I'm a little shocked that I feel the need to rant about the 76ers. Basketball is my fourth favorite of the four major pro sports. So I don't watch Sixers games or other NBA games nearly as much as I watch MLB, NHL or NFL games. But this is brought on by a tool named Scott O'Neil. He's the team's CEO. He was interviewed on WIP-FM, the main sports talk radio station, Saturday morning. I was not up early enough to hear that, but I heard a few lines that were excerpted for the station's sports updates at :20 and :40 each hour. In one of them he commented that the Sixers were "fun to watch," that he had fun watching the game the previous night.
In that game, Friday at Milwaukee, the Sixers trailed 82-81 with 8:21 left in the fourth quarter. And didn't score again. Not a single point. The lowly Bucks scored the final 11 points of the game to finish off a completely forgettable 93-81 win. The 76ers missed their last 14 shots from the field and, during those amazing final 501 seconds, didn't get to the free throw line once. After Saturday night's loss in the home opener, they're now 0-3 to start the season.
But Scott O'Neil thought it was fun.
This comment came a day after he decided to take some verbal jabs at Larry Brown, the coach of the team the last time the Sixers were actually any good, because Brown had the temerity to criticize the team's current approach to building a team: by destroying it completely.
Their strategy the last year-plus has been to get rid of just about every half-decent veteran player they had, ditching high salaries and acquiring draft picks and woefully inadequate, untalented replacements, in order to turn into a mediocre team into one that is not remotely capable of winning, trying to maximize their chances of getting the top pick in the NBA draft. Last season they finished 19-63, second worst in the NBA, but only got the third pick in the draft thanks to the league's lottery system of allocating the top picks.
The draft is the other part of the strategy: picking players with an eye to improving years down the road, instead of players who might help the team now. As a result, for two years in a row the Sixers picked players who were injured in college, and wouldn't be fully recovered for months. In the case of Nerlens Noel the Sixers had him sit out the entire 2013-14 season. This year's top pick, Joel Embiid, seems to be on the same slow track. (Added to the Andrew Bynum disaster, this would make three consecutive years that the 76ers' key summer acquisition would fail to play a single game in the following season.) Also, another draft acquisition (Dario Saric) is under contract with a team in Turkey and can't play in the NBA for at least a year, possibly two.
The end result is a team that will struggle to reach last season's 19-win mark, looking to get yet another top pick, and then hoping that their young talent will flourish. And, with money to spend because they're well under the salary cap, the 76ers hope that will entice quality free agents to sign with them, and voila! they're one the best teams in the league, fighting for a championship.
That's all well and good. But they're charging full price for the tickets they're selling for the slop they put on the court last year, and this year, and probably next year as well. Scott O'Neil doesn't have to pay to watch this dreck so he can have all the fun he wants. The average fan? Not so much.
And this is the NBA's fault. Because of the way the league operates, with ridiculously complex rules for the salary cap and free agency, and a draft system that, even with the lottery in place, still encourages teams to essentially lose on purpose, the only way for most teams to become true contenders is to follow the slash-and-burn process the 76ers are currently undertaking. It's a joke.
Here's a prime example of the cap idiocy: last week the 76ers and New York Knicks made a trade. In addition to a couple of future draft picks (the 76ers may now have 76 picks over the next few seasons; you normally get two per year, one in each of the two rounds), the Sixers acquired a player, Travis Outlaw, from New York and sent one of their players, Arnett Moultrie, to New York.
After the trade, the Sixers cut Outlaw. The Knicks cut Moultrie. Because of the salary cap complications, the Knicks couldn't just cut Outlaw themselves They had to trade him so they could keep another player on the roster.
It's the same stupidity on draft night. Unlike the NFL, where teams will trade up in the draft before the pick comes up, in order to draft a player they want, NBA teams draft players first, and then trade them. It's lunacy. Players get drafted, march up to the podium to pose for pics with the commissioner and put on a cap with their new team's logo. Five minutes later they're on some other team.
76ers fans, to be sure, support what the team is doing. They want a team that can legitimately compete for the NBA title. I can't blame them. But I also can't be bothered to watch any of their games, unless there's absolutely nothing else interesting on TV or someone gives me a free ticket.