1.The 2013-14 Sixers will …
Daniel Christian: Be remembered for pioneering and perfecting the art of tanking. They accumulated young assets in need of playing time, they buffered the rest of the roster with fringe-NBA players, and they traded away two of their three best players at the deadline for next to nothing in terms of immediate help. This team will long be recognized as one that management unabashedly threw down the drain in hopes that the future assets allow the cultivation of a distant, young and sprightly core.
Angus Crawford: Have used the highest number of players for a single season roster in NBA history. As of the addition of Casper Ware, Philly have filtered through 27 different names for their roster contingent, 22 of whom have seen minutes as a Sixer. There doesn’t appear to be an official record for this (the 2009-10 Washington Wizards are the suspected clubhouse leader), yet this stat alone is indicative of the topsy-turvy, random nature of the playing personnel behind the 16-59 record.
Eric Goldwein: Change the NBA lottery system. We’ve seen instances of “tanking” — or whatever you want to call it — but none so obvious as this. Perhaps it’s because fans/spectators have more awareness of what’s going on, but this tanked season, more than others, is exposing the league’s broken incentive system and how it discourages teams from maximizing their regular season wins. For the sake of March/April pro basketball, let’s hope that there’s some longterm good — other than a No. 1 overall pick — that comes out of this wasted season.
Wesley Share: End up being the team that pissed off too many executives and got the lottery system changed. Tanking and the incentives to tank reach far beyond the lottery system and the draft, unfortunately, but the league will probably never recognize that, because it’s far more complicated to take the cap off of contracts than it is to change the lottery system.
Tom Sunnergren: Go down in the record books at the team that tanked so blatantly, so egregiously, that it forced the NBA to confront a great evil and rejigger its incentive system. This is the NBA’s Kitty Genovese moment.
2. The ESPN forecast panel ranked the Sixers front office 24th, which is BS, but where would you rank Josh Harris & Co.
Christian: The Harris and Hinkie combo is definitely in the better half of the league. It seems a messy game attempting to accurately place this front office among its peers, if only because there is so much ambiguity that persists about the successfulness of their vision. That vision is great and the implementation so far shows conviction and an impressive knack for swinging economically-sound deals and trades, but if all of this blows up and sets the franchise back a few years, well then maybe these guys were right. But given what we’ve seen from Hinkie so far (i.e. the Holiday trade, drafting MCW & Noel, and the incredible amount of draft picks that have been stockpiled), I think it’s safe to assume he’s a savvy guy and has the franchise moving in a smart direction.
Crawford: ESPN placed Josh Harris at 21st in their ranking of team owners, and Sam Hinkie at 15th for executives, which is why the Sixers’ “front office” standing is somewhat peculiar. What should we value more, prior successes, or a clear foundation with potential? Based on the trajectory of the franchise since Harris & his consortium took over in 2011, I’d have them fixed somewhere in the 12-15 range. The direction and transparency is there, it’s just a matter of how everything pieces together for the organization (and not simply the team) over the next 3-5 years. Tanking and poor product aside, I’m sure the Sixers’ brass would like to arrest the continually slumping home attendance rates (67.4% of capacity this season, 29th in the league). Goldwein: Top 10. On the one hand, I agree with most of the front office’s decisions since taking over; dealing Jrue Holiday for Noel and a pick, picking up cheap prospects, not handing out massive contracts, investing in analytics, etc. On the other hand, the organization is yet to accomplish anything. Losing games is easy, taking risks on minimum level borderline NBA players is easy (when there aren’t regular season games at stake), trading Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes for scraps is easy. The real challenges begin this summer.
Share: At least in the top-half. They’re behind the Nuggets and Kings for christ’s sake.
Sunnergren: I’ve got more than a little homer in me, but, frankly, there isn’t an ownership/GM combo I’d rather have running my team. Hinkie may well be a genius, and Harris and his cohort are smart enough to recognize this and give their genius-in-residence sufficient latitude to do genius stuff.
3. Was that game-and-a-half of not terrible basketball (Detroit, 1/2-Atlanta) a fluke, or a sign of things to come?
Christian: I lean closer to fluke, but really it wasn’t much of either. Detroit is in a free-fall that is almost as ugly as Philadelphia’s was and maybe the Sixers rode some of that momentum into the first half against the Hawks. Either way, does anything we see for the rest of the season really matter? If the 76ers win almost any game, it’s a fluke strictly because of talent disparity. That doesn’t mean that they can’t execute well for a game or two at a time, though.
Crawford: Neither. It shouldn’t appear as some kind of blip on the radar, nor should it be symbolic of a reversal of fortunes from here on out. Five of the remaining seven games are on the road, and three of those are against quality, above-.500 outfits (Toronto, Memphis, Miami). Perhaps barring a pair of games against Boston, there’s still a significant chance that Philly loses out. That shouldn’t discourage or disqualify the “not terrible basketball,” though. Prior to the streak-halting win over the paltry Pistons, four of the Sixers’ six most recent losses had been by single digits, so it was a progressive climb of the mountain to victory. It’s elementary; a hopelessly undermanned squad such as this, albeit with admirable effort, is going to be outmatched almost universally.
