The ‘to tank or not to tank’ debate bombarded Sixers World for the last 15 months or so, and thank god it’s over. Hopefully forever.
The Sam Hinkie Plan™ prevailed and thanks to a mostly torturous (though occasionally exciting) 63-loss campaign, Philadelphia has 199 of the 1,000 ping pong ball combinations in the upcoming lottery. If the Sixers nail their two first-round picks, sign all the right free agents, and stay healthy, they’ll have a championship in 2021. Or something like that. The future looks a bit brighter, because they stunk this year. We suspect.
But let’s not ignore the opportunity cost of this tanked season. The Sixers could have been buyers last summer, taking advantage of their cap-conscious competitors by investing in a Monta Ellis or an Al Jefferson. In a weak Eastern Conference – with a good coach, and the right, cheap supporting cast – that’s all it might have taken to become a threat against every non-Heat team.
The Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards – franchises laughed at for their shortsightedness – are enjoying extended playoff runs. The Nets sold whatever was left of their future assets for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (and Joe Johnson, the year before). The Wizards acquired the pricey Nene Hilario last season and used a first-round pick to land Marcin Gortat before this season. Their moves have worked out. So far.
The Sixers sold all their assets, leading to predictably lousy season. That’s OK. It was by design. They had no intention of sneaking into the NBA playoffs, which are anything but a crapshoot, unlike the postseasons for the MLB, NHL, and (single-elimination) NFL. (Hey! There’s actually math supporting this, via the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective.) So, why show up if you can’t win?
Still, there’s something to be said for getting into the tournament. I’m located in Washington, D.C., and I’ve heard more Wizards talk in the past month than I had in the past year. Yes, Washington trails the Pacers 3-1 and is all but finished, and if they do miraculously win the next three, they’re not beating the Heat. Not to mention, the talented John Wall-Bradley Beal core can only take the cap-strung Wizards so far. I know it, you know it, Zach Lowe knows it, and the kids wearing the John Wall shirseys playing pickup basketball know it.
But that doesn’t make their postseason run any less enjoyable.
The Sixers could have been the Wizards. (Again, because the Eastern Conference is shitty). In fact, they were two seasons ago, when they beat the Bulls (sans Derrick Rose and with a hobbled Joakim Noah), then took the Boston Celtics to seven games. That Doug Collins squad – with Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, and Evan Turner in the starting lineup – was almost playing in June. Hell, it was one LeBron James freak injury from making the NBA finals. THE NBA FINALS.
Point is, it’s fun having a team to cheer for in the NBA playoffs, whether or not that team is going anywhere. Also, shit happens; underdogs can pull off upsets, and stars get hurt. There’s value in simply getting into the tournament. But by sacrificing the 2013-14 season, the Sixers robbed their fan base of that potential playoff run. Maybe it’d have lasted a week, maybe a month. This blogger would have been enjoyed every second of it.
Will Andrew Wiggins or whatever rookie they land make this lost season worth it in the long-term? Possibly. Probably. But who the hell knows. Nineteen-year-olds are unpredictable. Free agents are too. The only certainty is that the Wizards are playing tonight, the Nets are playing tomorrow, and the Sixers are playing the lottery next Tuesday. I’ll be watching all three.