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Sixers Point/Counterpoint: To tank or not to tank?

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The Sixers 3-1 start has a lot of people in the Delaware Valley hopeful that this team can surprise everyone and make some serious strides towards bringing this long downtrodden franchise into a perennial contender.

 

On the other hand, some fans flat out want this team to tank the season in hopes of landing the future crown jewel of the 2014 NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins from Kansas.

 

Philly2Philly's Joe Vallee and Matt Goldberg have two interesting takes on the possible scenarios.

 

Here they are:


 

Joe: 

 

Matt,

 

I understand with a new coach and new players that everyone wants to make a good impression and winning is good for morale. In saying that, I think there can be a fine line between pulling a 1982-83 Houston Rockets, not getting your face kicked in every night, and playing not to win. But despite the Sixers’ strong start, my rationale here is that this team will probably win 25 games or more and then be stuck in the SAME pattern this franchise has been stuck in for years: getting an average pick in the draft combined with first round playoffs exits to teams who (unlike the Sixers) actually have a chance of winning the NBA Finals. Photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

 

Who knows? Maybe MCW is the second coming of Magic Johnson and Brett Brown is the second coming of Larry Brown (with hopefully a few more NBA titles in the future), but I think everyone is getting carried away here. This season is a week old. At this time, there's no way the Sixers can compete with the Miami Heats and Oklahoma Citys of the world on a consistent basis. None. It's just the way it is. How many games do you think this team can realistically win? Chances are they might get a lot worse before they get better over the course of the season.

 

No, we aren't guaranteed Andrew Wiggins no matter what happens (and has anybody REALLY seen him play for that long at the collegiate level to make an assessment of how good he is?), but it's a better draft than in years past and if the team gets two decent picks (the one pick being courtesy of New Orleans) and Nerlens Noel is back healthy next year, that's a scenario that looks better. The Sixers won 18 games in 1996 and five years later they were in the finals. I just don't see anything encouraging about winning 25-30 games again. I’ve seen this movie before and all too often, the ending is the same.

 

I’m not sure what the Sixers’ rationale is in regards to Evan Turner. Well, let me take that back, I do in a way. Up until this point, the number two pick in the 2010 NBA Draft hasn’t lived up to expectations of a number two pick in the NBA Draft. The Sixers have until June 30th to offer Turner a qualifying offer of $8.7 million, but chances are they want to use that money on a free agent. Although the team might want to wait and see how well he plays with MCW, chances are Turner is gone at the trade deadline or after the season. The same could be said for Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young. It’s hard to believe Young is in his seventh season as a Sixer. A class act on and off the court, GM Sam Hinkie could use Young as a trade piece if a team is willing to take on his salary. At the same time, Young could be a valuable veteran when this team begins their eventual ascension.

 

While Turner, Hawes and Young are all relatively young, Hinkie might decide to usher them out and start anew. If these scenarios come to fruition, let’s be honest: more likely than not, we don’t have to worry about the Sixers playing not to win.

 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see the Sixers get some exciting wins in the early going, but the Andrew Bynum debacle last year was the clincher for me. I’m intrigued by the development of Carter-Williams, but everything else the Sixers have tried to get this franchise back on track has been wrong or they’ve screwed it up. At least the moves Hinkie made on draft night show that he’s willing to take risks, but for the first time in almost twenty years, I could really care less if this team wins.

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Matt: 

 

Joe,

 

I understand your predicament and frustration with the 76ers, and while my extra years should not connote extra wisdom, please know that I also would love to see the Sixers return to prominence one day. Soon. Before my five-year-old son has a five-year-old of his own. How many great seasons, or even moments, has this oft-forgotten franchise given us since 2001, or for that matter, since Charles Barkley left in 1992?

LeBron James photo: Getty Images

In most cases, NBA prominence does start with a high pick in the draft that becomes Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird or LeBron James. I do understand the premise of stinking the joint out this year, or to be more direct, tanking it. At the same time, I reject this approach to the season, even as fans and pundits.

