In recent years, select NBA teams have become notorious for employing a “tanking” strategy, in which they intentionally build a weak roster in order to lose games and claim a high draft pick. It’s a defensible strategy, but certainly not one to be proud of.
The Philadelphia 76ers, led by shrewd general manager Sam Hinkie, have spent the last few years going above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to tanking.
During the 2013-14 season, the Sixers went 19-63. Last season, the team went 18-64. Philadelphia just picked up their first win of this current season on Tuesday, and they currently sit at 1-19. It’s unclear when the Sixers will attempt to win basketball games again.
To sustain failure, Hinkie has done everything in his power to ruin any immediate beacons of hope. Just nine months after Syracuse star Michael Carter-Williams won the Rookie of the Year award for Philadelphia in 2014, Hinkie traded him away for a future first-round pick. Carter-Williams is a flawed player, but he is a 6-foot-6 point guard. You cannot teach size.
It seemed that Philadelphia would take a big step forward after the 2014 draft, in which they owned the third and 10th picks. Unsurprisingly, this was not the case.
With the third pick, Hinkie took Kansas center Joel Embiid, who has yet to play an NBA game because of continued injuries to his right foot. To make matters worse, Embiid seems to be in no rush to return to the court: sources say he has taken a relaxed and unhealthy approach to his recovery.
With the 10th pick, Hinkie took point guard Elfrid Payton before sending him to Orlando for the rights to Croatian forward Dario Saric and a pair of draft picks. Saric proceeded to spend the next two years overseas in Turkey, and although he has stated his intention to move to the NBA next season, there is no guarantee that will happen. Meanwhile, Payton is an integral player for the improving Magic.
There is a scary dedication to losing emanating from Philadelphia, and for once it is not coming from the Eagles. Is Hinkie a masochist? Does he enjoy pain?
The Sixers have received a boost this year from first-round draft pick Jahlil Okafor, who leads all rookies with 17.2 points per game. Okafor is a talented center with offensive moves way beyond his years, and looks to play a crucial role in the team’s future.
However, all of the loses have taken a toll on Okafor. He was caught on video this week engaging in a physical scuffle in the Boston streets after a loss and was suspended two games by the team on Thursday. Okafor has had other run-ins with the law over the past few weeks.
As much as Hinkie would like to play this situation like a game of “NBA 2K,” sustained losing has real-world ramifications that go beyond the standings.
There is an unwelcome stench of failure beginning to make up the stigma surrounding the Sixers, and that is not easily erased by an exciting young player or two. Building a winning culture in sports takes time, and to tear down a roster to its lowest point only makes it that much harder to build it back up again.
Star players will be extremely hesitant to look Philadelphia’s way in free agency, unless they are being handed a boatload of money. Hinkie’s obvious tanking moves raise the question of how committed the Sixers are to winning, and that question will bounce around the mind of any player considering a move to the team.
Three consecutive years of commitment to being the NBA’s worst team also has an impact on the entire organization. Imagine being a fan of this team, receiving calls from representatives asking you to sign up for season tickets. Sign me up! Who doesn’t want to pay thousands of dollars to watch a squad of D-League castoffs get crushed every single night?
It’s a “process,” Hinkie continues to repeat to those who question his methods. That makes sense, but this appears to be a process with no direction. The end goal is clearly a championship-caliber team, but that could not be farther away at this point in time.
Hinkie’s transactions read like a continuous treading of water, a series of wait-and-see moves to keep his job. When upper management comes knocking and asks to see results, he can tell them to give the “process” more time.
Time is running out. Should Philadelphia remain horrible next year with Embiid and Saric possibly joining the fray, Hinkie will need to answer for the disaster that he has overseen. And someone please tell him to get some backcourt help.