The danger when losses become blowouts

Posted: February 17, 2014

Two decades ago, another 76ers rookie coach endured two evenings similar to the ritual embarrassments suffered by Brett Brown last week as his stumbling, handcuffed team lost by 45 points to the Los Angeles Clippers and 43 to the Golden State Warriors.

The Sixers under Doug Moe in 1992-93 weren't trying to lose games, or at least they weren't supposed to be trying to lose them. Unlike Brown's team, which has been stripped down for the purpose of improving its draft position, Moe's team wasn't expected to be great as it recovered from the Charles Barkley trade, but it was expected to compete.

That didn't happen most of the season, however, particularly one January night in Sacramento, when the Sixers lost by 56 points, and again in early March, when another 56-point loss, this one at Seattle, marked Moe's final game. Owner Harold Katz had seen quite enough.

The Sixers quit on Moe, who was detached and didn't prepare them very well, looking ahead to a time when he had players more suited to his motion offense and read-and-react style of play. The Seattle loss was almost shameful as the Sixers moseyed around and the SuperSonics shot 63 percent from the field, even as coach George Karl, one of Moe's best friends, tried everything to keep from running up the score.

It was an ugly ending, just as the two Sixers losses last week, followed by a better effort (albeit another loss) against a bad Utah team, was an ugly way for the franchise to enter the all-star break. There are still 28 games to play and the very real possibility that things are going to get far worse before the season's blissful end on April 16.

The NBA trade deadline is Thursday. It wouldn't be surprising if the Sixers dumped at least one of their two expiring contracts, Spencer Hawes or Evan Turner, on teams looking ahead to the postseason, or even to package Thaddeus Young, who has one season and one player option year remaining on his contract, for the same purpose.

If the Sixers teeter every night on the edge of disaster with those three guys, imagine their play without one or more of them. The bench, which was outscored by 56-10 by the Jazz, doesn't offer much solace. There might not be an actual NBA player among the bunch.

Brown is not in the same position as was Moe, not even close to it, but there is still a danger if the team stops responding to his coaching. He works incessantly and preaches the message of sticking together and attempting to play with poise and integrity - if not ability - but those games against the Clippers and Warriors didn't stick to the script. The play disintegrated into a hodgepodge of forced shots (20 of which were blocked . . . 20!), foolhardy drives, and lackluster effort on either backboard and on defense.

Maybe the Sixers should be allowed such lapses now and then. They know the situation better than anyone, and summoning the professionalism to compete on a nightly basis isn't fun or easy. The all-star break gives them a respite, and then they return with five straight home games over two weeks that might allow them to get their legs back under them.

They still won't win many games, but perhaps they can avoid additional embarrassment on their journey to a place where the franchise has a future, even if most of the current players do not.

With their own draft pick, which should be among the top five, and that of the New Orleans Pelicans, currently somewhere around the 11th, and with the addition of center Nerlens Noel, the building will begin in earnest next season. Brown will be around for that process, regardless of how many eye-searing losses take place. But it would be better for Brown, and for the players who do survive the transition, if the coach was able to light at least small fires of optimism in the darkness.

We'll see about that one, and eventually learn if the process was worth the price. The top college prospects have seen their ratings shuffle this season, making the coming draft more of a crap game than was previously thought. Andrew Wiggins of Kansas is a great player at times, but scouts are starting to wonder about his intensity and commitment. Jabari Parker of Duke has all the drive and competitiveness, but isn't as gifted an athlete as Wiggins. And on and on. Julius Randle, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon. All of them reasonable names now, but how will they be viewed in three years, like Kyrie Irving or like Derrick Williams?

Betting on the development of unproven players is always dicey, and for the Sixers the June 26 NBA draft will come with a lot of excitement but no guarantees. (The contributions of Doug Moe, and Fred Carter, for instance, led the Sixers to the No. 2 pick in the 1993 draft, which, after declining to maneuver for either Chris Webber or Penny Hardaway, they used to select 7-foot-6 washout Shawn Bradley. Oops.)

Those draft decisions won't rest with Brett Brown, but with general manager Sam Hinkie, although the coach will then get the job of making the parts work together. After the pain of this season, Brown will be ready for that, and ready for a time when 45-point losses are not accepted as the cost of doing business.

Those are the kind of games that get coaches fired in normal seasons. Not this season, however, and not this coach. This isn't normal, but it would be all right if the Sixers did a better imitation of it than they did last week.


The Chase for the First Pick

                  No. 1 Pick   

   Team   W   L   Pct.   GB   probablity   

1   Milwaukee   9   43   .173   31.0      25.0%   

2    76ers   15   39   .278   26.0      19.9%   

3   Orlando   16   38   .296   25.0      15.6%   

4   L.A. Lakers   18   35   .340   24.0      10.35%   

5   Sacramento   18   35   .340   24.0      10.35%   

11   New Orleans*   23   29   .442   18.5      0.8%   

*The 76ers own New Orleans' pick in the draft

The Top Five Players

Player   Pos   Height   College

Joel Embiid   C   7-foot   Kansas

Andrew Wiggins   SG   6-8   Kansas

Jabari Parker   SF   6-8   Duke

Dante Exum   PG   6-6   Australia

Julius Randle   PF   6-9   Kentucky


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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