Sunday, December 21, 2014

Nixer the Sixer

There's nothing funnier in sports right now (with the possible exception of the Atlanta Braves' stadium shenanigans) than the tsunami of outraged think pieces about how bad the Philadelphia 76ers are.

And yes, they're bad. Legendarily bad. Historically awful, if you want to be honest. The youngest team in league history, they're the result of a clearly defined strategy to tear the roster down to the foundations and rebuild by being awful and getting several years of high draft picks. So far, they've done two out of three: they've been awful and they've gotten high draft picks. The rebuild, they're still working on - this year is still firmly in the "Be awful" pile.

In a way, they're the ultimate "Moneyball" franchise. Ownership has figured out that once you get stuck in the NBA's middle class, scrapping for an 8 seed, there's no way out. You're good enough to get lousy draft picks, not good enough to advance, expensive enough to not have room for quality free agents but forced to overpay for the guys who made you merely decent. And unless you're a destination city, the odds of you ever landing an impact free agent are pretty much nil. So the only way out is through the bottom, and they're just being painfully inefficient about it.

Most of the outrage is coming from outside of Philadelphia, where the fans have bought into this approach because, hey, the alternative is an endless replay of the Clarence Witherspoon years. Instead, it's national sports media folks wailing that the Sixers aren't "entertaining" or "keeping the contract with the fans."

News flash: watching whatever the hell it is that Tony Wroten does on the basketball court is plenty entertaining. Is it good basketball? Probably not. But it's entertaining as hell. And by being honest with the fans about the plan, the contract with the fans is kept.

Of course, there's one other thing that's an unexpected benefit from all this: someone's finally writing about the Sixers. In a media market where they'll still be leading with stories on how Kobe feels about curly fries six years after the guy retires, it takes an act of God to get any NBA media attention focused on a team that isn't one of the chosen few. (When was the last time you saw a story about the Bucks that wasn't stadium-related, for example?)

But now, thanks to the rebuild, there's more ink being spilled on the Sixers than there has been since the days of Moses and Dr. J. They are getting noticed.

Which is a nice change - and a good laugh. And if the plan works and in three years a Saric-Noel-Embiid-Carter-Williams lineup makes some noise, well, that will be a nice change, too.
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