It wasn’t always so hard to prefer late-season swoons for the Sixers. When “gypsies” made up a large portion of the roster, it was seen as a necessary evil to get the franchise in position to draft the star(s) they would build the program around. The fanbase has been through these tough times before, so you might think it would get easier to cope.
The incentive for the Sixers to lose tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t be clearer. Philadelphia needs L.A. to win every game they possibly can down the stretch in order to put the pick they owe the 76ers in obtainable territory. Given L.A.’s futility in the second half of the season — and a brutal upcoming stretch of their schedule — the lottery impact of a Sixers-Lakers game can’t be overstated.
But try as I might, I can’t bring myself to pull for a Lakers win. Not now, not against Satan himself, not ever. They are one of the most insufferable franchises in all of sports, full of fans who feel entitled to [Big Name Free Agent X] by virtue of the franchise being good at various points throughout their history. The present never matters as much as the Laker Brand™ or Laker Legacy™, even as their untouchable young core bleeds points at a rate that would make a hemophiliac blush.
Imagine how long the scrutiny would last if the Sixers went through an internal, familial power struggle like the Lakers are going through, while the team struggled to put together even a semi-competent product on the court and had little future capital to spend on improving the roster. Imagine if, as ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported, key decision makers in basketball ops were completely in the dark during important talent acquisition periods:
Three weeks before, Buss had installed Magic Johnson, a Lakers legend and one of her oldest friends, as a special adviser -- an act she had hoped would be a wake-up call to everyone in the front office. Now, she found out, he wasn't being integrated or even informed of what Kupchak and Jim Buss were planning.
One day, she found out the team had worked out center Larry Sanders and hadn't bothered to invite Johnson to watch. Then there were the trade calls Johnson had to inquire about; he was never informed of the prospects -- let alone asked his opinion.
The Laker Way™ has been directly rebuked in recent years, and yet they keep doubling down on appealing to prestige rather than substance. LaMarcus Aldridge beat back their advances in the summer of 2015 because he felt the franchise didn’t sell him hard enough on ACTUALLY PLAYING BASKETBALL:
As @Mike_Bresnahan says, Aldridge felt too much of Lakers presentation focused on outside opportunities; wanted clearer, better b-ball focus— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 1, 2015
Legacy only matters if you add substance to ensure you’re not living off a name brand. Someone like Pat Riley putting his rings on the table in free agent meetings only matters because he’s shown the capability to guide programs at different levels, with multiple styles and a work ethic that had him doing legwork at the Big 10 tournament last week.
The Lakers skate by on years of horse-manure level results because they posture as though they’re going to have a chance at signing actual impact players, when their short-sighted maneuvering leaves them overpaying the likes of Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng. The illusion of a real, intelligent effort accompanied by reckless spending and “We want this guy!” leaks to national reporters affords them patience other teams do not get.
L.A. is the NBA’s version of a trust-fund kid; the franchise and the fans are handed untold riches in the form of locale and longevity, and they expect that to last them forever in spite of failed cash-ins and misfires that sold the future to barely improve the present.
The Sixers winning tonight would help the Lakers in their quest to keep their pick, but I am the arrogant general that tries to fight a two-front war. I want the Sixers to beat the Lakers now, for Dario Saric to show them what the value of patience can be. I want the Sixers to beat the Lakers next year, for their cardboard-cutout defense to hand the Sixers a chance at winning the 2018 lottery as the Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons revolution begins to be televised.
I will settle for nothing less than total, scorched-earth victory. I do not expect you all to share this sentiment, and if a loss tonight helps the Sixers in their quest for two top-five picks this year, I’ll get on board. But I’m tired of the damn Lakers, and any chance for superiority over them is okay in my book.
Tip is at 9:30 p.m. EST on Comcast SportsNet.