The 76ers are really bad. No one disputes this fact, and no one could. Not only is the team bad, but they’re as bad as the Golden State Warriors are good. We’re talking historical levels here. To date, Philadelphia is 1-21, and they narrowly avoided setting a new record for the most consecutive losses to start a season. Both this year’s Sixers and the 2009-10 pre-Brooklyn Nets started off 0-18, and if it weren’t for the yellow sadness that is the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s easy to imagine Philadelphia breaking that record with authority. If they keep this up, they may give the old 1972-73 Sixers a run for the worst finish in an 82-game season ever (9-73). Wouldn’t that be embarrassing for a franchise to break an awful record it had already set years ago?
Now that I’ve gone into gory detail about how laughably bad Philadelphia is, it’s time to get into a caveat: leave them alone and let them rebuild how they want. With the hiring of Jerry Colangelo announced on Monday, there are rumblings that the process outlined by general manager Sam Hinkie is in jeopardy. Maybe I’m in the minority when I say this, but it seems wrong to pull the plug on this process now when it’s still too new to be called an outright failure and too far along to give up on before it yields any positive results.
Hinkie is in his third year as the team’s general manager, and he and head coach Brett Brown have been at the helm while the 76ers have struggled to put together anything that resembles competitive basketball. The fans are growing impatient, the owners are angry that no one comes to the games when the Sixers are visiting the towns their teams play in, and the league is starting to feel that something needs to be done. I cannot even begin to express how bothersome it is to me that the league has the power to interfere with a team’s rebuilding plan, even if it isn’t going well thus far.
I’ve never been in a position as a fan where I’ve had to watch a team do an all-out rebuild, but they’ve always fascinated me from the outside. Maybe if I’d been subjected to multiple years of losing a huge percentage of games with little in the way of progress, my feelings would be different here, but Hinkie’s strategy is so compelling I can’t even turn away from the wreckage that takes place on the court. I like to believe that if the Sixers were my team, I’d stay patient and believe in those draft picks that were sure to come in the subsequent years. All it takes is a few successful lottery picks, and the whole direction of the franchise shifts. That’s when you can start in bringing in complementary pieces to fill in the gaps, watch as the young stars learn on the job, and all of a sudden you’ve got a dynasty.
It’s obviously not that simple, but a basketball team can change drastically with just a few top-notch players. When a young general manager like Hinkie, a Stanford graduate and a huge believer in analytics, takes over and promises to gradually build a winner in exchange for a few years of suffering, I’m sold. I want to see this process through, not have it aborted after just over two seasons.
While Colangelo’s hiring does not come with the overt message that Hinkie is out in Philadelphia, many insiders believe the move will absolutely lessen his influence on the team’s personnel decisions. Commissioner Adam Silver took the complaints of the other owners to heart and strongly encouraged 76ers owner Joshua Harris to bring Colangelo on board, and that’s where this move looks a little shady to me. This is the government stepping in and ensuring things are done more in line with what it wants.
Already there are suggestions that Colangelo, the long-time USA Basketball director and former owner of the Phoenix Suns, will use his connections to recruit proven players to the Sixers and greatly influence the look of the team’s roster. Before long, Philadelphia may not be an absurdly young team making tons of silly mistakes but occasionally flashing those brilliant rays of potential; they’ll be a team of boring but solid veterans playing with one or two of the up-and-coming young guys, a team that can finish 40-42 instead of 8-74. The league wants parity, and I get that, but maybe a few more 8-74 seasons could eventually blossom into a few 74-8 seasons down the line.
In the upcoming post-Dirk Nowitzki era, the Mavericks may have to do a rebuild of their own, and I’ll be damned if a few years of disastrous basketball means the league has a right to step in and tell them what to do to right the ship. No, I can’t see Mark Cuban ever being patient enough to accept the kind of losing the 76ers have dealt with, but it’s the principle of the matter here. I’m not saying it’s good for the game for a team to be as bad as the 76ers are this year, but they deserve the opportunity to succeed or fail on their own merits.