On the night of the 2013 NBA draft, I was attending a party in suburban New Jersey with some coworkers. I wasn’t even sure that I was going to watch, to be honest—after all, my Sixers, due to their typical mediocrity, held a mid-first round pick in one of the weakest drafts in years. But my antisocial tendencies combined with low party attendance pushed me towards the TV room.
I screamed in agony, louder than I had been I found out that Andrew Bynum was going to miss the entire season.
Our best player. Our All-Star. The one reason to watch the Sixers last season. And signed to a reasonable contract, to boot.
It was official: we were tanking.
After talking to some fellow Sixers fans (and repeated trips to the beer cooler), I started to understand the logic of Sam Hinkie, our new GM. Sure, Jrue is a good player. But his numbers were inflated by being the only real offensive option on the team after the Bynum fiasco. He still struggled with decision-making. His shooting was inconsistent.
And—most importantly—you can’t build a championship team around him.
The reality of today’s NBA is that you can’t win a title without a superstar. Scrappy squads that preach togetherness can overcome the odds and win a World Series, but not an NBA championship. Even if we hope otherwise, Doc Rivers’ Celtics didn’t win in 2008 because of "Ubuntu"; they won because of KG, Pierce, and Allen. The Lakers didn’t win in 2009 because of Phil Jackson’s zen, but because of a certain shooting guard who has been known to jump over cars.
So I get it. We intentionally put together a terrible year with the goal of picking up Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or one of the other potential franchise players in one of the most stacked draft classes of all time. That’s our only shot at bringing a championship to Philly.
But there’s a problem: what the hell am I supposed to do this season?
The most calculating approach would be to root for an 0-82 season, right? Maybe Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young will get injured and Lavoy Allen will become our number one offensive option. Maybe new signing Tony Wroten—whom I recently learned was a professional basketball player—will actually log substantial minutes. Maybe—god forbid—we’ll actually ask Michael Carter Williams to take jump shots.
Sorry, can’t do that. I’m going to root for the Sixers to win every night. I’m going to get angry every time Spencer Hawes commits an awkward turnover or Kwame Brown airballs a free throw. I’m going to do that even though each win arguably works against the team’s long-term interests.
Why? Because that’s what fans do.
Look. I appreciate Sam Hinkie’s vision, his boldness, and his behind-the-scenes craftiness. Allen Iverson’s retirement last week highlighted how long it has been since the Sixers had a true franchise player; tanking puts use in the best possible position to get one. We’re now on track to be a title contender, something that couldn’t be said a few months ago.
But leave that long-term strategizing to the front office. In all likelihood, the Sixers are going to be one of the absolute worst teams in the league this season, setting them up for a lottery pick and a chance to pick a franchise savior.
But you’ll find me cheering my team along each night, doing everything I can so that never happens.