Do you feel more appreciated this morning?

The 76ers had Andre Iguodala address the crowd before tip-off last night, and they gave away stuff at every time-out, and they did this and that in hopes that their (remaining) fans would please, please forget that this was the one-year anniversary of Allen Iverson and Chris Webber's leaving them high and dry on Fan Appreciation Night in 2006.

Suppose it's part of their new motto, We Need You . . . to Renew Your Season Tickets.

But it's all about the future now, haven't you heard? And surely you've heard (Heaven knows you've sent enough e-mails) what mo-rons the Sixers are for not tanking properly, for not losing enough games to get enough chances in next month's lottery at Greg Oden or Kevin Durant - who, apparently, are going to be the only two players in this draft and who, collectively, are going to alter the future of the NBA so much that they will write about the Pre- and Post-Oden and Durant eras in the history books.

Let me try this again. Slowly.

In. The. Last. Seventeen. Years. The. Team. With. The. Most. Ping. Pong. Balls. Has. Gotten. The. First. Pick. Three. Times.

That means that even if the Sixers lost as spectacularly and as often as they could, and finished dead last, and wound up with a 25 percent chance of getting the first pick, as per the lottery rules, they'd still - if this lottery follows the historical norm - really have just a 17.6 percent chance of winning. So the argument for tanking, even from a practical standpoint, doesn't make any sense.

Not to mention the lack of pride it shows in oneself.

"I've always said that losing is habitual, and so is winning," general manager Billy King said before tip-off last night. "And if you accept losing, then how can you tell guys, next year, OK, now we expect you to win? Because they'll always remember that you didn't expect them to win last year."

Forget what King thinks, though; many of you think him an idiot working on borrowed time.

But hear me.

If you believe in losing on purpose, you could never have played a game that mattered in any sport. Biddy ball, pee-wee, Pony League, junior varsity, Division I national championship, playing touch football in the street, with a guy quarterbacking for both teams, you never lose on purpose.

What would your reaction be if you found out a Sixers player was shaving points? Or that somebody was laughing in the locker room after a tough loss? You'd rail about guys selling you out, not giving you their full effort for your hard-earned dough. And you'd be exactly right. You can't try a little.

And - I will say it one more time - your position in the draft can mean a lot, or it can mean nothing.

At any rate, this isn't about Oden or Durant. They both appear to be top-notch kids and each has scintillating potential, and if the Sixers wind up with either, they'll thank the gods, as they should.

But I don't care what magazines you read or what podcasts to which you listen; nobody knows which guy in this draft is going to blossom and which guy is going to fade when they start playing against men for money and championships. Nobody knows who has heart and who will shrink, or who'll bust his butt the day after he gets the big contract even harder than the day before. Or who won't.

Let me ask you: When was Kobe Bryant, who is now considered the best player in the league, taken in the first round in 1996? And what about Steve Nash, the two-time defending most valuable player? He was in that '96 draft, too. Surely, they went 1-2. For that matter, when was Dirk Nowitzki, who will probably win this season's MVP, taken in 1998?

Kobe, the best player of his generation, went 13th overall. After Allen Iverson and Ray Allen and Stephon Marbury, to be sure. But also after Lorenzen Wright and Kerry Kittles and Samaki Walker and Vitaly Potapenko and Todd Fuller. Nash, the best point guard of his generation, went 15th. (In between Bryant and Nash that year was Peja Stojakovic, in case you're wondering.)

Nowitzki, arguably the best player this season, went ninth in 1998, after the likes of Michael Olowokandi and Robert "Tractor" Traylor.

There will be gems amidst the dross even if Oden and Durant are off the board on draft night. King gets three passes with the Geiger counter, and if he comes up with sand, you can throw him out with my blessing. But there is no absolution for throwing games, no matter the treasures that lay beneath.

Contact staff writer David Aldridge

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