For the past ten years, the 76ers have had an addiction to mediocrity. Even with their least talented rosters, they always find an improbable way to win 25 to 30 games each season and miss out on the chance of drafting a franchise player in the NBA Lottery.
With the momentum of a four game road winning streak in hand, it now appears as though the Sixers could miraculously pull this season out of the tank and into mediocre territory. A repeat of mediocre past seasons could mean another June spent watching franchise changing prospects get drafted by other NBA teams.
So I have to ask…Is it time for an intervention?
As we near the halfway mark of the NBA season, the 76ers currently have seven teams that have either the same or a worse record than them. This simply means 7-6 is sitting in the back of the tank bus and while the Sixers recent improved play may look good in the short term, it could hurt the franchise in the long term. Let’s take a look at two possible scenarios that could unfold in the future for the 76ers.
In this scenario, the 76ers continue to maximize the potential of this roster and finish the season on the border of playoff contention or given how bad the Eastern conference is, actually in the playoffs. On one hand, given their horrific 8-21 record at one point, this would be a commendable comeback from the dead. On the other hand , the Sixers would again miss out on a Lottery spot in what is being labeled by all the “experts” as the best Draft since 2003.
So how would scenario 1 affect the 76ers in the long term? The 76ers are suddenly showing great promise and with Arnett Moultrie’s return coming up and the possible debut of Nerlens Noel’s on the horizon, the team (on paper) should get incrementally better during the second half of the 2013-14 season.
For this portion of the post let’s assume Hinkie keeps Thad and resigns either Hawes of Turner (But not both.). On top of that let’s add one of the first round picks from the 2014 Draft and assume that prospect becomes at least a very good role player for 2013-14.
What do all of these pieces (MCW, Thad, Noel, Moultrie, Wroten, a solid 2014 1st round pick and Hawes or Turner) amount to in 2014-15? A perennial second round playoff team. Don’t get me wrong, the 7-6 would be good but that team would never have a foreseeable chance of winning an NBA title. To put it in perspective they would look similar to a team like the Joe Johnson led Atlanta Hawks that could never make it over the playoff hump in the last several years. After years of coming up just short, Atlanta eventually broke up that team in order to start over. If that potential future for the 76ers doesn’t scare you I don’t know what will.
Secenario #2 involves the Sixers trading one or more key players to their recent winning ways (Thad, Hawes and/or Turner), ending the season on a losing tear and positioning themselves inside the top 5 selections for the 2014 Draft. The Sixers then get the missing piece to the puzzle and ends up with someone like Jabari Parker of Duke, Andrew Wiggins of Kansas or Julius Randle of Kentucky. The 7-6 would than have the foundation of a potential title contender for years to come. Philadunkia nation just take a second and imagine this starting lineup: Carter-Williams, Thad (He stays IMO), Noel and one of the Parker/Wigggins/Randle trio. Yeah, scenario 2 sounds better. At that point it would be up to GM Sam Hinkie and Co. to fill in rotating parts to attain a title, and all signs tell me we can trust this front office to do the job.
The problem is, the Sixers suddenly have found the light and may be heading closer to scenario one and back to that mediocrity and for me, it’s a Catch 22.
As a fan, you have to love how the team is playing of late, but as a basketball mind, you have to fear for what that short term success will cost this franchise in the long run. Offensively, Coach Brown is squeezing every possible drop out of this roster. This is evident through 76 being in the top 10 in every major offensive category; 9th in PPG, 5th in RPG and 10th in APG. The only statistic that is keeping Philadelphia near the bottom of the League is being 30th in points allowed, at 111.0 per game. However, even the much maligned defense has showed signs of improvement since Christmas.
The Sixers are 4-13 on the road and 7-8 at the Wells Fargo Center this season. With positive momentum going for this roster and 5 of their next 7 games being at home, the Sixers could possibly fall totally off the tank bus before the end of January
So what needs to happen to fix this broke down train and get it back on the tanking track? Short of trading all of the key pieces — Thad, Turner and Hawes — and risk alienating what’s left of an already small fan base, there may not be a solution.
The fact is the Sixers have gotten better individual efforts this year than they ever expected out of players like Carter-Williams, Thad, Turner, Hawes and Tony Wroten for that matter. Now, miraculously that group (as well as Thompson, Lavoy & James Anderson) have gelled as a team at both ends of the floor. Finally, the 7-6’s projected roster is close to being fully healthy. To be honest, the 2013-14 76ers may be past the point of a Hinkie intervention. In short, this winning trend might not stop. Maybe the best thing Sixers fans can do right now is hope for improved play from the rest of the passengers on the tank bus.
I’m looking at you Brooklyn, Sacramento, Utah, Cleveland and Milwaukee.
Alex Gorge is a scribe for Philadunkia. You can follow him on Twitter @apg3000.
You can follow us on Twitter @philadunkia.