Sixers would rather be good than be liked

Sam Hinkie did such a good job of making the 76ers bad that some folks in the NBA are angry.
Sam Hinkie did such a good job of making the 76ers bad that some folks in the NBA are angry. (C.F. SANCHEZ / Staff)
Posted: August 04, 2014

It isn't easy to build the best basketball team in the NBA, but it's no snap to construct the worst one, either, and the 76ers, after the trade deadline last season, not only achieved that latter goal but might have fielded the least-talented team in the history of the league.

Twenty-three players saw minutes for the Sixers and, by process of elimination, that means one of them was the worst player on the worst team ever. In a season of distinction, that would be quite a distinction in itself, and there was a large pool from which to choose.

You can't blame James Nunnally or Darius Johnson-Odom or Jarvis Varnado or Eric Maynor for the circumstance in which they found themselves, but when you're riding the bench for the 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers, it might be time to contemplate a career change.

Or consider the season of Lorenzo Brown, a guard who was sent to the D-League Delaware 87ers and then brought back six times between Dec. 26 and Feb. 5 before being cut in March. That much time on I-95 gives a man a lot of time to think. For his part, Brown thought he might prefer Italy and just signed with Reyer Venezia, which will be attempting to win its first title since 1943. At least if he gets sent to the Italian D-League, it will be by boat this time.

General manager Sam Hinkie did such a good job of getting bad that some folks in the NBA feel the Sixers rubbed their faces in it. It didn't help when owner Josh Harris declared the 19-63 season "a huge success," which was a tad giddy for what had just transpired. (Harris did quickly say he doesn't like losing and even had to take guff about it from his doorman. And if there's anything to which Philadelphia sports fans can relate, it is the sting of being chided by the doorman.)

Commissioner Adam Silver called the tanking of a roster, as opposed to the intentional tanking of individual games, "a legitimate rebuilding of franchises," but also said, "The fact that fans may see it another way is very [much a] concern to me."

In other words, there was way too much talk about tanking to suit the commissioner, and one league executive told The Inquirer's Keith Pompey that the Sixers were having a "negative effect on the integrity of the NBA." Plus, people didn't like the general merriment that has accompanied the process. So, the Sixers are probably getting slapped down a little bit when the league's board of governors considers another tweak to the draft lottery system in October.

Since the lottery's inception in 1985, when the system was unweighted and all non-playoff teams had an equal shot, every change has represented a move that favored the lousiest teams, which diluted the original intent of the whole thing. That also led, pretty directly, to the logic behind Tankadelphia. This time, if the proposed change is passed, the pendulum will swing back the other way. As written, the odds of the worst team getting the top pick will be more than cut in half, and it will be possible for that worst team to fall to the seventh pick.

The Sixers are fighting the change, of course, because they fight for every advantage, big and small, and because the front office fully intends to have the team back in that lottery next year. Maybe it isn't pretty, but it is a strategy, and there's nothing the league can do about it except lower the odds that it will succeed. That's what will probably happen at the meeting of the board of governors. Harris, the team's representative, will object, but he might not have a lot of friends in the room. Don't be surprised if one of the other owners even calls the lottery change "a huge success."

In the long run, Hinkie and the Sixers are a lot more concerned about being good than about being liked, which is fortunate because the league seems intent on putting impediments in their path. The game of basketball might have some unexpected roadblocks of its own - if Dario Saric turns out to be more Darko Milicic than Toni Kukoc, or if Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel can't stay healthy, or if Michael Carter-Williams never learns to shoot the ball.

Nothing about the team's plan is assured, except that the Sixers wouldn't have a future without the plan. They have been a little obvious about it - drafting two guys in the lottery who won't play this season is a nice example - and so there are consequences they have to endure as a result.

Enduring is what the current phase is all about. But someday, if everything works, it might even be worth discussing which player on the team is the best instead of killing time by wondering which is the worst.


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