Wednesday, March 26, 2014

O-and-Seventy-Six-er


I suppose I should wait to write this until after the 76ers have tied the record for longest losing streak in NBA history - and rest assured, they will. 30th in points allowed, 20th in points scored, bereft of the vast majority of experienced players they started the season with, they're simply awful.


And they're awful in a way that's particularly cringe-inducing, because, honest to God, you feel for these guys. There's a couple of vets and high draft picks in there, sure, guys who are supposed to be around when GM Sam Hinkie's Master Plan yields a Wiggins or a Parker or an Embiid in the draft and kicks the rebuild into high gear. But most of the Sixers are just...guys. Guys like 20 year old Tony Wroten, who looks like he couldn't keep a handle on the ball if there was a handle on the ball. Or 24 year old James "Mister" Anderson, a discarded first round pick of the San Antonio Spurs. Or 10 day contract guy James Nunnally, whose primary appeal was that he let the team jettison the ineffective Eric Maynor. 

Because it's the last/only chance for these guys. This is the worst team in the NBA, by a long shot, and what they're doing now is running pieces in and out to see who might be worth keeping around when Michael Carter-Williams comes into his kingdom. Past Philly, there's the D-League and there's Europe and points East. But this is the last stop on the NBA train, their final chance to prove they belong in the league. It's elimination night every night, or it might as well be, and watching dreams die with every missed dunk and missed assignment, every pratfall on the floor and no-look pass that goes into the stands, is painful. You want these guys to succeed. For God's sake, they've had shoes explode and their own floor trip them up on Allen Iverson Night. You want the Bad News Basketball Bears to pull it together and somehow find a way to win. 

But they can't, and they won't, because the NBA is a talent driven league and they're just not that good. 

I remember, when I was a kid, following the Sixers team that would eventually win the championship that got Dr. J's "We owe you one" off his back. I remember the discussion early in the season as to whether that team would challenge the record for most regular season wins (it got close). I remember Moses Malone intoning "Fo', fo', fo" and nearly making it stick. And the distance between that team and this one is nearly incomprehensible.

Which, in some ways, makes it easier. They're too bad to give false hope. They're unapologetic about the road they're on - descend into the Underworld of the lottery and emerge with a franchise-changing draft pick. They're not going to get close enough to inspire hope, and they're not going to get close enough to inspire heartbreak. They're just going to play hard, and lose, and occasionally slip on a commemorative floor decal and get splayed all over SportsCenter as a result.

Most of them aren't going to be here, and for the team, that's a good thing. They'll be replaced by better player, or at least newer ones. The team will be better. But that doesn't mean I can't watch this bunch of guys and pray for a miracle, if not for the team, then at least for some of them.
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