It’s time to get on the couch again, Philadelphia. Time for another mental tune-up. Those old sports blues have got you down once more, and you see enemies at every turn, nefarious plots behind every perceived slight. Oh, I know. It isn’t just the losing – there are generations worth of collective suffering to cushion the actual losses – but the things being said about Philadelphia, and done behind Philadelphia’s back, those are what have you jumping at shadows and knocking on the doctor’s door.
Come right in. We’ve been expecting you ever since the 76ers put two top candidates on the NBA rookie of the year ballot, which is the team’s only shot for recognition at the moment. And where did Dario Saric and Joel Embiid place when the voting was announced? Well, yes, the answer was second and third. Figures, you said. Out to get us again.
Of course, when you are going up against the inimitable Malcolm Brogdon, that’s what happens. He might be the next LeBron James. In fact, in Milwaukee, they’re starting to call him LeBrog. And why not? The shooting guard averaged 10.2 points last season, getting 28 starts in 75 games, and that was enough to make him a runaway choice for rookie of the year. Taken at No. 36 in the 2016 draft, he was the lowest drafted player to win the award in 60 years.1
I’m not kidding about the “runaway” part. Brogdon got 64 of the 100 first-place votes, with Saric and Embiid dividing the other 36. In the final tally, with a 5-3-1 point system for the top three spots, Brogdon finished with 414 points, with 266 for Saric, and 177 for Embiid. The next highest total was that of Buddy Hield, who had 21 points.
Sure, just put it on the heap of disrespect directed entirely toward Philadelphia. Add it to the endless pile of insults, right along with all those network announcers who don’t like us, and those national writers who use us as a punch line, and the leagues that change their rules to conspire against us and keep us down.
My friend and colleague Mike Sielski wrote a column that postulated the rookie voting was perhaps part of an agenda bent on punishing the Sixers for their nasty Process. He cast the team as anti-establishment troublemakers in the eyes of league insiders, a sort of basketball Dirty Dozen that ignores the regulations adhered to by other outfits. I’d put Saric in the Charles Bronson role, and Embiid in for Jim Brown, with a cameo by Sam Hinkie subbing for Ernest Borgnine, but that’s just me.2
It was a passionate and well-argued column, although it overlooked the fact that the NBA awards are something of a broken process, and constructing an agenda within them would be like herding 100 cats into a dog kennel.
The voting system was overhauled recently to remove team employees (usually local broadcasters), because the collective bargaining agreement calls for some very significant contractual advantages based on certain awards. That made sense, but at the same time, the league cast its net pretty wide to find 100 “qualified” voters.3
I can tell you that Italy and China had twice as many voting representatives (2) than the Philadelphia market (1) in the rookie of the year contest. The good news, however, is we were still tied with Mexico, Argentina, Spain, and Indianapolis.
Inquirer beat writer Keith Pompey’s ballot put Saric, Brogdon, and Embiid in order of finish. And just to prove that there’s nothing wrong with including international journalists as the league attempts to “grow the game” globally, that was the same order selected by Marcelo Nogueira, a correspondent for Olé in Argentina. (Of course, Nogueira didn’t include LeBron on his five-man MVP ballot, but nobody’s perfect.)
It also turned out that Lisa Shen Yang of Tencent, a Chinese internet giant, was one of four voters who left Saric off the ballot entirely, preferring the stylings of Willy Hernangomez. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com, Kurt Helin of NBCsports.com, and Marc Kestecher of ESPN Radio also omitted Saric, however, so forget the international conspiracy. They were all just wrong.4
The fact is that not every crack in the sports sidewalk was put there to make Philadelphia stumble. Not everyone is out to get us. Sometimes things just happen, and in other cities, they shrug. Here, we shudder with rage.
This year’s rookie of the year voting was a blah affair. Brogdon and Saric mostly came off the bench. Their numbers were reasonably comparable. Brogdon shot better than 40 percent on three-point attempts and that might have done it right there. As for Embiid, 31 games isn’t going to get you rookie of the year. It just isn’t, although 23 of the 100 voted him first, including Hubie Brown and Jackie MacMullen, whose opinions I respect immensely, and Flavio Tranquillo, whose name I covet.
Add it all up, as they did, and the outcome wasn’t a conspiracy. It wasn’t an attempt to keep Philly down. It wasn’t a robbery from the cradle of liberty. It was just something that happened. And that’s all for today’s couch session. Fifty minutes goes fast when you’ve got anger issues. Work on shrugging more and shuddering less.
See you next week. Same time, different complaint.
1.Woody Sauldsberry, the 1957-58 rookie of the year, was the 60th pick of the 1957 draft, taken by the Philadelphia Warriors in the eighth round.
2.You probably have to go with Bryan Colangelo as Lee Marvin, but there’s no way Josh Harris gets to be Donald Sutherland.
3.I’ll spare you my usual rant about journalists’ taking part in award voting , which WE SHOULD NOT.
4.Hernangomez received eight third-place votes and maybe the Sixers should get some credit. They drafted Hernangomez in the second round of the 2015 draft (the pick was a throw-in from the Saric-Elfrid Payton-plus-first-rounder deal in 2014). The Sixers traded Hernangomez immediately to New York for two future second-round picks (2020 and 2021).