While it may seem like a ridiculous proposition considering the roster Sam Hinkie and the rest of the front office has decided to trot out onto a professional basketball court this season, the fans inside the Wells Fargo Center were actively involved in attempting to help lift the Philadelphia 76ers to victory over the Orlando Magic.
When the video board operators use their tricks to get the crowd loud and involved, they listened like it was an applause light inside a television studio. When the crowd was starting to lose their interest in a game that had the interest level of zilch from anyone who doesn’t actively follow the Sixers or Magic, free t-shirts were shot out of two gigantic automatic cannons. Because when you’re sending out a crunch time lineup that consists of Tony Wroten, Luc Mbah a Moute, Hollis Thompson, Brandon Davies and Henry Sims (which should have been Nerlens Noel, but he rolled his right ankle in the second quarter and didn’t return), you better be shooting out a countless number of free items into the crowd to thank them for spending their money and time watching a product that has been designed to win the number one overall pick in June.
That’s by far the most fascinating season long story arc of the 2014-15 Philadelphia 76ers. Why should any fan of the team root for them to actually win a game? The vision of Hinkie and the rest of the front office is to rebuild the franchise from the ground up with as many lottery picks as possible, while avoiding any free agents who could potentially help the franchise win games, because that could jeopardize the opportunity to grab a top three pick.
The decision by Josh Harris’ group to give Hinkie a security blanket like this over a complete overhaul of a franchise is unprecedented. It’s a plan so outlandish that it almost changed the odds in the draft lottery because Philly’s plan is an unparalleled form of tanking.
The word tanking is unique when applying it to what the Philadelphia 76ers are doing. Tanking is choosing to sit players out in certain games or for stretches of time in order to increase a team’s odds of losing. Think back to the Warriors in the lockout shortened season of 2012. In one of the games down the final stretch of the season, Mark Jackson sent out four rookies and Richard Jefferson against the New Orleans Hornets and benched Klay Thompson before the fourth quarter when Golden State was actually winning (hat tip to Bleacher Report). The Warriors were attempting to finish inside the top seven of the lottery in order to keep their pick in the draft. If they had finished in eighth, the pick would have been shipped to the Jazz. Golden State wound up keeping the pick and selected Harrison Barnes seventh overall.
Call me crazy, but what Sam Hinkie is doing isn’t tanking. There’s a word for what his masterplan of suckatude, but he’s not forcing Brett Brown to hold anyone out of games (you can put your conspiracy theories about the availability of Michael Carter-Williams at the bottom of the page in the comments section). Instead, Hinkie has assembled a roster of players that barely capable of winning games to achieve his goal of drafting as many potential lottery tickets as possible.
By doing this, Hinkie has created a roster of players that consists of players who are willing to bust their ass in order to be on the roster when the turnaround (hopefully) happens. This is where I’m obligated to give head coach Brett Brown a ton of credit for getting these guys to buy into his system knowing the odds of them losing every night very from high to there’s no effing chance you’re winning this game. Take Tony Wroten for example. From the moment that he steps onto the floor until he’s called back to the bench, he plays as hard as he can. Wroten currently leads the NBA and total drives and total points off of drives, according to Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy.
Wroten was worth the cheap price of admission (thanks Stubhub!), but the real star of the show was K.J McDaniels who had, at my count, four highlight reel plays including this ridiculous alley-oop finish on former Sixer Moe Harkless:
McDaniels had another alley-oop in the game and a sick block on Nikola Vucevic, but the only highlight that you likely saw from the game was Tobias Harris’ buzzer-beating game winner that kept the Sixers winless, which falls in line with the blueprint Hinkie has created. Yet the crowd was still distraught over the outcome. Some fans were so enraged by Harris’ clutch shot that they threw their free XXL-sized t-shirts back onto the floor (they weren’t particularly nice shirts, but still, people hurt people for free stuff, especially giant t-shirts fired out of a giant cannon).
Even if it was against a team who is still figuring out how to complete their rebuild after the Dwight Howard era and how to properly fit Elfrid Payton’s hair into team photos, for 48 minutes the Sixers played fun entertaining basketball at an NBA level, which is more than a lot of people through they were going to do at any point this season.
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