 

The Sixers' 3-1 start is not enough to get any rational fan thinking that Michael Carter-Williams is a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year, or that Brett Brown has already clinched Coach of the Year on the way to the playoffs. It would be nice, but I also question how many real pieces this team has in place to be a true contender.

 

3-0 may have been more of a case of fool's gold than Nick Foles' seven TDs in less than three quarters, or Andre Iguodala's seven ("Are you kidding me!") three-pointers Monday night at a certain arena. My main point is this:  Even if Andrew Wiggins - or someone else draft-eligible - becomes Jordan, Magic and LeBron rolled into one - and even if the Sixers (as many project) really do only win about 16 or 17 games to clinch the worst record this season - what happens? That gives us only a 25% chance of landing Andrew "MJ-Magic-LBJ" Wiggins.

 

The issue is this: Do we want the Sixers to go Winless for Wiggins or something approaching that this year? And my answer, with as much practicality as I can muster is a resounding "No." This leaves aside the ethical question of laying down or not giving the fans our best effort every game. Again, I say this as a practical matter. I hate the idea of tanking, but concede that there are certain times when it behooves a franchise to not play to win.

 

The 1968 Philadelphia Eagles...yes that team of Joe "Must Go" Kuharich that inspired otherwise good people to pelt Santa Claus with snowballs...had no business winning football games after starting a 14-game season with an 0-11 record. That "resurgence" earned them Leroy Keyes in the draft instead of OJ Simpson.

 

Of course, there are more recent examples - and maybe even a few in the NBA - although it is trickier to tank when the worst record in the league only gives you a marginally better shot at the #1 pick than the 10th-worst record.

 

I don't have high expectations for the 2013-14 Sixers, but the beauty of this year is that the games they win are not because of patchwork veteran players. The thrilling season-opening win over Miami and the terrific comeback in Chicago were mostly done because of great play by Carter-Williams, Evan Turner, Thad Young (all players 25-and-under) and the still-young if ever-puzzling Spencer Hawes. This is not a team that will win meaningless games because we decided to pick up Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for one more shot at glory.

 

You raise a good point about Turner, but it's not a foregone conclusion that he won't be here after this season. Maybe, Brett Brown has unlocked some of Turner’s potential, or the fourth-year (disappointment, but not a bust to this point) Ohio State product is just relieved to not have to look at Doug Collins on a nightly basis. I realize that Hawes will only resemble Kevin Love once in awhile, while he plays like Kevin Bag-my-donuts the rest of the time, but maybe he can compete hard and play well 40 or 50 games in a year instead of 10 or 12. As for Thad, when this team does actually contend he may be a sixth man or even deeper on the bench, but he is still more than a serviceable starter at this point.Photo: USA TODAY Sports

 

In other words, what's the real harm with a young team under a new GM and a first-year head coach winning games with young talent? If they do shock the world and make the playoffs this year, they still get New Orleans' pick, which will probably put them in the lottery anyway. Of course, a rejuvenated Nerlens Noel and whatever first-round draft picks should only make them that much closer to true contender status.

 

As a fan, I'd like to know that Brett Brown can coach as well as (even if he doesn't dress and whine as well as) Larry Brown. I'd like to have hope that MCW can be an all-star point guard and a match-up nightmare for D-Rose, Kyrie Irving, Rajon Rondo and the like. Maybe, Turner will stay here and blend with MCW better than he did with Iguodala or Jrue. And if ET stays at the three, we can upgrade our shooting guard - perhaps, the weakest spot in our lineup (assuming Noel can really play within a year or two.)

 

This year's 76ers may never give us a moment quite as high as that season opening victory over LeBron and the Heat, fueled by that incredible 19-0 run to start the game. But, I'll be watching and seeing what they bring to the court each night. They may surprise and they may stink, but should they tank?

 

No thanks.

Matt Goldberg, co-author of A Snowball’s Chance: Philly Fires Back Against the National Media, has written hundreds of sports articles for Philly2Philly, his own blog and other sites in the last few years. More information on his books, writings, speaking and customized services can be found via http://tipofthegoldberg.com/

 

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

 

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MCW photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James photo: Getty Images

Nerlens Noel photo: USA TODAY Sports