A Kamikaze Season
USA Today Sports
The Philadelphia 76ers flew to Los Angeles and Oakland, playing the Clippers and Warriors, respectively. It seemed like a great way to spend a weekend and a day on the West Coast, enjoying the sunshine and great weather while playing a sport they loved, and just so happened were getting paid for. Two days later, on a rain-soaked and frigid (at least by our standards) atmosphere, the Sixers mirrored the gloomy weather engulfing the terrain, losing to both teams by a combined 88 points.
Sam Hinkie has constructed this team to lose. There’s no contrarian or moral take to that. If they had kept Jrue Holiday and built the team around Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, a lottery pick, and a few cheap veteran players, would a postseason appearance have been in the offing? Possibly, in this horrific and embarrassingly segregated division we call the Eastern Conference. But instead of begrudgingly marching towards the uninspiring route that the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Milwaukee Bucks have walked and combusted on, the Sixers settled on crashing and burning, in spectacular and historic fashion, in hopes of recovering like a phoenix from its ashes.
Often times we seek to analyze a team through the lenses of either our own personal infatuations (player statistics and aesthetic viewing) or through the perspectives of the executives and coaches that run the show (why aren’t they shooting more threes? or playing this player more minutes at this position?). As a person that watched the Golden State Warriors tank their way to the seventh pick (after a coin flip and lottery), there’s a certain disinterest that gives way to the ironic and deluded sense of humor that comes with watching a professional basketball team purposefully go out of their way to exact a lesser product as a whole.
It became easy to numb the pains of the losses, glossing longingly at other successful franchises as the 101-83 games meshed into one another, creating a cauldron of sarcastic and faux-hate-filled pieces. And even though the players on the bench sat with mouths closed and eyes open, yet staring into a space unbeknownst to anyone, there’s a sad truth to be heard: most of these guys wouldn’t be here, playing these minutes, on many other teams and it’s pretty darn neat they have the opportunity to compete at the pinnacle of their profession, no matter their collective struggles.
Philadelphia, by any means, isn’t sniffing the worst record in NBA history. Hell, even Milwaukee, with nine wins, should scrape together enough victories to save some face. But unknown workers like James Anderson, Tony Wroten, Arnett Moultrie, and Elliot Williams are garnering minutes on the floor despite barely cracking the rotation on the other teams they’ve spent time with. For the Warriors, I didn’t so much enjoy watching Mikki Moore and Dominic McGuire as much as admire the way they competed despite them knowing that this was and might forever remain their first and last cup of proverbial coffee at this level.
They’ll remain hired basketball players on other levels, and for the foreseeable future. But sharing the court together for unlikely wins against the Miami Heat Portland Trail Blazers? An experience once owned and never forgotten. Hinkie will provide head coach Brett Brown with a new set of players in 2014-15. With another (maybe two) lottery selection and Nerlens Noel returning from injury (and maybe a little Pierre Jackson action), there’s less room for tweeners and journeyman to see the kind of 25+ minutes per night that they’ll receive from here on out. Gone will be the days we see James Anderson going for 36, Spencer Hawes tossing out triple doubles, and random Elton Brand jumpers.
So even throughout two nights of wretched basketball, leading the Sixers into a path of destruction everyone knew was coming, it’s refreshing to see players that’d never get the chance to play on another team, or on their last legs as rotation players, play out the game at this level. In no way is this acceptable or even good basketball, but watching Wroten repeatedly attack the basket down 50, Moultrie still sprinting down the court on transition defense, and Elliot Williams trying to slam one home, makes an abysmal game, and season, slightly less insufferable.