It’s such a natural feeling that comes over someone when things don’t go precisely as planned. You begin to wonder things. Question things. Things that you once believed in don’t necessarily make sense as they once did when those things began.
The average sports fan experiences panic about their sports team – no matter the sport. Football fans might be the most fanatical in any given city. (I could be wrong about that, of course, if the city you live in doesn’t have a football team). Philadelphia has all four of the major sports covered (plus MLS and professional lacrosse), so this town checks a lot of boxes.
Panic hits the Philadelphia 76ers fan in different ways. The “come as you go” fan might feel differently than your hardcore, Trust the Process, “I’ve been here since the 1970s” Sixers fan. They all feel it, though.
The Sixers might be 31-17. They might be seven games ahead of their 24-24 pace last year after 48 games. They might be fourth in the Eastern Conference. They might have two All-Stars (or three depending on if someone gets snubbed). At any given time, the team has three of the best ten players on the court to start a game – unless they happen to be playing the Golden State Warriors. This may lead you to wonder where I’m going with this train of thought.
Even before blowing the doors off the Houston Rockets last night, there were feelings of dread and/or panic among some. Why do I say that? Could it be things like this that were posted a week ago:
With a five year, $190 contract stating them in the face, the sixers should consider trading Jimmy Butler. Happy Sunday! Go Birds! https://t.co/tMMAqOCkE9— Spike Eskin (@SpikeEskin) January 13, 2019
There are some decent points made. He calls Butler a “malcontent” – which is hard to ignore given his tumultuous track record in both Chicago and Minnesota. There were some offensive cohesion concerns that were prevalent, but things could be on the rise given Butler’s ORtg with the Sixers this month has ballooned to above 130.
It also hasn’t been three months since the trade. Is two months enough? Perhaps. Just consider this. It’s really hard to throw three superstars on to a team together and simply say “make it work, boys”.
It didn’t start well for the Miami Heat when they put a team together with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Even after winning two titles in three years, the flowers on the Golden State bouquet of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green are beginning to wither this season.
Search Sixers Twitter, sometime. It can be pretty brutal some days. The #FireBrettBrown crowd probably annoys me the most. (There’s no reason to fire Brett Brown. In fact, my response to those people are always the same: “For who? What coach that is available will make this team better?”)
Why does there always feel like there’s an aura of “what do we do now” with the Sixers? That aura leads to some interesting conversation among Sixers fans, beat writers, and Sixers Twitter. So, what causes these feelings? Sometimes it’s as easy as breaking it down into a solid equation:
Panic = (Expectations + Desire) - (Objectivity + Reasoning)
After the Sixers had an unbelievable 52-win season last year and winning a first round series for the first time in several years, the Sixers lost in five games to the Boston Celtics. That’s not a bad leap to take after years of losing 40-50+ games, right? I’ll grant that. There were super high expectations put on this team going into this season. Some people thought the Sixers could make the Eastern Conference Finals. Some even thought the Sixers as constituted at the beginning of the year could make the NBA Finals.
The team had obvious superstars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and had a solid complement of role players in Robert Covington, Dario Saric, TJ McConnell, et al. Did those expectations cause a hasted trade for Jimmy Butler at the risk of depleting their depth? Perhaps. If you’re General Manager Elton Brand and you have this budding group of young stars but you constantly hear that you need “one more piece”, does that cause you to make “a move” as opposed to “the right move”?
We’ll never know because none of us (including me) are in that office labelled “General Manager”.
Expectations can be a bad thing if it sets a team up for failure or sets a fan base up for disappointment. Are we seeing the latter of that, now? The team isn’t failing. They’re 30-17. Should the Sixers be better? Maybe. It’s not particularly encouraging that the team is only 11-16 against teams in the top-10 of the Sagarin Ratings (ratings that include Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Milwaukee, Boston, Utah, San Antonio and Portland in the top-10).
Listen. We all want the Sixers to win a championship.
After seeing the Villanova Wildcats parade down Market Street twice and seeing the Philadelphia Eagles parade up Broad Street last year, there’s always the wonder of “who’s next”. (Villanova counts as Philly. Let’s not have that damn argument because you won’t win.) No disrespect to Flyers fans, but it’s not you guys. Barring a signing of either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, it might not be the Phillies, either.
The Sixers are the next most logical choice.
They haven’t been to the NBA Finals since the Allen Iverson-era and haven’t won the NBA Title since the Julius Erving-era. Sixers fans are a little starved to put it mildly. (To put it quite specifically, we’re ravenous pack hunting velociraptors that want nothing more to claw at the Larry O’Brien trophy.)
Like Eagles fans before last year and Phillies fans before 2008, Sixers fans want a championship so bad. Part of that is because it’s the nature of the Philadelphia sports fan to be more passionate than any other sports fan. The other part is to prove to the NBA and Adam Silver that Sam Hinkie was right. (We don’t NEED a championship to prove his methods were right. It just helps the argument.)
