John Smallwood | Can't turn to Sixers or Flyers for thrills

THE PROBLEM with a magic-carpet ride is that destiny generally jumps off when a better story line comes along.

The Saints providing a positive distraction while New Orleans recovers from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina trumps the Eagles winning without Donovan McNabb every time.

So now, with dreams of Super Bowl XLI no longer dancing in our heads, the desolate winter wasteland of Philadelphia sports is back in clear view.

It is not a pretty sight.

With the pathetic state of the Sixers and Flyers, the day that Phillies pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater can't come soon enough.

After winning just 38 games and missing the playoffs a year ago, the Sixers should be rebuilding.

Still, it took another miserable start and a trade demand by Allen Iverson before Sixers president/general manager Billy King finally saw the writing on the wall and pushed the detonator.

Trading Iverson to the Denver Nuggets was absolutely the right move for the long-term prospects of the franchise.

That said, welcome to rebuilding. It's as ugly as advertised. Building for the future inherently cripples you for the present.

The Sixers have taken to heart the notion that you have to get bad before you can get better. Since they already have won 10 games this season, the Sixers won't match their own NBA record for futility. But a 25-win season won't be much to look at.

Ironically, it is in the Sixers' best interests to have the league's worst record. It would increase their odds in May's all-important NBA draft lottery.

That's the only game the Sixers truly need to win this season, and losing as much as possible is the best way to help ensure that.

But while you understand that you want the Sixers to win this race by losing, it's tough to watch while they fumble through another game night, even if it's a good thing.

Actually, a more interesting angle concerning the Sixers could be watching what happens in the Rocky Mountains, where the Iverson trade hasn't yet reaped great returns for the Nuggets.

Denver is just 4-8 since acquiring Iverson and has slipped to the eighth place in the Western Conference standings.

The Nuggets still have two more games to go before Carmelo Anthony returns from his 15-game suspension.

Even if Iverson and Anthony immediately get into sync, the Nuggets will have to fight their way into the playoffs. If Denver doesn't make the playoffs, one of the first-round picks it gave to the Sixers for Iverson could become a lottery pick.

As bad as the Sixers are, at least they have a defined direction. Who knows for sure what's going on with the Flyers?

The Flyers are the Sixers of a year ago - a team stuck between building for the future yet tied to the present by high-priced superstars.

So much has changed since the Flyers made what at the time appeared to be Stanley Cup-winning moves by signing free agents Peter Forsberg, Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje before the 2005-06 season.

Unfortunately, little of it has been for the better.

I think people understood that the Flyers weren't considered among the Cup favorites coming into the season, but I don't think anyone expected 11-30-4 with a NHL-low 26 points.

It's been more than a decade since the Flyers have displayed this level of ineptness. Chairman Ed Snider made bold moves earlier this season by firing head coach Ken Hitchcock and accepting the resignation of general manager Bob Clarke, who has since returned in an advisory position. But the team hasn't gotten any better under new coach John Stevens and interim general manager Paul Holmgren.

Injuries have prevented Forsberg, still considered one of the best players in the world when he's healthy, from making a consistent impact.

More disturbing has been the lack of impact being made by younger players who are looked at as the future of the franchise.

Over the past decade, the major complaint against the Flyers was about their playoff performances. Now we're finding out how little fun it is to miss the playoffs altogether.

Even worse is that while the Flyers are losing their way into the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft, neither center Angelo Esposito, of the Quebec Remparts, or Russian Alexei Cherepanov are considered franchise players on the level of recent No. 1 picks - the Penguins' Sidney Crosby and the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin.

If Philadelphia is sports Hades, this winter we could freeze over. *

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