Rooting for the Sixers in 2015 is like owning a puppy. An adorable one, of course, but also one that is just mischievous as all hell. So like sometimes you’ll come home from work and see the couch cushions are torn apart and the stuffing is scattered all over floor and you’ll be all “Ugh, Sixers,” but then other times you’ll be eating dinner and catch him out of the corner of your eye starting to put his little puppy feet in front of each other and learning to walk with something resembling coordination. You’ll be all “Aww, Sixers. Look at you! Like a big dog!” Then later someone will trade away the puppy’s tail and front left leg to your neighbor in exchange for future puppy parts, and then you’ll be like “But… but I kinda liked the tail” and then the other person will be all “We’re trying to build a better puppy. It’s a process. Trust the process,” and you’ll be like “O…kay, I guess? I really want that better puppy.”
Admittedly this is where the analogy breaks down.
The point I am trying to make is that the Philadelphia 76ers are fun and hilarious. Never was this more true than yesterday as the NBA Trade Deadline approached and Sixers GM Sam Hinkie pressed the big red button in his office labeled “KABOOM,” trading away arguably his two best players — point guard Michael Carter-Williams and promising rookie swingman KJ McDaniels — for drafts picks. More draft picks. Always draft picks.
If things play out a certain way and the Lakers and Thunder both get a little hot at the end of the season, the Sixers could end up with four (4) first-round picks in this year’s draft, in addition to the 50000000000 second-round picks Hinkie has been quietly stockpiling for years. Little known fact: Any time you complete a transaction on eBay, the Sixers get a conditional 2024 second-round pick from both you and the seller. It’s in the fine print. I bet you didn’t even know you had a second-round pick in 2024. Hinkie, man.
But that’s what makes it fun. Just the sheer chaos of it all. Yesterday afternoon the team’s best player was the reigning Rookie of the Year. Today you could make a pretty good argument — which I happily will if you buy me a beer and/or just ask and/or don’t ask but stand kind of near me and don’t escape before I corner you — that the team’s best player is a sweet-shooting small forward named Robert Covington who was a member of the Grand Rapids Drive in the NBDL as recently as early November. And he will be joined in the starting lineup tonight by some collection of the following players: Tim Frazier, JaKarr Sampson, Isaiah Canaan, Hollis Thompson, Jerami Grant, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Henry Sims, and Nerlens Noel. Outside of Noel and (maybe) Mbah a Moute, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of any of those people. And GUESS WHAT. I have incredibly strong opinions about all of them now. They’re my guys. At some point this season they’re gonna give a good team a real run in the fourth quarter and I’ll be so proud of them I’ll start crying.
And it’s not just the guys on the court, either. Rooting for the Sixers also means paying close attention to guys who are almost Sixers. This group includes the following people:
- Literally every college basketball player, many of whom I will watch for all of 10-15 minutes before deciding that the Sixers must take them with the first-round pick they acquired from the Heat, sometimes before I even find out their name. “That guy looks like a young Robert Covington!” I’ll think, without a trace of irony. “Gotta scoop him up!”
- Dario Saric, the team’s stud Euro prospect who (a) was drafted last year, (b) won’t play in America until 2017 at the earliest, and (c) I have only seen play in grainy YouTube highlights from his Turkish league games. I have incredibly strong feelings about Dario Saric.
- Injured rookie center Joel Embiid.
Embiid. There’s the big one. Any discussion of him involves about 15 ifs, ands, or buts that get increasingly specific to the point of lunacy. If his foot heals and his back stays healthy and he can develop into an offensive threat or he can pair with Noel to create a dominant defense front line and he can mature and adapt to the pro game MAYBE he can blah, blah, blah. I don’t care. I’m in. 100 percent. There was a local news segment on “his mental state” the other week when reports surfaced that he was overweight, and the report included footage of him RAINING jump shots. I promptly ignored the entire context of the report and made a GIF of the clip, which I have watched for approximately 10 hours since. I’m borderline delusional. I feel okay about it.
But my favorite part about rooting for the Sixers right now is that people are absolutely losing their minds about it. And by “people,” I mean sports columnists and talking heads. People who have no reason to give a crap about the team — and who gave no craps at all when the team was a middling 40-win 8-seed for years, with little hope of improving — suddenly give very many craps. Too many craps, honestly. Hell, last night on PTI Tony Kornheiser said there should be an investigation into the team’s tanking/rebuilding plan. An investigation! Can you even imagine anything so stupid?
SPECIAL AGENT STEVE BASKETBALL: Hey, are you guys bottoming out as part of an ownership-approved plan to stockpile assets and retain cap flexibility so that you can either try to find a dynamic superstar or two in the draft or flip a bunch of the assets all at once down the line to land one in a trade and use the remaining pieces around him kind of like how the Celtics got Garnett and Ray Allen in the same offseason that one year and promptly won a championship?
SAM HINKIE: Uh, yes?
SPECIAL AGENT STEVE BASKETBALL: Okay, but I’m watching you, pal.
This actually brings me to my most important point. The Sixers aren’t “tanking,” at least not in the sense that they’re actively trying to lose games. Especially not on the court. The team is made up of a bunch of young, unproven dudes who, understandably, see this as probably their best shot and are killing themselves to try to make it work. It’s essentially Major League, but with basketball. (Tony Wroten was Willie Mays Hayes before he got hurt. He was also Charlie Sheen’s character. Someone else is Cerrano. We’ll figure this out.) And the coach, Brett Brown, is a relentlessly positive Popovich disciple who speaks with a mangled multinational accent that includes flecks from both Australia and Boston, somehow, and he has everyone flying up and down the court believing they can compete. They’re a fun team to watch, even if they occasionally lose by 50.
Now, that doesn’t mean the brass isn’t fine with losing in the short term. Or the increasingly less-short term, apparently. We are now in Year Two of what was originally a five-year plan and the team’s roster consists of five centers and a huge blue breakdancing dog named after one of our country’s Founding Fathers, so I suppose patience remains important. But I would happily take this — all of it: the anarchy at every trade deadline and draft, “the process,” falling in love with no-name players who were signed at noon and inserted into the starting lineup at seven, maniacally dissecting practice footage of 7-foot-tall teenagers who won’t even play this year, etc. — over being stuck with a .500 team that’s too good miss the playoffs but too bad to compete once they get there, year after year, in perpetuity. That’s depressing. At least this plan involves taking risks. It could all end up being a disaster that sets the franchise back a full decade, but man, it is definitely not boring. And that part has been loads of fun.
Take us home, Dancing Betsy Ross.