0-18. A NBA record 28 straight losses dating back to March of this year. Your Philadelphia 76ers have achieved the unwelcome status of being their league’s laughingstock. Perhaps they have been the joke of the league for the past couple of seasons, but this year it has really been cemented. I was listening to a Bucks-Hornets game yesterday and whenever Milwaukee’s play-by-play guy did the “around the league” schedule, he referred to the Sixers as the”0-17 (at the time) Sixers”. The fact that any team would still be winless this late into a season will always resonate around the league, and I’d be willing to bet that the 0 in 0-18 hangs around the neck of each Sixers player like an anchor right about now.
On top of the misery that has come with this season so far, we have the Jahlil Okafor saga. At this point in the media cycle, we’ve seen the hot takes and the backlash to those hot takes. My own perspective is that I never would have seen this coming. Okafor has that monotone voice and comes across as boring. When I say that, I mean the gym-rat, good kind of boring. You don’t get the advanced array of low-post moves that he has at the precocious age of 19 without being some kind of basketball nerd. I really thought that he was the kind of guy that would be immune to the club-hopping, money-is-the-end-all-be-all mindset that a lot of young athletes have. I was wrong.
Maybe I expected a little too much out of him. After all, asking a 19-year-old kid (with money, I might add) to have perspective and see the big picture is a fool’s errand. If you expect that to happen, you’ll probably end up disappointed 97 out of 100 times. What’s especially troubling here is the level of stupidity with Okafor’s incidents. If you got into a verbal altercation that resulted in having a gun put in your face, wouldn’t you think twice the next time another altercation arose? That is just a frighteningly dumb thought process that Okafor is exhibiting here. It sucks that the Sixers have to do this, but for the time being it would be in their best interest to assign a security detail that follows him everywhere.
That theme of needing a babysitter extends well past Jahlil Okafor. Yes, this team needs an infusion of talent, but even more than that, they desperately need an infusion of veterans. Sixers management has hung Brett Brown out to dry this season by having almost no veteran influence on this team. I like Carl Landry a lot, he’s a guy that has had to prove himself every step of the way in becoming an NBA player, but he has played as many minutes for the team this year as I have. This team needs veteran leadership on the floor during crunch-time. The Sixers’ last five games have all ended the same way, with them losing after collapsing in the last five minutes of the game. I guarantee you that they would have won at least 2 out of those 5 games if they had any veteran leadership at all. 2-16 probably doesn’t sound much different than 0-18, but I’m sure it would mean the world to this young team.
With that in mind, let’s look at the future for this team. The Sixers could have as many as four 1st-round picks in next year’s draft. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll say that the Sixers get three of those first-rounders, or maybe they get four and spend one pick on a high-upside, draft-and-stash foreign player. Barring any trades, here is the probable opening night roster for the 2016-2017 season, with player ages as of 10/1/16 in parentheses:
Jahlil Okafor, C, (20)
Nerlens Noel, C/PF, (22)
Joel Embiid, C, (22)
Dario Saric, F, (22)
Robert Covington, F, (25)
Richaun Holmes, F, (22)
Jerami Grant, F, (22)
Carl Landry, F, (33)
Nik Stauskas, G, (22)
2016 1st-round pick
2016 1st-round pick
2016 1st-round pick
You may notice some names missing; the names above are those that the Sixers are contractually bound to for next year, except for Saric, who I added because I want to see him over here. Hollis Thompson, Jakarr Sampson, and TJ McConnell have team options for next season. Tony Wroten and Isaiah Canaan have qualifying offers, which means that if the Sixers extend those offers, those players become restricted free agents and the Sixers can match any offer they get. If the Sixers do not extend those offers, Wroten and Canaan would be unrestricted free agents.
Of the list above, the Sixers have a whopping 6 players that would only be 22 years old as of 10/1/16. On top of that you have Okafor, who will only be 20, and three 1st-round picks. That’s an awful lot of youth, especially if the Sixers focus on the backcourt in the draft. They might have a lot more talent on next year’s team, but young talent can be overwhelmed in late-game NBA situations. I’d venture to say that’s been proven over the last five games. Brett Brown needs to be able to look down his bench and call upon a few vets who can maybe do a little bit of on-court hand holding in those situations.
Look, I still Trust The Process ™. That said, the hedge fund managers that own and operate this team need to realize that these are kids, not stocks or mutual funds. They are susceptible to things like doubt, insecurity, and frustration. This Sixer fan base has given the team management more patience than they could have ever dreamed or hoped for. This MUST be the last year of “The Tank”. In order for next year’s potential to turn into wins and regained respect, Sam Hinkie and company have to supplement these young players with veterans that actually play and contribute ON THE COURT. As someone who has been more than patient with this team, I’ll say this: hey Sam, I’m sure you’re familiar with the term “return on investment”. The most patient of your fan base have been investing long enough, in the 2016-2017 season, we need to start seeing our returns.