Charles Barkley has not always been forgiving in his assessment of the 76ers rebuilding plan. As recently as last year, he told 94 WIP, "I don't know what they're doing to be honest with you," in response to the Sixers dealing point guard Michael Carter-Williams.
In yesterday's appearance on The Bill Simmons Podcast, Barkley displayed a more understanding view of the franchise, as well as a friendlier stance on tanking than in years past.
Simmons and Barkley discussed an assortment of NBA storylines, but Barkley's role in covering the NCAA and Bill's fascination with the LSU star that shares his last name, Ben Simmons, led to some spirited talk about young players and the Sixers specifically.
Raising a concern that he's trumpeted in the past, Bill feared that players like LSU's Simmons and Duke's Brandon Ingram will not develop properly in losing situations, expressing his belief that the NBA has a certain responsibility to"fix" the draft system. Barkley disagreed, putting the onus on today's players being unprepared for the rigors of the NBA:
All sports reward losing. Why don't y'all quit shipping these bums after one year of college to the NBA? That's the one thing about sports, you're going to go to a bad team. That's one of the reasons I think we need to really consider more keeping them in college for two years.
Barkley went even further when prompted on the discussion of tanking, saying he doesn't discourage tanking while also broadening the discussion to teams outside the Sixers echelon:
I'm not against tanking. If we're not going to win, let me get a draft pick and some good players. I think it's unfair that I hear the term tanking and people make fun of the 76ers, what did the Miami Heat do when they got LeBron? They tanked. They traded every player on their team, the New York Knicks did the exact same thing when they went after LeBron also. What's the difference between tanking trying to get a big time free agent, or tanking trying to get young studs? I prefer to go the route of Oklahoma City, get young studs... if we're just going to barely make the playoffs, I'd rather have a lottery pick.
This is an important talking point that often gets lost in the shuffle. You can point (and we have!) to various examples of tanking -- the Warriors submarining to keep the pick that became Harrison Barnes, for instance -- existing outside of the Sixers teardown bubble. The Sixers are a turbo-charged example of this phenomenon, to be fair, but they are participating in an exercise that most of the league are familiar with.
Zeroing in closer on the Sixers, Barkley finds the criticism of Philly to be a bit much:
I actually think people are too hard on the Sixers, I think the Sixers are going to get good quickly. First of all, if they had Joel Embiid, they would have an outside chance of making the playoffs. They're in the Eastern Conference, they only have to win a couple games. I'm a big Embiid fan... they might not have even taken Okafor if they had Embiid, they might have taken another guard.
Barkley has lobbed some grenades at the decision-making under Sam Hinkie, but he appears just as spellbound as the rest of us when it comes to Joel Embiid. Simmons rightfully countered with the fact that it's tough to put stock into a player who has yet to suit up, but his potential is tantalizing even to an all-time great.
There are other Sixers nuggets sprinkled throughout the podcast worth listening for; Barkley mentions his positivity regarding the Elton Brand signing and the role of veteran leadership generally, as well as his involvement in the infamous Dr. J - Larry Bird fight. If you're interested in some Simmons schadenfreude, the oft-scorned Celtics homer laments the C's missing out on a chance to draft Justise Winslow when he tumbled down the draft board last June.
Ghosts of Sixers past *cough* LARRY BROWN *cough* have come out of the woodwork with regularity to bash the program, so optimism from one of the NBA's prominent analysts is certainly a change of pace.