Every now and then a franchise faces a point in time that could drastically alter its fortunes going forward. A point in time when two or three games could be the difference between turning the franchise into contenders rather than extending the window of mediocrity another five years. The Sixers are sitting at such a crossroad.
The last time the Sixers were in such a position was during the 2006-2007 season. After a dreadful start which led to jettisoning disgruntled and disgraced superstar Allen Iverson, the Sixers were 5-19 through 24 games. Trading for veterans Andre Miller and Joe Smith led to a late season surge that left the Sixers with a 35-47 record and the 12th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. In the end, netting Thaddeus Young wasn't awful, but it wasn't the franchise altering addition Kevin Durant or Greg Oden -- if healthy -- would have been. The Sixers were close, perhaps closer than they realized, only three games back in the standings from Portland (#1 pick) and 4 games behind Seattle (the #2 pick) in a bunched up final standings.
Those late-season wins were hollow, the impact they would have on the Sixers young core overstated. In the end, talent wins, and a lack of talent will doom a team to mediocrity, experience be damned. It's true that the Sixers have no shot of catching New Jersey, Minnesota, or Golden State, the three worst teams in the league, but they are within two games of the 4th worst record in the league. Besides the fact that picking 6th provides significantly more opportunity than selecting 10th, history has repeatedly shown that in order to truly be involved in the lottery 6th is about as far down as you can fall. In my opinion, this team needs an Evan Turner or Derrick Favors -- or, obviously, John Wall -- to turn around their future. Cole Aldrich could be a nice roleplayer, but he doesn't turn the Sixers into contender status, either next year or in five. This week will define the Sixers chances.
I understand an inability to openly cheer for your team to lose. As a season ticket holder myself, it's something I struggle with daily. This team, however, has sucked away any emotion I had in me, and I'm left with a purely analytical viewpoint of this team. From that perspective, it's clear that losing for the rest of the season aids the long term development of this franchise moreso than squeaking out three extra wins. People can argue that losing creates a losing culture, and over an extended period of time I can buy that. That being said, the remaining 16 games of the season aren't going to change whatever damage has been done by a dreadful opening 66. More importantly, talent wins. The Chicago Bulls weren't ruined in 1984 when they won only 27 games, just like the Sixers late season run in 2007 didn't propel them past the Seattle Sonics/Oklahoma City Thunder.
The good new is, unlike the the ill-fated 2007 finish, upper management appears cognizant of the fact, much to Eddie Jordan's chagrin. For the first time all season, Willie Green was a DNP-CD, instead being replaced in the rotation by Jodie Meeks (7+ minutes in the first half) and Jason Kapono, who started the second half in place of the struggling Louis Williams.
Too little too late? Perhaps, thanks in large part to the meaningless five game winning streak in early February when the Sixers were supposedly "going uptown". They've gone 3-12 since then, including losing 4 in a row and 9 of their last 10.
The Sixers play only 6 of their final 16 games against sub-.500 teams, 4 of which come this week. The Knicks have no reason to tank, as they do not own their own draft pick this year, and the Nets are trying desperately to avoid setting a record in futility. With two games against New York, one against New Jersey and one against Chicago, this is the week the Sixers need to put them back in contention. The two games against the Knicks may be the biggest games of the season.
Good luck, Sixers fans. Wish the team well.