BY SAM AMICO
At least the Philadelphia 76ers have a plan. But is it a plan that’s good for their fans and the NBA in general?
“Anybody can say they’re going to be good in five years,” one NBA coach told me. “How about winning some games?”
Sixers GM Sam Hinkie isn’t opposed to winning. He just seems OK with not winning, too.
Hinkie clearly believes you win later, and win bigger later, by losing now. It’s a theory that places success on things such as lottery picks, trade exceptions, and young players who may or may not be confused by management’s acceptance of failure.
“It’s tough enough to build a winning culture when you’re trying to win,” the opposing coach said. “So imagine what it’s like to build a winning culture when you’re OK with losing all the time.”
There was a time, and not long ago, when the Sixers were considered among the NBA’s traditional powers, right up there with the Celtics and Lakers.
“When I was a kid, they were the only three teams on television,” the coach said. “I basically thought the NBA consisted of three teams, and there were times the Sixers looked like the biggest and baddest.”
Back in the league’s golden era of the 1980s, the Sixers boasted names such as Julius Erving, Andrew Toney, Charles Barkley and Moses Malone. After some so-so years in the 1990s, they returned to the Finals behind Allen Iverson, coach Larry Brown, and a bunch of basketball scrap metal in 2001.
So it was only more recently that the Sixers became a laughingstock.
It was only recently they seemed to lose much of their fan base with promises of a process that, so far, has done nothing but gone kaput.
Since Hinkie took the reigns as GM in 2013, the Sixers have been nauseating. They lose, they look awful, they play the lottery, they compile draft picks, they make coach Brett Brown’s hair turn gray.
The idea is for the Sixers to eventually land the next LeBron James or Tim Duncan in the draft. The more likely scenario seems to be them turning into the Eastern Conference version of the Timberwolves or Kings — two teams that can’t win for losing. Or in the case of the Sixers, it’s more like can’t lose for winning.
Now, the Sixers have some nice starting points in second-year center/power forward Nerlens Noel, and perhaps rookie center/power forward Jahlil Okafor.
Noel is already among the league’s premier rim-protectors, and Okafor, the No. 3 overall draft pick, has displayed a penchant for playing with his back to the basket.
Who will actually throw these guys the ball on the block is anyone’s guess — unless the names of guards Pierre Jackson, Nik Stauskas, Isaiah Canaan or Scottie Wilbekin excite you.
You could also say the Sixers’ third-best player might be forward Carl Landry, and he’s a journeyman who may not even be around when training camp starts.
As for the other notable returnees? Well, second-year center Joel Embiid is out again with a foot injury. Early signs point to him becoming The Next Greg Oden.
That leaves the Sixers with the likes of Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Hollis Thompson and perhaps Henry Sims, an unrestricted free agent center who may be brought back after the latest news on Embiid.
All are nice young players, but we’re not talking Dr. J, Mo Cheeks and Barkley here. Far from it. Far from anything that resembles even average basketball, in fact.
“What really is the plan?” the opposing coach asked. “Maybe it’s to keep just convincing ownership to hang on a little longer while the process plays out. But that’s not really a plan. That’s an excuse.”