Record-breaking losers

The 76ers “process” abuses the team’s fans and needs to stop

I spend most of my time in Philadelphia where my wife’s doing her PhD. This season, I’ve been to five of seven Sixers home games. I go partly to watch as much of Canadian Nik Stauskas as possible — I have a blog dedicated largely to Canadian basketball — partly because it’s been about 15 years since I’ve lived in an NBA city, and partly because we’re on a student budget and tickets often start at $6 on Stub Hub.But after last night’s loss to the Houston Rockets vaulted the Sixers into the U.S. professional sports record book for most consecutive losses — 27 dating back to last season — I want to share something I’ve been keeping to myself; the Sixers are abusing their fan base and it needs to stop.

If you don’t know about “The Process,” as General Manager Sam Hinkie’s plan is referred to, the over-simplified version is: be bad now to win a championship later. And not just bad, like so terrible you consistently end up with a top three draft pick that could transform your team (think LeBron James, Kevin Durant) and lead you to glory.

To accomplish this, trade every established NBA player for less-expensive draft picks and unproven young players with tantalizing potential. Finally, fill out your roster with cheap, non-guaranteed contracts signed with un-drafted players (overlooked by everyone else) who are an even longer shot than the other high-risk, high-upside guys. With this accomplished, watch, wait and trade anyone who blossoms into a good enough player to net you another draft pick through a trade.

Fans remain committed

This process leads to a team so bad it’s rotten to the core, though that’s the whole idea. If the Sixers were even somewhat competitive, there’d be no shot at the high draft picks driving “The Process.” Though while fans in many cities desert teams when they’re tanking — intentionally or otherwise — Philly’s remain completely committed. On the streets, Sixers gear’s still worn widely and proudly by just about every socio-economic demographic. Plus, the Wells Fargo Center — where the Sixers play — is usually upwards of 60 percent full on its roughly 20,000-person capacity. Given the product on the court, this is astonishing.

Watching the Sixers resembles the chaotic confusion of the D-League more than the NBA. During regularly broken offensive sets, head-down drives and ill-advised threes are more common than on a properly coached high school team. At games I’ve watched, they’ve regularly been down 30. The team’s also had some legitimately tough breaks, though it’s not uncommon for bad NBA teams to collapse down the stretch in close games.

Despite this, Sixers fans behave as if their team has a chance to win. Down six with 20 seconds to play — game over in all but the rarest of situations — they’ll yell at the refs, shake their fists. On the in-arena cam, all game long Sixers fans eagerly step up to make the number one index finger sign and say “Whoooooo, go Sixers! Sixers for life!” Others wave homemade “Trust the Process” signs in reference to Hinkie’s plan, though I haven’t seen one of those in a while.

They even stand up and sing and clap along during this ridiculous but totally charming song:

https://youtu.be/gEKK3GVd150

New brand of bad

As a long-time Toronto Raptors fan, I’ve watched a lot of terrible basketball, but this is an entirely new brand of bad. Though not a Sixers fan, I grimace all game and feel dirty and depressed walking out of the arena.

But I’m also Canadian. That means when the Raptors unexpectedly made the playoffs for the first time in years in 2014, I was thrilled until a Philly shop clerk told me our team sucked. I was like, “but we won more games than ever and were a last-second shot away from advancing to the second round.” Yeah, but we didn’t win the championship and — in Philly and America more broadly — that meant our team sucked.

This is great for Hinkie as even the possibility for “The Process” to deliver a championship to this great city keeps many fans believing. Similar to someone who regularly plays the lottery, eschewing the modest return money spent on tickets would net, if saved and invested, for the needle-in-haystack chance to win big. And when it comes to the Sixers, the odds are also stacked against them coming up big.

Thankfully, it appears support for Hinkie’s plan may be waning. Through my own “research,” I’ve had conversations in dive bars with Sixers fans who are becoming impatient, though they originally bought into the idea.

And as of today, a philly.com online poll first published a month ago found in year three of “The Process,”a roughly equal percentage of people supported it (40 percent) as didn’t (39 percent) with nearly 22 percent claiming they never liked the idea. A few weeks ago, the same poll had 60 percent of respondents (mis)placing their trust in Hinkie.

You could argue “The Process” had some bad NBA draft bounces, as a friend of mine recently did. Most glaring is the fact 2014 third overall pick Joel Embiid’s yet to play a game and appears to be as undisciplined as NBA players come in rehabbing his long-standing foot injury. I’d probably agree with you, but I’d also argue that’s a risk Hinkie was taking. Dice rolled. Game lost.

Just like the American Dream

I compare “The Process” to the American Dream concept where every citizen can achieve success through initiative, drive and determination. Laid side by side, the city’s average grinding-out-a-living working poor family man appears to have as much a chance of becoming CEO as the Sixers do of winning an NBA championship. That’s to say it could happen, but it’s highly unlikely and probably not something you should focus on as you’ll end up disappointed.

Even so, the Sixers have a few talented players and — given the record-breaking start to this season — a great shot at this year’s top draft pick, as well three other first-round selections. This sounds great until you consider even the best young players need time to hone their game while learning how to lead. For example, while the Cavaliers improved immediately after LeBron arrived in 2003, it took three seasons for him to land them in the playoffs and four to get to the NBA finals.

But let’s say the Sixers draft a generational talent. Could Hinkie could execute the moves needed to fill out the roster? To date, for all the hype about “The Process,” I can’t name a decision that couldn’t have been made by just about any intelligent NBA fan. I say this as someone who studies Raptors GM Masai Ujiri’s deals and often thinks ‘How the fuck did he pull that off?’ And should they somehow net a franchise cornerstone, I also doubt Sixers ownership would spend the money needed to sign a quality supporting cast.

Stop the abuse

Let’s call “The Process” what it is: a failed publicity stunt that abuses Sixers’ fans undying love and devotion. More importantly, it needs to stop. I’m a sensitive guy, but I’m also sure this new-level-of-low losing is taking an untold toll on the city’s mental health. Sure, the team’s spent a lot of time and effort on this project, but those are sunk costs they’ll never get back.

Step One: fire Hinkie and end his pet project.

Step Two: package two of the team’s 2016 first-round picks to bring in rotation pieces to make the team competitive on a nightly basis.

Step Three: this offseason, make two solid first-round draft selections and sign some second-tier free agents.

What’s the mid-term ceiling of your 2016–2017 roster? Hard to say. An Eastern Conference Finals appearance? That’s not a championship, but nobody — no matter what they’ve done — deserves to endure what’s happening in Philadelphia.

Brent Reaney’s a Canadian writer and basketball fan interested in the game’s northern development, Canadian players, the Toronto Raptors and, occasionally, the Philadelphia 76ers.


Originally published at fullcourtnorth.com.

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