[note: there are Game of Thrones spoilers in here, so if you're a month behind skip paragraph two.]
The Dwight Howard saga's finally concluded, and I can hardly remember the days before D12's fate dominated the NBA with all the twists, turns and indecision of a bad modernization of Hamlet. The 76ers were never supposed to be involved in any of this, but their participation in last year's Howard trade has become one of the defining moments of the team's modern history. The oft-discussed trade of Iguodala finally happened; the huge excitement over Bynum gave way to sadness, apathy and, finally, tragicomedy; Jrue made the All-Star game (!); and the reign of self-labelled "Sixer for Life" Doug Collins mercifully imploded.
Perhaps it was all for the best, as it's led to Sam Hinkie and his string of A+ moves, chief among them (for me at least) the renunciation of Andrew Bynum. The franchise moved on and the historians of Sixers lore can finally write the chapter on the Collins/Bynum era: it was Robb Stark's rebellion - full of good intentions and ideals, but in the final analysis it was doomed from the start. Collins' Ned Starkian refusal to settle for less than 8th place ("With the 15th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers honorably select...") could have held the franchise back for years.
Yet in spite of how different the franchise has become in such a short time, we found our team again linked to Dwight Howard. With the Warriors and Rockets fighting over him and the Warriors in particular looking to cut extreme salary, could Hinkie pull another Hinkie and nab some assets from the Dubs? It wasn't meant to be, with fiscal reasons that have been noted. The Jazz took in the big prize of 2014 and 2017 first-rounders in exchange for harboring Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush. While Hinkie wasn't entirely denied, netting Royce White for basically nothing when Howard chose Houston, it seems the organization lost out due to Collins' short-lived infatuation with a Kwame/Hawes frontcourt.
That said, while draft picks (especially in the hands of Grand Maester Hinkie) are nice, I prefer the way things went down. Michael Baumann posed the question, "Is it possible to construct a tanking team so deplorable that it eliminates the joy from any resulting championship?" on Twitter, and as a fan of all four Philly teams with only one championship memory, my initial reaction was a resounding no. And while I'm sure I'd forgive any moral transaction if the Sixers rose a banner as a result, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins represent an artless, negatively talented brand of basketball I simply do not want to watch next year, whereas a cast of MCW, Nerlens Noel, Royce White, Thad (if he's still around) and Arsalan Kazemi (even if Spence and Turner are along for the ride) is actually really exciting. Now, both the Sixers and the Salary Dump All-Stars will lose a bunch of games (though I agree that the Jazz actually aren't that bad), but as there's a difference between tanking and rebuilding, there's an important distinction between losing and sucking.
In spite of the best efforts of Dre, Jrue and Thad, the Collins years (and, really, all of the Stefanski years) represented a brand of basketball devoid of aesthetic or logical value. And it sucked. Watching fully-developed (or fully undeveloped) players execute cynical halfcourt sets might benefit some teams, but as a Sixers fan I've been forced to evaluate the meaning of what I am watching with more expansive metrics than titles, or, in other words: it's about the journey, man. A championship is clearly Hinkie's absolute focus, but I appreciate that along the way I will actually get to watch some fun basketball with likable players who have room to grow, instead of reminding myself every day that Richard Jefferson is a means to an end.
I expect to enjoy this year's team more than the Sixer teams that flirted with .500. They might have made the playoffs as an 8-seed, but they were such an 8-seed it made them seem worse than some lottery teams. They were were the quintessential tomato can. Royce White might never play an NBA-level game for the Sixers, but he's incredibly intriguing, and I'd take a season of keeping tabs on him in Delaware over the Warriors trade any day. This team is going to be terrible, but they're not going to suck.