For most teams in the NBA losing 24 games in a row would be something to worry about. But if your sole goal for this season is to tank, then you’re doing exactly what you want.
The NBA is divided into the Eastern and Western Conference, however, if you really look past the geographical division of teams, you’ll find that teams can be grouped into two divisions: Those who want to win, and those who want to lose. I don’t mean the players, as all players play to win, I mean the organization itself. For example, the Heat are clearly in contention for a championship, and therefore, you don’t have to be a genius to see that they are a team who wants to win, whose GM has put them in a position to win games. On the other end of the spectrum you look at a team like the Milwaukee Bucks; the worst team record-wise in the NBA (13-57) who are in the early stages of rebuilding and as a result could care less about the wins they accumulate over the course of the season. The players will care, and as professional competitors, they should. However, climb up the ladder of power in the organization and for every game the Bucks lose, the happier the General Manager and the Owner is.
Teams status’ shift overtime and a team like the Lakers who have historically been one of the most successful franchises in sports are now one of the most laughable teams in the NBA. Years of mediocrity, losing, or declining stars turns into a complete breakdown of the roster and after years of rebuilding and tanking, the team hopes they climb back up the ladder of success and make it to the top.
So if we shift our attention back to the 76ers, losing 24 games in a row may be torturous for the players, but for GM Sam Hinkie, there is nothing to worry about. In fact, if them losing 24 games in a row is the equivalent of the Miami Heat winning 24 games in a row. It’s exactly what they want and in fact not even enough as the Milwaukee Bucks are somehow, by some miracle, worse than they are. And while for players and fans it might seem intolerable, they have to take a step back and look at the course they’re on. A team with Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young and a group full of scrubs can easily turn into a playoff team in two or three years – especially in the Eastern Conference, where to be an 8th seed all you need is a 31-38 record (Atlanta Hawks).
For the 76ers, although it may seem weird to say out loud, have one of the brightest futures in the NBA. Think about it like this. Would you rather be disgustingly mediocre like the Atlanta Hawks who although are thrilled about their soon to be playoff birth, know deep down they have no chance of moving past the first round. They are neither rebuilding nor contending, simply sitting contently with no trajectory up or down. Or if not the Hawks, think about a team like the New York Knicks who are awful but not purposefully like the 76ers are. They are just bad. They’re not rebuilding, in fact they were supposed to be contending but instead they’re 29-41, with no cap space and the risk of losing Carmelo Anthony this summer. It’s all about perspective.
During this season, the 76ers are tip-toeing on that “worst team ever” status but what some don’t realize is that’s music to Sam Hinkie’s ears. The 76ers are aware of the draft class coming out this year – a group highlighted by names like Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, just to name a few and tanking puts them in the best position to acquire a potential franchise player like those stated above. Then they have their first round pick from the Pelicans, which is 1-5 protected, meaning if the Pelicans get a top 5 pick they get to keep it. However, with the Pelicans being the 11th worst team in the NBA it’s likely their pick will go the 76ers. In addition to those 1st round picks, they have a plethora of 2nd round picks they have at their disposal either to use as assets, to trade up in the draft, or to steal some talent that may drop in the draft. In addition, to the favorable draft position, they also have tons of cap space to potentially sign high end free agents this summer. They have 8 players signed through next season, three of those players hold player options in Jason Richardson, Byron Mullens, and Eric Maynor. Take into account those players plus two first round lottery picks who will make a combined 6.9 million next season, the 76ers go into this summer with 33.9 million on their payroll. That leaves them around 30 million to spend on free agents that include guys like Pau Gasol, Lance Stephenson, Luol Deng, Kyle Lowry and Carmelo Anthony just to name a few.
The pieces they have right now aren’t awful either. Michael Carter-Williams will most likely win Rookie of the Year and will bloom into one of the better point guards in the NBA in years to come. Don’t forget Nerlens Noel and his knee sitting on the edge of the bench waiting to become the next Anthony Davis, or a poor man’s version of him at least. Thaddeus Young is a highly capable, athletic power forward, and Tony Wroten can be an effective back up point guard in the league as well.
So yeah, 76ers fans, this season sucks… no shit. But it’s all about perspective, you have a brighter future than half of the NBA. Just wait.