One championship is within reach for the Sixers this season, though it involves the bounce of ping pong balls. There are no illusions in Philadelphia; Sam Hinkie is rebuilding this thing from the ground up, and the losses will continue in 2014-15.
The lofty goal of an NBA championship is well in the distance for 76ers fans, but each passing day marks a step forward for the franchise toward that end. In the wake of a first round that saw the Sixers select two players who wouldn't contribute this season, my initial reaction was to lament lost development and evaluation time. It still stings that the big "prizes" from a dire season are on the shelf for the time being, and my hope is that we'll get to see Embiid suit up in the latter stages of this season.
Actual basketball is approaching, though, and seeing the young guns on TV again will soften long-term concerns. The offseason bred an over-the-top attitude one way or the other, whether it was exuberance from the most passionate tankers or anger from the opposition. When there's no in-game action to talk about, sports discussion devolves into insanity. I'm excited for the controlled chaos of Sixers basketball to return.
While we won't be able to evaluate Dario Saric or Joel Embiid in an NBA environment yet, we have the opportunity to watch our favorite basketball team again. Due to the team's long run of mediocrity during the 2000's, there are few "fans" of the Sixers that don't live and die Philadelphia basketball. This provokes long discussions about even the smallest of topics. Can Hollis Thompson become an entrenched rotation member? Will K.J. McDaniels challenge Noel for team lead in blocks? What sort of out-of-timeout plays will Brett Brown draw up?
The greater basketball public frankly doesn't care about such minutiae, but these are the things that make another rough season worthwhile for the junkies. Maybe there's a tinge of Stockholm Syndrome in being excited to find answers to those questions; I'm often asked by friends and family how I can continue to write about this team. All that most people see are a mountain of losses that continues to grow.
Losses aren't going away any time soon, but now we can put aside the anguish over Andrew Wiggins -- seriously guys, get over it -- and see who is worth keeping around for the long-term. Coach Brown kept the group together last season and scraped wins out of a skeleton crew down the stretch, and now we get to see how his pet project Nerlens Noel looks in live action.
There have been few, if any teams at the professional level closer to a science experiment than this year's Sixers. Hinkie continues to stockpile athletes with questionable shooting ability, believing that his staff can teach a fundamental basketball skill on the fly. They'll likely play a breakneck tempo and pile up possessions, a style which typically tilts the game in favor of the more talented side. Are these genuine beliefs, or pseudo principles covering up the team's tank tactics?
With apologies to the crowd that lives and dies on hypothetical trades and potential, I'm stoked to have basketball and viewing-based discussion back in the picture. It's like returning from summer vacation as a child and dreading being graded for your actions, but remembering that you get to spend tons of time with your friends discussing what's better and worse about being in third grade (correct answer -- having to write in cursive STINKS).
The best thing for this franchise is more data on who they have on board, and the only way to compile it is through vigilance in tough times. Another season of struggle will make eventual success that much sweeter, and regardless of the level of play, basketball is fucking awesome. The dullest of games come alive after a thunderous dunk or ferocious block, and I look forward to seeing who from this rag-tag cast of characters can provide those moments this season.
It isn't always easy to sit through the blowouts, but I consider myself lucky to be a part of a community that feels passionately about one of my favorite things, whether it's objectively good or not. Bring on more basketball, and let's worry about the rest later.