“To go north, you must go south, to go west, you must go east. To go forward, you must go back.”
There are about a million ways to express this. But it doesn’t make the reality of the situation any easier to accept. In today’s NBA, you have to be awful in order to have a real shot a being great. Not only does that mean you need to deliberately lose, it means that you need to give up the good players that you already have.
I know how the NBA works. In order to win championships, you need superstars. In order to get superstars, you need to have high draft picks. To get high draft picks, you need to be terrible. Unless your team is located in New York, Miami or Los Angeles.
When the Philadelphia 76ers traded for Andrew Bynum last year, I didn’t mind it. I was worried about Bynum’s health, but he had legitimate superstar potential. Not to mention he should have been highly motivated, given that he was in a contract year.
We all know how this story ends. Bynum never played a single game for the Sixers and he never will. Unless a terrible team gets frisky, Bynum will most likely have to settle for a one-year deal on the cheap. It didn’t go how he wanted it to, but Bynum will come out of the Philly debacle just fine.
The Sixers were not so lucky. The added some questionable contracts (Nick Young, Kwame Brown, Dorell Wright and Jason Richardson) in order to build a team around Bynum. Without him, they are just a bunch of mismatched role players. The Sixers had pipe dreams about dealing Evan Turner who has never lived up to his draft billing.
That doesn’t leave a team with very many options. Which is why to Sixers chose to blow their whole team up by trading their best player. Jrue Holiday is a 23-year old All-Star point guard. Those don’t grow on trees. Not to mention Holiday is locked up to a four year contract extension that hasn’t even begun yet. He’ll make right around $10 million a season. For an All-Star point guard, that’s a good deal. For a 23-year old All-Star point guard, it’s incredible.
This had to be done. It didn’t make in any easier to stomach. When word started flying that the Sixers had traded for Nerlens Noel, I assumed to worst. The Sixers must have given up their coveted 2014 first round draft pick. Why wouldn’t I assume this? This is what the Sixers do. This is what they have done since the Allen Iverson days. They re-tool, they don’t rebuild. Which is a great way to field a mediocre team that loses in the first round of the playoffs every year.
Then came word that the Sixers had traded Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for Noel. I went into full freakout mode. It didn’t help that the initial reports made it sound like the Sixers had also shipped their 2013 and 2014 first round picks to New Orleans. That would’ve been one of the worst trades in NBA history.
When the dust had settled here’s how the trade looked:
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS receive
- Jrue Holiday
- Philadelphia 76ers 2013 2nd round draft pick (42 overall)
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS receive
- Nerlens Noel
- New Orleans Pelicans 2014 first round draft pick (top-5 protected)
The big takeaway here is how highly the 2014 is being thought of. The Pelicans were the only team to surrender a 2014 first round pick on draft night. And that pick is top-5 protected. The 2014 draft is being compared to the legendary 2003 draft. Will it be that good? Who knows. But at the bare minimum, those 2014 draft picks are going to be valuable.
This is what I always wanted the Sixers to do. Blow it up and attempt to land a high lottery pick or two. I just always envisioned building that team around Jrue Holiday. That’s not going to happen now. It is in the best interest of the Sixers to lose as many games as possible in the 2013-14 season. If everything goes according to plan the Sixers should enter the 2014-15 season with four recent lottery picks on their team. That can work (Oklahoma City Thunder) or it can end very badly (Sacramento Kings).
Was this the right move for the Sixers? Yes. Why am I still not wild about it? Because I think that the Sixers could have gotten more for Holiday. If the Orlando Magic are dying for Eric Bledsoe, what would they have given up for Holiday?
Philadelphia 76ers fans need to root for their team to lose in 2013-14. To lose often and probably badly. It’s a good idea in theory, but in practice it will be ugly. Attendance and viewership will plummet. What if Sixers somehow win too many games and the Pelicans end up making the playoffs? One late lottery and one mid-first round pick aren’t going to change the course of your franchise.
Who knows? This is Philly we’re talking about. Maybe the fans will band together and cheer on the losing effort. Even if they’re only doing it ironically or sarcastically. Philly fans will tell you that while they have plenty of experience with losing, they have very little experience with luck in sports.
Now they have to get lucky. You know the expression “sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good?” In today’s NBA it’s always better to be bad and lucky than it is to be good. So Philadelphia fans get to cheer for loses and root for ping pong ball combinations.
All you have to do to build a championship team is lose, lose and lose some more. If this works, the Sixers could be the most popular sports team in Philly by 2015. If it fails, the Sixers could be relegated to the bottom rung for another decade.
Either way, it will at least be more interesting than losing in the first round of the playoffs.