Surprisingly, Sixers on fans' radar this summer

Posted: July 17, 2014

IT IS mid-July of another summer in which the Phillies are playing themselves into early irrelevancy, and that once meant only one thing:


As in those familiar chants heard at Citizens Bank Park as opponents put up another crooked number.

As in, the heightened anticipation of the start of training camp.

Polls, debates, discussions about personnel and promise, all filling in the cracks left by a Phillies team that might be so bad, it might not be wanted anywhere else.

E-A-G-L-E-S is happening again, of course. Training camp begins next week, but, geez, who doesn't know that? This summer, though, a new backup obsession has surfaced as well, one unfathomable to anyone who has observed this team's relationship with its populace over the years.

"Let's go, Sixers!"

Let's go, Sixers?

That's right. I heard the chant slightly during a Sunday afternoon game at CBP last month, and it was a little bit louder during Sunday's 7-1 loss to the Nationals. The Sixers won the Orlando Summer League title and are now mixing it up in Las Vegas, and Nerlens Noel is playing with the unfettered energy of a player who missed an entire season of basketball, and of a player totally confident about his recovery from that ACL tear.

But, geez, who doesn't know that?

And that's remarkable.

The idea of people talking about the Sixers during the season is preposterous enough. This is a franchise, after all, that has, over the years, used just about any marketing device to attract even a few more fans to fill their seats, from a wrestling bear to Bob Eubanks of "The Newlywed Game" marrying couples at halftime (sort of) to - my personal favorite - using actress Tanya Roberts as part of a "That '70s Show" promotion.

Anything to distract you from what was happening on the floor, unless we are talking about that magical time when Allen Iverson carried the team on his back to the precipice of an NBA title.

But with his decline and departure, the Sixers slipped back into their familiar territory of our sports landscape, the desert. Oh, there was always some muted interest during the draft, before the trade deadline and when big stars came to play against them. But those were brief spurts of light. Even in Iverson's era, even amid stunning victories and playoff wins, the Sixers shared space literally and emotionally with the Flyers.

In season. Out of season?

Here's your canteen. Death Valley is straight ahead.

That's not the case now. So piqued was the interest in those summer league games, that Comcast SportsNet and The Comcast Network decided to show even more of them.

Barring bouts of temporary insanity by an NHL franchise between now and September, the Flyers will open training camp with the same sort of cap and contract issues that have marked so much of the Sixers' self-sabotaged past. They would like to add more youth - if they could only get rid of some of these contracts.

The Sixers have done that. Emphatically, at the cost of last season and likely the one to come, if not the one after that. If there was any doubt they were planning to play another season with the goal of "procuring additional assets," it was eliminated on draft night when they again drafted a big man likely to miss most, if not all of this coming season, and used their second high pick to select a player under contract abroad for at least the next two seasons.

Rather than outrage, reactions to Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie's moves have ranged from overwhelmingly supportive to stoically analytical. Poll after poll indicates most of you are willing to wait out his plan, despite our reputation for impatience, and despite the undeniable fact that Hinkie - unlike say, Pat Gillick - has no track record for success as a GM.

Or that the handsome, media-friendly coach he hired has never been a head coach in either the NBA or college.

Then again, our current local landscape consists of four first-time general managers and four first-time professional coaches. So, welcome to our new world order.

Even those who are not aboard with the whole tanking approach - I mean, procuring-assets approach - are the polar opposite of indifferent. Many who have expressed to me their wish that the Sixers had taken Doug McDermott with that second pick instead of someone not due here until 2016 or later lace that criticism with hope. Even those who criticize the current makeup of the team - where's the shooter who will space the floor? - do so conceding the product may include that ingredient when Hinkie's finished.

Still, it's a lot of faith for this town, and for a franchise that hasn't exactly earned it over the years. Losing all those games last season was part of the plan. Creating an even bigger buzz about their future via that route, though, is something even Hinkie couldn't have planned for.

I think.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon


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