Sixers willingly embark on lost cause
The 76ers held media day at their practice facility Friday afternoon and the good news for them was that the media did indeed attend. That meant somebody still cares about what this team is about to embark upon with a new general manager, a new coach, and a fresh vision.
That's the first victory for a team that is not expected to have earned many when the season concludes April 16 in Miami. What's nice for general manager Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown is that nobody is expecting much and not many people are going to be attending once the games begin. Their honeymoon is going to last all the way through that end-of-season trip to South Florida.
This is the year when losing is better than winning. It is the year when you can look at Kwame Brown and say, "Hey, he could actually help them lose some games." More losses, of course, mean a better chance of landing the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery, and the next draft is the one where you want to be first in line.
Talents like Andrew Wiggins from the University of Kansas, Jabari Parker from Duke, and Julius Randle from Kentucky all have the potential to be franchise changers. And no one denies the Sixers are a franchise in need of changing.
The challenge for Hinkie, Brown, and the Sixers is getting through a season in which so little is expected from the outside world. A lot of funny stories came out of the Sixers' 9-73 season four decades ago, but it's hard to imagine it was much fun at the time.
This team will not be as bad as that one because there are more teams and more bad teams in the NBA now. The Sixers, in fact, are not even the longest shot on the board to win the NBA championship, according to vegasinsider.com. Their odds are listed at 500-1. Orlando and Charlotte are 650-1.
Measuring the success of this 76ers team will be difficult. How do you know whether the glass is half full or half empty when the glass is so oddly shaped that it barely resembles a glass at all? Hinkie knows how to crunch numbers, but he will not use wins and losses as his primary yardstick.
"What we'll do is we'll try to find all sorts of ways to hold [everyone] accountable every day," the general manager said on the eve of training camp. "We can always step down a level and look at how each guy is improving. You set goals for yourself.
"You don't look at a particular game and care only about the fourth quarter. You care about every quarter and you sort of have benchmarks along the way. And then you say, 'This is how we'll have success and this is what we're trying to get accomplished.' "
The two obvious players who will be closely monitored for individual improvement are rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams and rookie center Nerlens Noel. It would be a major victory if the 6-foot-11 Noel returns from the surgery on his left knee at some point and displays the defensive dominance he flashed in his one abbreviated season at Kentucky.
"I think we'll try to keep a workmanlike approach," Hinkie said. "It's important to be realistic about where you are, and let's control what we can control. What we can control today is trying to get better. That's true for all of us. It's true for the coach and myself, and we ask the same of our players."
Sounds good in theory, but stuff happens over the course of a season, and nothing frays nerves more than perpetual losing.
Veteran forward Thaddeus Young admitted to being frustrated when Hinkie announced that the Sixers were embarking on a major rebuilding project, and that's understandable. This isn't the first time Young has been down that road and he has yet to see any gold or rainbows.
"Any time you hear they are going in a different direction, there definitely is a lot of frustration," Young said. "You feel like you're starting to go somewhere and then, poof, everything is gone. But . . . this is my job and you have to be ready to come in and work. We're trying to build something from scratch and it's going to take time. You never know what can happen, so you play hard each day and night."
Playing hard from start to finish is exactly what Evan Turner believes will constitute success for this Sixers team.
"I think we need to stay on one goal and see the bigger picture, and that would be a success right there," Turner said. "As long as we go out every night and compete, that's a success."
That's not the sort of thing that will attract paying customers, but Hinkie and the Sixers are doing what needed to be done. It's difficult work that will include some trying times, but there is good job security for the GM and coach when losses are the thing that can lead to a better tomorrow.