Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

No laughing matter

Posted by Eric Fisher On December 4

Fisher column logo2Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will likely play for the Thunder on Friday.

That means there will be something worth watching at Wells Fargo Center.

Yes, the 76ers won a game Wednesday, their first win of the season. The victory allowed them to avoid the infamy of tying the NBA record by losing 18 straight games to start a season.

But that’s hardly reason to hold a parade.

Actually, for the Sixers (1-17), victories, even over a bad Timberwolves team missing a few players, might be reason to hold a parade. Victories will be few and far between this season.

General manager Sam Hinkie has constructed a roster that’s designed to lose. It’s almost as if, with attempts to get the top draft pick last season thwarted by too many early-season wins (not a problem this season), Hinkie was determined to get the tanking right this season.

After trading Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes at last season’s trade deadline, stockpiling second-round draft choices in the process, the Sixers’ losing streak reached 26 games, tying the NBA record. Not satisfied with ending the season as one of the worst teams in NBA history, Hinkie drafted an injured center who likely won’t play this season and traded for a European sensation who won’t play for the Sixers for at least two years. Then he removed another veteran piece by trading away forward Thaddeus Young.

Hinkie has given the Sixers a legitimate shot at having the worst record in NBA history.

It must be awful to be a player on this roster, knowing in the back of your mind that you’re on the team because the general manager doesn’t think you’re good enough to help the team win.

The players, of course, aren’t going to turn down an opportunity to play in the NBA. They certainly shouldn’t be expected to turn down an NBA paycheck. But the losing – and knowing management doesn’t really want you to win – has to take a mental toll on the players.

The losing has to take a toll on the young players the Sixers envision as part of their future. Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel already have displayed signs of frustration. Let’s just hope they don’t become accustomed to losing.

That’s the danger of making losing acceptable, which is what the Sixers have done. You want players who hate losing. Not players who accept it.

Hinkie has made losing acceptable by tying it to future success. But that success isn’t guaranteed.

For a reminder, the Sixers had to look no further than the big guy in the camel jacket sitting on the Spurs’ bench last Monday at Wells Fargo Center. His name is Tim Duncan.

Duncan is the only No. 1 draft pick in the past 25 years who can say that he led the team that drafted him to an NBA championship. The previous player with that distinction was David Robinson, the first overall draft pick in 1987. But Robinson didn’t win an NBA championship until Duncan joined him on the Spurs 10 years later.

Even if the Sixers snare the top pick in the next NBA draft, they’ll be extremely fortunate to get a player close to the quality of Duncan.

Duncan wasn’t the only star on the bench Monday night as the Spurs played the second half of back-to-back road games. Point guard Tony Parker also sat out. That followed the Mavericks’ decision to sit Dirk Nowitzki and point guard Jammer Nelson against the Sixers two days earlier. It seems a trend is developing.

The Sixers mounted late challenges in both games. Both times the other team prevailed. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was so unconcerned by the Sixers’ rally that he kept Manu Ginobili on the bench during the entire fourth quarter, even when the Sixers cut their deficit to five points in the final minute of a 109-103 defeat. Ginobili played 12 minutes, 42 seconds, barely more than a quarter.

That left the fans watching what seemed like a junior varsity game. With Duncan, Parker and center Tiago Splitter (calf injury) not playing, and with Ginobili barely getting on the floor, the Spurs, literally and figuratively, didn’t look like themselves.

The Sixers, missing leading scorer Tony Wroten (knee) and forward Nerlens Noel (hip), looked ragged. They fell behind the Spurs’ pedestrian lineup by 20 points during the first half.

The Spurs looked downright bored. It was almost as if they let the Sixers close within 10-12 points just to keep the game interesting. Every time the Sixers cut their deficit to 10-12 points, the Spurs pushed the lead up to 15-20 points and kept the Sixers at arm’s length. And it was a long arm (Duncan’s?) they were using to keep distance between themselves and the Sixers.

Not surprisingly, there wasn’t much energy – on the court or in the stands.

The game was boring. The quality of play was putrid.

Even the fans who bought tickets at reduced prices had to question whether the slop being presented as NBA basketball was worth the price they paid.

The fans are the big losers in this second straight season of tanking. They don’t have a competitive team to watch. There are games in which the Sixers have virtually no chance to win.

On PhillyPhantics.com’s Blog Talk Radio show, “Will the Sixers win a game this week?” has become a weekly segment.

It’s easy to make jokes at the Sixers’ expense.

But having a team that, through no fault of its players, is a joke really isn’t funny.

The organization should be embarrassed by the quality of their product. Instead, Hinkie & Co. are patting themselves on the back for how shrewd they were in executing the new-and-improved Tanking 2.0.

Enduring a few lean years to get better in the long run? Most fans would be onboard with that.

Fielding a team designed to lose and challenging league records for futility? No, thank you.

Or, better yet, “No, tank you.”

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