The national basketball media remains fascinated with the Philadelphia Experiment being carried out by GM Sam Hinkie. Largely, they're against it - in their minds, it is nobler to strive endlessly for mediocrity (with the implied "and then get out of the way for the glamour teams" that goes with it) than attempt radical reconstruction in an attempt to improve themselves. But interestingly enough, the fans in Philadelphia have largely ignored the doom-and-gloom narrative around the team, which may in fact be some kind of first. Here's five reasons that's the case:
- They're interesting to watch. Note that "interesting" does not equate to "good". But on any given night watching the Sixers, you are liable to see something fascinating that may not have ever been done on an NBA court before. Maybe it's Nerlens Noel doing his best Mt. Motumbo impersonation. Maybe it's Isaiah Canaan doing whatever he does on the court that neither he nor anyone else can identify but which surely has never been seen before. For a while it was Tony Wroten going to the rim like a starving wolverine going after a lamb chop. It's always something.
- They have a plan. It might not be a good plan. This whole "stockpile high draft picks" thing never worked for the Elgin Baylor era Clippers, after all. But it is a clearly defined plan, and it has been communicated as such. Compare that to the Eagles, where Chip Kelly is displaying all the self control of the guy who's drunk by round six of your fantasy league draft and suddenly realizes that yes he does indeed need to fill every position, or the Phillies, where Ruben Amaro Jr. is taking potshots at his own players, or the Flyers, where...wait, what are the Flyers actually doing? I have no idea. So for Sam Hinkie to come straight out and say "We are doing this" is a refreshing dose of straightforward information in a town where that's in short supply.
- The national media has made the team a punching bag. Which, of course, immediately riles up the fan base in a way normally seen immediately before pyroclastic flows. Yes, the Sixers are terrible, and they are designed to be that way. But the relentless infantile bullying (see: Deadspin) of the Sixers, the gratuitous schoolyard insults, well that raises a certain protective instinct. In a town that's still getting pilloried over an incident from 1968 - yes, that's when they threw snowballs at the drunk skinny kid in the crappy Santa costume but those snowballs are now old enough to legally run for president so maybe it's time to give it a rest - there's always a contingent ready to rise to the defense of the hometown side. And that goes double when the broadsides are being launched by snotty New Yorkers whose own team is awful without the benefit of having been deliberately constructed that way.
- They're not that bad. Before the season, people were wondering if the team would set a league record for losses. When they opened the year up on an epic losing streak, that talk got louder. But since then, they've just been run of the mill bad. They've beaten the Cavs and the Wizards and the Hawks. They've taken the Thunder and the Grizzlies to OT. They're generally in every game. In short, they're out there playing actual basketball instead of just going full Washington Generals every night. And that's worth something.
- They're better than the Knicks. And that means everything.