this season, is akin to already having a top-five pick for 2014-15.

You probably won't get the next LeBron James or Kevin Durant outside the top five, but the depth of this draft should provide legitimate impact players past the 14 lottery picks.

In all likelihood what has happened so far with the Sixers is fool's gold; tanking will work and next June the city will be welcoming a talent like Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins, Duke swingman Jabari Parker, Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart or Australian guard Dante Exum.

But if it does end up like last season, you will have a talented coach, a developed young roster, Noel, plus a 2104 pick like Arizona forward Aaron Gordon, Kentucky forward James Young, Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III or Kansas guard Wayne Selden. That's not a waste.


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