Here begins the flip side to the equation.
When you looked at the Sixers roster and moves at the beginning of the off-season to the start of the regular season, what was your honest, bonafide prediction?
Playoffs? Eastern Conference Finals? NBA Finals? Champions?
In the interest of objectivity and full disclosure, my prediction was Eastern Conference Semi-Finals and maybe going seven games instead of five. Toronto got better with the addition of Kawhi Leonard and the switch to Nick Nurse as head coach. The Raptors kept their depth in tact, and that’s a large reason why they’re the most balanced team in the East.
I said it when he was hired. Mike Budenholzer plus Giannis Antetokounmpo was ridiculously scary. Antetokounmpo was already really good in his first years in the league, but now he has a legitimate NBA coach instead of the Jason Kidd/Joe Prunty faux-NBA mensa brigade. The Greek Freak went from a coach that once intentionally spilled liquid to facilitate a time out to a coach that won 60 games with Al Horford and Paul Milsap.
(Yeah. That happened. Mike Budenholzer guided a team led by Al Horford … and PAUL MILSAP to 60 wins.)
It was a fluke and those Atlanta Hawks were bounced before reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, but “Coach Budz” is a legitimate coach.
The Boston Celtics beat the Sixers in five games in the East Semis last year, and they did so without Kyrie Irving OR Gordon Hayward. The Sixers are 0-2 against Boston this year, so things haven’t changed much. Even Joel Embiid said, “It’s not a rivalry because they always beat us.” The Indiana Pacers are the fourth team in that gauntlet. They don’t have the names that the Celtics, Raptors, or Bucks have, but they’re still well-coached and are currently third in the East despite getting waxed last week by the Sixers in Indiana.
Take all of that into account, and yeah, seven games in the Eastern Semis was the best I would have predicted for this team (win or lose).
Some people are less objective than I for whatever reasons you hold, and that’s okay. That’s all it takes for any rational fan to become IRRATIONAL when it comes to their team. I don’t have less faith in the Sixers, but I do try to be objective when I can.
(Before writing for Liberty Ballers, I had a blog and a podcast called “The Realist”, so that should say something about who you’re listening to right now.)
The definition, alone is enough to illustrate why it is so important in situations like this for any sports fan:
“the action of thinking about something in a logical, sensible way”
The two key words in that definition are “logical” and “sensible”. When you have those two things, you don’t write things like the Sixers should trade Jimmy Butler at the trade deadline, for example. You don’t start to think about what the trade market is for Ben Simmons. (Anyone with those thoughts will be fired into the sun if they are in my vicinity, by the way.)
Honestly, what trade are you going to make for Jimmy Butler (or anyone else) that makes this team better THIS SEASON?
What trade are you going to make that doesn’t set your franchise back for the future? Trading Butler for 50-75 cents on the dollar makes no sense. Trading Ben Simmons for any amount makes no sense (unless the return is Anthony Davis). There’s a lack of reasoning. Let’s say they send him to Miami for Josh Richardson and Kelly Olynyk. Does that make the team better this season? Not really. How about down the line? Maybe, maybe not.
What if the Sixers sent Simmons to Portland for CJ McCollum or some other nonsensical trade? That’s just short-sided.
Sure, I understand Butler can walk after this season for nothing, and we’re left grasping at his dust trail as he leaves town like he was the Road Runner. That does mean we’re in the same situation to start next season as we were last year with less depth. Yes, some people (looking at you Kevin O’Connor from The Ringer and others like him) say Simmons needs a jump shot. I don’t disagree, but let’s not act like that’s the final thing that unlocks this team’s destiny. They still need a bench. They still need to consistently beat top teams.
What if Butler walks? (I’m sorry to harp on Butler, by the way. I really hope he stays, but there’s the possibility he won’t.) Maybe the Sixers get someone with Butler’s max cap slot that is a better fit. Maybe my dream comes true and Klay Thompson is in a Sixers jersey. Maybe, it’s Khris Middleton. Maybe, even … it’s Kyrie Irving. (I know. I know. That’s sacrilege to think about, but it makes sense. Ok. You don’t want the stink of a former Celtic? Kemba Walker, then.)
Some of this contains things that you may not want to hear. It’s objective. It’s not “carry the torch for the home team no matter what” – which has been so familiar to me and many of us. It’s also a reminder to not succumb to the feelings of dread and/or panic when it comes to the Sixers.
They’re still really good.
They will still be really good for a while, so enjoy every second.
It’s not, repeat NOT, the end of the world if they don’t go to the NBA Finals this season (if that was your expectation).
As Cristian Crosby says before every home game: “This is our house. This is our team. This is our city.”
We’re alright, everyone, and we will continue to be alright.