Sixers' futility won't melt away with winter

Posted: March 07, 2014

CAUGHT SOME of the Sixers game the other night. Not too much of course, because extended views can make winter seem longer, deepen depression, even leave your eyes overly sensitive to light.

But I watched the Thunder's 125-92 victory, the Sixers' 15th loss in a row, as long as I could, just to familiarize myself with players I might someday win a prize or free drink for identifying.

Maybe as soon as this summer.

That's when we're supposed to uncover our eyes again, I guess. That's when some of those draft picks that Sam Hinkie has compiled will become people, can't-miss stars to be combined with the ones already here, instantly transferring this team from that status of most hopeless to most hopeful.

That's the plan anyway.

But here's the thing. It's a lot of faith in guys who have never tried to do this before. And if you hate the New Jersey Devils as much as you do the Lakers, you're kind of hoping that Josh Harris goes one-for-two on this new franchise ownership kick of his, no?

The Houston Rockets won 160 games over a 3-year stretch in which Hinkie's data-driven approach was employed, but it will be through this experience, as the general manager calling all the shots, that the effect of his analytical approach will be easier to gauge.

Just one miss would be a big puncture wound. An Evan Turner-Jerry Stackhouse exacta and we're talking, well . . . Oh the humanity. And while Brett Brown coached a couple Australian Olympic teams and was lauded for his one-on-one work with San Antonio players, the idea that he is the right man to mold such a team of touted college stars into an NBA title contender is based more on hope than resume.

He already has had few tiffs with Carter-Williams, including an elongated one as Tuesday night's game got predictably out of hand. No big deal. Brown brushed it off as a byproduct of teaching, but he wouldn't be the first NBA head coach to be tuned out by an up-and-coming young star.

Ever hear the story about Doug Collins and Michael Jordan?

Larry Brown and . . . well, a lot of guys?

But as that Brown will tell you, those guys made the teams they coached better, at least for awhile. And as recently as two summers ago, Collins appeared to be the right man at the right time, having coached the Sixers to the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals without the big man that he would now have in Andrew Bynum.

"If you look at the pieces we had, with [Mo] Harkless and [Nikola] Vucevic and Jrue [Holiday] and Dre [Andre Iguodala] and Thad [Young] and Evan [Turner] and Spencer [Hawes], there were a lot of good, young pieces. It's a shame the Andrew Bynum thing didn't work out. It was nobody's fault. It just didn't work out."

That was Collins in October, after he signed on with ESPN to become an analyst.

The other day ESPN's Chad Ford released yet another incarnation of how the NBA draft would go and how next year's Sixers roster would look, projecting a starting five of Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young, Nerlens Noel, Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins and Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh. There also are all those second-tier picks obtained via the latest fire sale, and that $30 million of cap space by which to lure free agents.

It's all so, well, so . . . hopeful.

And it's yet another reason to wish this endless winter would end.

It won't, of course. Not for another 5 weeks anyway. There are 21 games left to play, 21 more opportunities for Carter-Williams to develop, or gain valuable NBA experience, or whatever remaining spin there is to give. But it's the only thing to watch with this team, Carter-Williams passing the ball to future trivia questions, Brown coaching him up, the quotes about sharing the ball and getting better every day piling up along with the losses.

The coach's ceaseless optimism is refreshing and admirable, even if the last 6 months seem to have aged him more than a first-term United States president.

Someone recently pointed out to me that 4 years after the Sixers set the NBA mark for futility with their 9-73 season in 1972-73, they went to the NBA Finals. Thing is, the guy said it with a whole lot of hope in his voice, as if 4 years was not a long wait, as if just making the Finals again would be reason for a parade.

I suppose it would. But I wonder what the winters in between were like, whether watching the team made you feel warm inside - or beg on your hands and knees for the snow to melt and go away.

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

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