By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Rebuilding in the NBA can be very ugly. Even when you’re calling it rebuilding, instead of what most everyone actually calls it, “tanking.”
One can only imagine what it felt like to fans when their team, then some 40 game under .500, were dealt the worst loss in franchise history (by 52 points), on their way to the worst record in franchise history as well.
The general manager had instituted a full-rebuild, an an attempt to build an actual contender. Not just one of those teams that gets into the playoffs, but a team that gets in to the playoffs and actually does something. Though this team and its fans had to suffer through a full, 82 game season, the team itself only had about two and a half keepers on it.
The best player on the team was a rookie, a lottery pick, who although scoring about 20 points per game, was shooting below 30% from three, only 43% overall, and often times looked like a player who wasn’t totally sure what his role was.
It wasn’t just the record that was ugly, even the advanced metrics looked pretty terrible as well. The team was dead last in the league in offensive efficiency, and 26th in the league in defensive efficiency. They played fast though, and were fourth in the league in pace.
Finally, at a deficit of almost ten points per game, this team was last in the NBA in point differential.
That team was the 2007-08 Seattle Supersonics. On March 17th, 2008, they were 17-57 and lost 168-116 to the Denver Nuggets. They finished with 20 wins.
The next season, they would move to Oklahoma City and become the Thunder. That rookie on the team, who was also their best player, is Kevin Durant. In 2014 that team has the best record in the NBA, Durant looks like he’ll end up as the league MVP, and the general manager, Sam Presti, is still there.
This isn’t to say that the 2013-14 Sixers will become the Oklahoma City Thunder, or that Michael Carter-Williams will become Kevin Durant. I have no idea whether or not that will happen. It is to say that the blueprint for what the Sixers and Sam Hinkie are trying to do, includes some, a lot, of pain along the way.
The Sixers are, like the Sonics were, at the bottom of the league in offensive and defensive efficiency. They are last in the league in point differential. They are losing, a lot, and often times in embarrassing fashion. They have two and a half definite keepers, and one of them, Nerlens Noel, hasn’t stepped foot on the court. Their best player is a rookie, who will win rookie of the year. Their general manager has a plan, and it included everything that’s happening.
This doesn’t always end up like the Thunder. But at this point in the process, this is what it looks like.
If you were on board with this plan, and this way of trying to reach the top, as much as it pains you, you have to be on board, at least in theory, with what is happening on the court right now. It was all fun and games to say “winless for Wiggins!” and joke about breaking the NBA record for futility, but this is the reality of that wish.
The current refrain among those who are suffering through all of this is that the team isn’t trying. I guess that’s a fair complaint. It’s also a complete denial of reality and human nature.
The Sixers are a team of players who outside of a player or two, are either rookies or second year players who have not played very many NBA games. They haven’t played this much basketball in their lives. You know the rookie wall? At the pace these guys are playing, and the minutes per game, they hit that rookie wall weeks ago.
The physical toll of the season, along with the mental toll of losing, eventually catches up with you. It would be great to see the Sixers battle hard every game, work their asses off on every possession, lose by three points in a closely fought game and come up just short at the end. It would be great, but it’s not reality.
The reality is Henry Sims. The reality is James Anderson. The reality, for some reason, is Byron Mullens.
The reality as well is that as good a coach as he may be, Brett Brown might not make it through all of this. Most times the head coach in a rebuilding project doesn’t. I hope he does, as I think he’s a keeper, but it’s definitely not a given.
But the reality also includes hope. It includes two (hopefully) lottery picks, another one who has yet to play this season, and Michael Carter-Williams. Carter-Williams is likely not this team’s Durant, but that is less of a concern given the Sixers potential 2014 draft picks.
Rebuilding is ugly. It hurts. It doesn’t always follow a path that is a straight line, anyone who remembers 3-0 and the chants of “this team is too good” may remember that.
Sam Hinkie’s refrain is to trust in the process. It’s important to remember trust sometimes mean knowing something is there without seeing it. Take heed.
For in this Sixers season, sometimes it might be better to just turn away and pretend it’s not happening at all.