Every Friday this month Complex Sports will feature "You Suck But I Love You," an open letter from one of us about our favorite (and terrible) NBA team. Last week Doug Sibor kicked off the series by baring his soul about his awful Boston Celtics. Somehow this week's team is even worse. Here's Maurice Peebles on the Sixers.
I believe it was the great Percy "Master P" Miller who once said, "Nigga I'm the colonel of the motherfuckin' tank." Unfortunately, with P's NBA career only lasting two pre-seasons and with his record label now defunct, that statement is no longer true. That distinction now belongs to one Sam Hinkie, analytics wizard and General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers. HE'S the colonel of the motherfuckin' tank.
Unless you've been living under several large boulders, you're well aware that the Sixers are bad. Worse than bad, actually. Horrendous. Start-off-the-season-by-losing-17-straight-games horrendous. But, as an NBA fan, you already knew this. What you might not know is how much many Sixers fans like myself are madly in love with this awful excuse for an NBA team.
It all starts with Hinkie. When Sam Hinkie was appointed GM in May of 2013, the Sixers were coming off a 34-48 season that had them landing 9th in the Eastern Conference–four wins shy of a playoff birth. To Sam Hinkie and a clear majority of NBA front office personnel, this is possibly the worst way to end a season. Mediocrity in the NBA is a death sentence, as the team is too good to land a potentially franchise-altering player with a high pick in the draft and too bad to have any real shot at competing for a championship. Finishing in the middle had been the Sixers' primary problem since they won the East in 2001 with Allen Iverson and Larry Brown.
Hinkie knew things had to change. And that change was going to take a lot more than hoping Jrue Holiday, Kwame Brown, and bowling alley all-star Andrew Bynum would bring home a championship. It was going to take a new emphasis on winning at business, winning at science, and winning at losing to get Philadelphia to a place where it has a legitimate chance at contending for an NBA title.
From the moment he traded the team's only All-Star—Jrue Holiday—during the 2013 draft, Sam Hinkie had a plan in place and wasn't going to deviate from or apologize for what he knew was the best way to organically create a champion. Widely-known as a nerd for advanced statistics during his time with the Houston Rockets, he made sports science a core part of his new club. In the same way the Chip Kelly scientific philosophy dictates the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team across the street, the Sixers rely on data instead of "the way things have always been done" to determine when they practice, how they practice, what they eat, how they sleep, and—most importantly—how they play. The team ran the fastest offense in the NBA last season, because analytics supports that style of play. The team will look to either shoot a three or get to the rim, because analytics supports that style of play. The team is always looking to hire more basketball analysts, because analytics...you get the idea.
If you only paid attention to the major media outlets and big sports blogs, you may be fooled into thinking the 76ers are a band of shitty D-League kids hopelessly winging it on the court. In reality, they're a heavily data-driven organization that knows where it's going and how to get there.
The Sixers know the way to an NBA championship is through acquiring a superstar (or two), and the only way to land one of those coveted players is either through the draft or through free agency. Which is exactly why they're trying to land as many high draft picks as possible AS WELL AS using science and amazing new facilities to attract future, would-be superstar free agents.
For Philly fans like myself, once you understand that the team has a laser focus on becoming contenders, you don't mind the spectacular losing streaks and the negative press. You begin to love the team even harder because of those who don't understand or don't approve of the team's unapologetic strategies. Tom Ziller from SB Nation described it perfectly:
Teams like the Lakers and Kings, if they are tanking, have it. They can make the case they are trying to win and things went sideways. There's none of that in Philly. It's fully transparent. But that bothers people. A lot. We say we want honesty and maybe we really don't.
Other teams are pissed because the Sixers decided not to disguise their tanking like they should? Fans are upset that the Sixers aren't hiding their plans to lose? Fuck 'em! Burn this shit to the ground, Sam. We got your back.
Obviously, there are Philadelphians who don't approve of what the Sixers are doing, who aren't down with living through 3-5 horrific years to eventually build a squad good enough to hoist the Larry O'Brien. These folks usually fall into one of three categories: (1) people who don't fully understand the plan behind the losing, (2) people who would complain even if the team landed LeBron & Durant tomorrow, or (3) old media people who are afraid of change and/or looking to troll for attention. Everyone else is on-board because everyone else sees what Hinkie sees and never wants to live through another decade of 9th place finishes in the East.
Plus—more than anything—the team is actually fun to watch. They're the youngest squad in the league, and have plenty of pieces that can fit into a larger championship puzzle down the road. Michael Carter-Williams was Rookie of the Year last season; Nerlens Noel is a bouncy and aggressive rim-protector; K.J. McDaniels—a SECOND-ROUND PICK, remember—looks like one of the biggest steals of the 2014 draft; Joel Embiid has a superstar ceiling and is already the NBA's Twitter MVP; Dario Saric—drafted 12th overall and currently playing in Turkey—was the youngest player ever to win Euroleague MVP of the Month; and Tony Wroten...he's just so damned Tony Wroten!
This is a young team with an incredible amount of promise that's utilizing futuristic technology and being led by a disciple of Gregg Popovich. This is an organization that is fearlessly thumbing its nose at the NBA's unwritten rules and instead trying something truly original. This is ingenuity, courage, honesty, and youthful playfulness all coming together for one larger purpose.
What is there not to love? You know, besides the constant, soul-crushing losing? —Maurice Peebles (@tallmaurice)
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