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Dreadful Armada: Are the Sixers Too Dreadful?

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SB Nation's Tom Ziller rightly asks if the Sixers are actually too bad.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation's Tom Ziller posted his column yesterday about a very serious and open question regarding the 2013-14 76ers: are they too bad?

I suggest you read Ziller's article. It probably didn't have many fans among Sixers die-hards, because it suggested that all this losing may be for naught, and because it doubted the legitimacy of our plan. Tom even noted that we would probably not like what he had to say. And he's totally right to question the plan, especially after a 20-point loss to the team with the worst record in the NBA. At home. And the Sixers made it closer late so it seemed less bad than it actually was.

However, I feel like his argument mostly addresses the well-known issues tanking can bring up rather than the severity of the losing.

First, he argues the NBA could change things so that blatant tanking efforts like the ours can't happen. He's not wrong. The NBA can and probably should create incentives for teams to not blow themselves up. Whether you consider the NBA a sport-first or a business-first, in either case intentionally sucking at your craft in either general area should not lead to success. The NBA has never been proactive in stopping it because it hasn't had to: the league is always about stars and markets and glamour, and it can survive well enough if teams are actively trying not to win.

But the Sixers still have four games to spare to match the team with the worst record in the league. Granted, the Bucks did demolish the Sixers, but the Sixers have a ways to go to be the worst team in the league. And the Bucks were trying to win this year. Can we change the rules so the Bucks or Knicks or others don't suck so badly at achieving their goal as well?

Under a new commissioner, the chances for change seemingly increase, though not in time for the Sixers to not capitalize in this summer's draft. Highly likely to have a top-5 draft pick at this point along with a lottery pick, that change will not affect at least this summer's plans and will give Hinkie time to regroup, with two years' worth of drafts as a foundation. I'm unconcerned about this possibility, if only because there's little way to prepare for it.

Ziller's second point is the one I most disagree with. Using the dysfunctional Cleveland Cavaliers as an example, he notes that losing can be "poisonous" to a team's culture and hard to shed. Low expectations, it would be said here, lead to a culture of losing. Losing becomes a way of life, even acceptable for some teams, which can be hard to shed. He cited Cleveland, but you could add teams in similar situations in Washington and Charlotte and the point only is more clear.

Then I remember the Oklahoma City Thunder happened. The Thunder drafted in the top 4 in 3 consecutive years, similar to the Cavaliers. Unlike the Cavaliers, they drafted more than one legitimate NBA starter in that timeframe. And they've shed that "losing stink" and been really, really successful.

I tend to think what we attribute to that stink more points to a continued lack of talent, either through poor drafting, player development, player acquisition through other means, or combinations of the three. The Cavs, Wiz, and Bobs also had meddlesome owners who backed out of rebuilding mode once things started going wrong.

But Josh Harris is not a Comic Sans fan with a loan shark problem and large promises he can't fulfill. He's not a trigger-happy owner/part-time blogger also with large, unfulfilled promises. He's also not rampant gambler who once played professional basketball really, really well. Harris' ownership of the Sixers has been mostly quiet, with few public statements from the man himself. Only Adam Aron had anything resembling the behavior of Gilbert and Leonsis, and the team kicked him to the curb last year. Things could change as time goes along, but Harris hired Hinkie knowing he would go through this plan.

Can ownership tire of losing money and embarrassingly low attendance figures? Can ownership care about being the laughingstock of the league for too long? Sure, Dan Gilbert and Ted Leonsis were on board with the rebuilding plans until they took longer than anticipated. I'm confident enough in Josh Harris to say it won't happen, that he hired Hinkie knowing Hinkie would detonate the team. I'm also confident he did this knowing attendance would drop (Ziller's third point), though a team that's ranked in the 20s for most of the past decade in attendance probably needed a revamp. It's hard to draw when you're mostly known as the Flyers' co-tenant, even by the team's previous owners.

Sam Hinkie's basically playing a God-like role, building the team in his own image and likeness, from the ground up. We hope process will be short, but there's always pitfalls and breakdowns and diversions. The losing will wear on players and fans. The Cavaliers publicly made it a mission to make the playoffs this season after three long rebuilding years. The Bobcats basically lost any traction they could have had as a recent expansion franchise with an unpopular name. The Wizards haven't been good at most times of their history.

Probably the strongest argument against losing so badly, and one that Ziller never really dug too deep into, is that the Sixers are stripped so bare of talent, they'll need to acquire so many more players that will eventually be part of a winning team. Thaddeus Young will probably leave soon, leaving Michael Carter-Williams as the only piece the Sixers seemingly want to build around that has played a minute this year. There's so much work to be done, and so much talent to be added, that Sam Hinkie needs to make a lot of the right moves going forward.

The Sixers need nine or more rotation players for a good NBA team, including multiple all-star caliber players. They might have one in MCW, though things could always change there too. Nerlens Noel might also be a piece to build around, but we don't know that yet.

Otherwise, the Sixers need to add 6-7 good players, including a superstar or two. Those players exist, and the Sixers should have the ability to acquire them using picks or cap space. But adding the right players and developing them and their chemistry takes time. The losing will go on for a few more years. The hope is that, starting next season, an actual foundation is in place. The Sixers should have four lottery picks in two seasons to start. It's up to Hinkie to draft well in order to establish that foundation.

Chris Grant, former Cleveland GM, was in a similar position, but he failed to draft well. I think Ziller's wrong that it was a matter of "turning the losing off;" it was a matter of drafting Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters with top 5 picks, making Anthony Bennett the top overall pick, and getting zero clear NBA starters out of it, and certainly no all-stars in a league where two or more are necessary to compete for a title. It was a matter of ownership rushing the rebuilding process along because it made a foolish promise to win an NBA title with a barren roster before the best player in the league would.

Honestly, I feel like Ziller's commenting on what are all general anti-tanking arguments. The counterpoint: if only MCW plays and is part of the team going forward in a major way, then isn't now the best time to manufacture losses? Let us see if he's willing to come out and play hard every night despite the hardships. He's been pretty successful so far despite the awfulness. Otherwise, the question is about whether the Sixers will draft and develop players well, which has always been the question with the tanking strategy - whether they could execute it properly. Losing by 25 every night shouldn't change that. It only serves to emphasize the greater purpose.