The Sixers have caused a lot of commotion with their struggle of a season and current lengthy losing streak, which is now historic.
Plenty of pundits have been quick to condemn the organization, and the league at large, for allowing such poor play and blatant tanking, for lack of a better word, to go on unchecked. They have called for amendments to the league’s lottery (even though the current form works fine), to the draft itself (the proposed wheel idea is preposterous), and even to playoff positioning (top 16 teams get in, regardless of conference).
Many have wondered aloud how a franchise can alienate its (already standoffish) fan-base by putting out a subpar product.
My response to such quasi-questioning is simple, and two-parted.
Part one: It is better to endure a couple seasons of struggle, such as this one, then spending ten more years marred in mediocrity. In the NBA there is only two ways to build a team: through the draft and through free agency. When the free agency market is not especially attractive, or free agents aren’t flocking to your franchise, then you have to begin to build through the draft. The best way to do that? Land in the lottery.
Part two: As a member of the franchise’s fanbase, I do not feel alienated or angry by the moves the team has made. Rather, it feels promising to have a plan. The team has been stuck in the mud since 2002: There has been no realistic hope of a championship chase, and since Iverson, there hasn’t even been a superstar to identify with and get excited to watch.
There is no guarantee that Wiggins, Parker, or whoever the Sixers select come draft day will develop into said superstar. But after watching the Sixers stagnate season after season, it became easy to identify the necessity of a new path for the franchise. The start of this new path has just been a bit bumpy.
One of the more frustrating facets of the backlash against the Sixers’ bad basketball is the misconception that what they are doing is extremely uncommon, and that in the big picture, this Sixers’ campaign is one of the worst, as in extra, super, terribly awful.
Since the year 2000, 16 teams have finished a season with their win total in the teens, not including the Bucks of this season, who won’t sniff 20 wins, or the Bobcats of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, who won 7 out of 66 games.
The 2007-08 Miami Heat won a total of 15 games; the Sixers’ win total so far this season. Three years later they were in the NBA Finals. At this point, no one is discussing, or even remembers Miami’s mark that season.
During the 2008-09 season, the Clippers (19) and the Wizards (17) both had win totals in the teens, and now, a few short seasons later, both are competing for playoff positioning.
What about the 2002-03 season leading up to the highly anticipated 2003 Draft, where Cleveland and Denver both clearly ‘tanked’ for top talent. The Cavaliers and the Nuggets each ended up with 17 wins on the season, and in return, were rewarded with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, respectively.
While neither of these players took their first team to a title, they were both responsible for perennial playoff appearances, the transformation of their team back into contention, and each helped establish the team that drafted them as a decent destination for top NBA talent.
The ends justified the means for those franchises.
Andrew Wiggins isn’t LeBron, and despite the comparisons, Jabari Parker isn’t Carmelo, but the situation is similar.
The winless string is ugly; no team wants to be associated with history’s longest losing streak. But, even if they don’t win again this season, plenty of teams have posted similar seasons in the past decade plus, and there is plenty of precedent for the tanking rebuilding route they are taking.
Some of the teams that have posted similar seasons were able to quickly reverse the fortunes of the franchise after landing in the lottery.
Although this season was a struggle for the Sixers, it is not the first of its kind. If handled correctly, the future of the franchise could be bright.