Goldwein: That was for real. The Sixers, quietly, have been playing some respectable basketball over the last few weeks, with close(ish) losses to the Bulls (twice), Pacers (twice), Knicks, and Hawks — the latter of which are, sadly, playoff contenders. While there were a lot of things going their way in the Pistons win — primarily, that Detroit is horrendous — that’s what the Sixers can look like if they’re shooting well (12-21 3pt), and their opponent checks out. It wouldn’t shock me if that happened a couple more times this season.
Share: Eh, not sure it was much of anything, but if anything it was a fluke. Detroit might actually be worse than the Sixers and the Hawks are spiraling out of the playoff picture. I take all good signs of basketball from the Sixers with a grain of salt since they have two or three NBA players.
Sunnergren: It was a fluke.
4. The Charlotte Bobcats allegedly tanked the 2011-12 season to position draft Anthony Davis. They ended up with the second pick — Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — but was it worth throwing away a season for a 25 percent chance of landing an eventual superstar?
Christian: The Bobcats were going to be very bad that season regardless of any purposeful tanking and barely had to gut their roster to move from seventh in the East to bottom-feeder. When you’re already going to be that terrible, might as well throw yourself at the ping pong balls. Maybe the consolation prize isn’t as nice as the big blue ribbon, but it is better than a mid-round pick.
Crawford: What is the likely alternative to this scenario? Were those barren Bobcats ever going to come within an arm’s reach of the postseason? I highly doubt it. It is not always necessarily about the name attached to the pick, it’s about collecting assets. Sure, MKG or Cody Zeller (Charlotte’s 2013 lottery pick) may not carry elicit the same zeal as a supposed franchise-changing prospect, but that doesn’t alter their status as “valued” rotation pieces on impossibly diluted rookie-scale contracts. You’re not always going to hit a home run on a top five, six, or seven selection (and the Sixers may learn this), yet it makes a great deal of sense (and is a lot comfier) to stash these types of commodities, rather than pushing for a lower playoff seed and clogging the cap sheet with veteran fillers.
Goldwein: Yes, but that’s more a testament to Anthony Davis than anything else. At the time, he was a borderline lock to become a superstar and he’s living up to the hype two seasons in. I don’t know exactly how the expected values would measure up, but I suspect 1/4 of Anthony Davis is worth more than whatever a 34-win season would have returned.
Share: Well, that’s not really a fair question. The Bobcats were going to be awful regardless. They didn’t just decide to be bad and throw away a potentially good season for Anthony Davis or something. Even if they did, what’s the alternative? Hop in the playoffs as an eighth seed and pray DJ Augustin and/or Tyrus Thomas develop into stars? (they didn’t)
Sunnergren: If the Sixers were in a position to win, say, 45 games, establish themselves as risers in the East and maybe make a move or two on the free agent market, no. It would not be worth throwing that away. That’s not what the alternative was here though. The Sixers were going to be bad either way and they made the, I think smart, decision to be flamboyantly terrible. Good for them.
5. Who is your player to watch in the Final Four?
Christian: DeAndre Daniels. The Kentucky kids will get most of the NBA attention, Shabazz Napier too. Maybe even Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin. But Daniels has been huge for UConn and seems like he could put together an NBA future. He’s a long four who can stretch the floor and rebound. I’ve been intrigued ever since he lit Iowa State up for 27 points in the Sweet 16.
Crawford: Shabazz Napier. I’m inclined to focus on Sam Hinkie’s war chest of second round picks. Napier is undersized at 6-1, and will turn 23 shortly after the Draft, although I’m still intrigued by his tournament play. His shotmaking and admiralship of this UConn team has vaulted him from a chance at being undrafted to a possible late-first round pick, and there is literally nothing on the table for Sixers at either reserve guard spot right now. Provided that his recent showings aren’t an outlier or a red flag, I think a guy who has nudged 40% on 3FG’s for two straight college seasons and can put up points quickly could squeeze into Brett Brown’s go-go system as a hybrid/tweener bench scorer quite nicely. Oh, and he doesn’t play a lick of defense, either, so it’s a match made in heaven.
Goldwein: Shabazz, for no other reason than that he’s your quintessential Final Four senior point guard; good enough to dominate college competition, but lacking the attributes (height, athleticism) that would have had him declaring for the NBA draft as an underclassman.
Maybe the scouts were wrong, and he’ll end up thriving at the next level. In all likelihood, though, this is his last chance as a star. It’s his final shining moment, if you will.
Share: Shabazz. Scouts will have their eyes on him, and I really think he’s got a place in this league. It’s probably as a two guard, though.
Sunnergren: Julius Randle. I watch college basketball almost exclusively to get a closer look at guys who could make waves in the NBA. And Julius Randle, while he’s disappointed a few analysts with his pedestrian athleticism, could still be that kind of guy.