PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia 76ers opened the season with a win against Miami, and they beat the Heat again in the finale.
It was the rest of the NBA that gave the Sixers fits.
The Sixers entered this season in clear rebuild mode — labeled around the league as tanking — and they lived up to their preseason billing as one of the worst in the league in record fashion: Philadelphia matched an NBA record with a 26-game losing streak.
Around the city, the streak was mostly met with a shrug or a few laughs.
There was no real outrage because losing was part of Philadelphia's blueprint all along. Owner Joshua Harris, general manager Sam Hinkie and rookie coach Brett Brown never hid the fact this 19-63 season was simply a painful part of the plan to build a contender.
Now comes the fun part for Hinkie, who likely will get two cracks at a draft lottery for what's considered a deep field. Names from this season's dismal effort like Casper Ware and Brandon Davies will be forgotten years down the road. It is visions of Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins in a Sixers uniform that have teased the fan base and put management on notice since the fall.
The Milwaukee Bucks were the only team with a worse record, giving them a 25 percent chance at landing the No. 1 overall pick. The Sixers have a 19.9 percent chance at No. 1 but are also owed New Orleans' lottery pick because of a draft-night trade in 2013.
With two first-rounders, the Sixers believe they can land the necessary players to combine with rookie of the year favorite Michael Carter-Williams and injured rookie Nerlens Noel to form a contender in another two or three seasons.
Until then, the brighter times are far, far on the horizon.
"It was a year of development," Brown said Thursday. "Whether it's the emergence of a practice facility where you have your own home. Whether it's the draft opportunities that are coming up, influenced obviously by ping pong balls. Whether it's Sam Hinkie's talents continuing to be shown in how we use his judgments in analytics. ... That's why I feel excited we're going in the direction we need to go."
Hinkie has proved in the last year he's not afraid to shake up the Sixers, as needed.
He pulled off a draft-night stunner in 2013 when he traded All-Star guard Jrue Holiday, recently signed to a long-term deal, to the Pelicans for Noel and a lottery pick. Noel was the No. 6 overall pick, but was widely considered a potential top pick out of Kentucky before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The Sixers wisely held the 6-foot-11 center out of action all season and refused to rush his recovery — even as the big man was antsy to return to basketball.
Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-6, 185-pound point guard, blossomed into the top contender for rookie of the year with averages of 16.7 points and 6.3 assists in 70 games.
"His rookie year is beyond impressive," Brown said. "He continually got better."
Noel and MCW are surely keepers and part of Hinkie's vision of a championship nucleus. Carter-Williams, Noel, and veteran Thaddeus Young were three of the few legit players on a roster littered with D-League call ups. Young led the Sixers with 17.9 points per game and was the lone veteran leader on the roster after Hinkie traded Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen at the deadline. Young isn't sure he wants to stick around for more losing seasons.
"There's a lot of things to talk about as far as the future of the team," Young said. "I just to win. That's the only thing I want to do is win basketball games."
He's not going find buckets of victories in Philadelphia, at least for one more season. Brown has said it could take three to five years before the master plan pays off and the Sixers are back in the hunt for a conference championship. Of course, if some of the lottery picks turn into lemons, or injuries hit the wrong players, the Sixers could be mired at the bottom of the Eastern Conference for years.
The roster overhaul starts now.
"We don't know who's going to be here, who's not going to be here, what teammates we're going to have," Carter-Williams said. "All we can do is get better as individuals."