The Philadelphia 76ers are in town for a game against the Thunder on Tuesday night.
Time was, the 76ers were a regal franchise. The franchise of Dolph Schayes and Billy Cunningham. Of Wilt Chamberlain and Hal Greer. Of Julius Erving and George McGinnis. Of Moses Malone and Maurice Cheeks. Of Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson.
Now the 76ers are the franchise of James Anderson and Henry Sims.
Philadelphia comes into Chesapeake Arena with an NBA-worst record of 15-45. The 76ers are on a 14-game losing streak, which is forgivable, but having lost by double digits in 11 of those 14 games, which is not.
Among the Sixers’ losses were back-to-back defeats of 123-78 at the Clippers and 123-80 at the Warriors.
The Sixers have gutted their roster to start over, with the best pick possible in what is billed as a great draft. It’s working.
But it also stinks. The idea that draft picks could become so valuable as to warrant tanking a season is counter to the goal of the endeavor. No fan base ever can be guaranteed a championship. But no fan base should be subjected to hopelessness, for a season or longer.
The NBA’s lottery system — by which teams with the worst records have the best chance at the best draft picks — has cause teams to give up on seasons for years. But now franchises are giving up on seasons before they even start.
And some can blame it on the Thunder’s meteoric success. As the Seattle SuperSonics, this franchise stumbled to a 31-51 record in 2006-07. When the Sonics got the No. 2 pick in the lottery for a draft that included Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, newly-hired general manager Sam Presti made the decision to start over.
The Blazers drafted Oden, leaving the Sonics to take Durant. Then Presti traded his star player, Ray Allen, to Boston for the No. 5 pick, which became Jeff Green.
The franchise suffered another dismal season in Seattle, 20-62 in Durant’s rookie year, then drafted Russell Westbrook and moved to Oklahoma City. The Thunder went 23-59, drafted James Harden and the rest is lottery-enhanced history. The Thunder has become a model franchise.
With many trying to copy. Several franchises this past off-season clearly made moves designed for the future, with no intent on winning this season.
It gives fans great hopes, but the truth is, getting a great lottery position is no guarantee, and getting a great player with a great lottery position is no guarantee.
And the basketball in the mean time, either way, stinks.
Ten teams currently have winning percentages below .400. They can’t all get a top two or three pick. Yet most of the 10 seem perfectly content to take their lottery chances.
Some gave it a good try. Milwaukee, for example, tried to build a good roster. The Bucks failed. Phoenix absolutely seemed headed for the lottery; instead, the Suns are playoff contenders.
But most of the squads — Philly, Utah, Sacramento, Boston, Orlando — were perfectly pleased to trot out rosters that are hopelessly overmatched. And those trying to replicate the Thunder’s ascension are several years down the road of non-contending, which is a nice way of saying non-trying.
Thus the 76ers come to town Tuesday night for a game that should be over early. The 76er players will try to win. But they know that everything done in the organization has been counter to that. And it’s hard to even blame the 76er management; Oklahoman Sam Hinkie was hired in the summer, away from the Rockets. He’s just following the rules as they’re written.
Time to fix the system.