Despite the best efforts of their players, the Sixers are in tank mode again. When president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo traded away forward Ersan Ilyasova and center Nerlens Noel at the trade deadline, it was a prudent path if the Sixers weren’t going to re-sign either player when they became free agents.
The trades also weakened the team this season, improving the Sixers’ odds in the NBA Draft lottery.
To their credit, the Sixers are still playing hard. They took the Trail Blazers into overtime on Thursday and held a lead after three quarters before succumbing to the Clippers. But the bottom line is the Sixers’ enter Sunday night’s game against the Lakers on a four-game losing streak, with seven defeats in their past eight games.
The only team with a worse record in the Eastern Conference is the Nets. The only teams in the Western Conference with worse records are the Suns and Lakers.
Winning games is no longer important, as it supposedly was earlier this season. The goal, once again, seems to be losing more games in order to get into better draft position. In addition to the trades, the Sixers decided to shut down Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for the rest of the season due to injury concerns. How many years has it been since improving their draft position wasn’t the Sixers’ primary goal?
The Sixers have several paths to a top draft pick. The Sixers own the Lakers’ top pick, but it is top-three protected. Unless the Lakers befall bad fortune in the lottery, they’ll retain their top pick.
The Sixers also have the right to switch draft picks with the Kings. Although this may not be the bonanza it appeared to be in January when the Sixers were winning with some regularity, switching picks with the King could still be advantageous. The Kings, who traded DeMarco Cousins to the Pelicans, enter Sunday on an eight-game losing streak. The Kings’ record (25-41) is still better than the Sixers’ record (23-42), but it might not be better for much longer. At the very least, the Kings’ poor record increases the Sixers’ odds of getting the top pick.
Even if the strategy makes sense, everyone should be tired of playing for draft position every season.
REVOLVING DOOR: Another unfortunate similarity to recent years is the Sixers’ revolving-door roster. Justin Anderson arrived in a trade. Guard Chasson Randle has come and gone. Big forwards Justin Harper and Shawn Long are the latest players to join the Sixers.
The situation isn’t as bad as the past two seasons. The Sixers roster no longer resembles a “band of gypsies,” as head coach Brett Brown once described them. But the turnover in recent weeks is a step back from the player development that was going on while Joel Embiid was healthy and there was still hope that Nerlens Noel would return.
TERRIFIC DEBUT: Shawn Long made an impressive debut with the Sixers, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds in just 15 minutes, 23 seconds during Monday’s loss to the visiting Bucks.
SARIC WATCH: Dario Saric continues to build his case for being NBA Rookie of the Year. Saric scored a career-high 28 points Thursday during the Sixers’ overtime loss to the Trai Blazers. In the Sixers’ last win, a 105-102 triumph over the Knicks, Saric led the Sixers on points (21), rebounds (10) and assists (4).
Saric’s toughest competition for the award may be teammate Joel Embiid. The question is whether Embiid can garner enough votes despite only playing 31 games.
TOP THIS: Nik Stauskas and Richaun Holmes scored career-highs of 24 points one week apart in losses to the Pistons and Clippers, respectively.
BROKEN BOGUT: Center Andrew Bogut, who was the Sixers’ property for a short time after the Nerlens Noel trade, fractured his tibia less than one minute into his debut with the Cavaliers.
MISSING IN ACTION: The Warriors have lost three straight games, including Saturday’s loss to the Spurs, who have pulled within a half-game of the Warriors in the race for top seed in the Western Conference.
Saturday’s showdown, however, was far from a classic. The Spurs won despite Kawhi Leonard sitting out due to concussion protocol, Tony Parker skipping the game due to back stiffness and, perhaps most concerning, LaMarcus Aldridge being sidelined indefinitely by what was described as mild heart arrhythmia.
The Warriors, already without Kevin Durant due to a knee injury, gave the night off to center Draymond Green, forward Andre Iguodala and guards Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry because they were at the end of an eight-game road trip over 13 days.
Fans who paid top dollar to see this marquee showdown must have been upset to see lineups filled with backups and role players.
LOOKAHEAD: The Sixers probably won’t miss the Warriors’ regular starters Tuesday (10:30 p.m.) when they conclude a four-game road trip at Golden State. The Sixers will then return home for games Friday (7 p.m.) against the Mavericks and Sunday (1 p.m.) against the Celtics before returning to the road on Mon., March 20 to face the Magic.