The 76ers Are Tankmatic

As the losing streak continues in Philadelphia...

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Image via Complex Original
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Unless you came of age in Philly between the years of 1992 and 2000, you probably have no idea who the RAM Squad is. But if you do, then you know there’s a classic moment at the beginning of Thee Album Regardless, a long-forgotten RAM masterpiece, where Tommy Hill says, kind of out of nowhere:

“Disappear; reappear in year!”

In the dark place that is the 2013-14 Sixers season, it’s a line I often return to for solace. (Which, considering that two of the members of RAM Squad are dead while another is doing Fed time for trying to hijack two cars containing $850,000 in drug money while they were being towed by the FBI, is maybe not the most appropriate but hey, any port in a storm.)

The Sixers are going to reappear next year, and everything’s going to be great. Next year, we’ll have two new lottery picks. Next year, maybe we’ll have Kevin Love. Next year, we’ll have a totally rebuilt Nerlens Noel.  Today's Sixers may be a shambolic nightmare, a shadow of an NBA team, but it's all part of the plan.

(Note: I’d like to start the trend of using the word “Nerlens” to denote something fantastic. “Did you see the Duke-Mercer game? It was Nerlens!”; “The buffet at Caesers is straight Nerlens!”. Try it, it's great. Get at me, Urban Dictionary!) But I digress. Until next year, I suffer.

The Sixers season has been like an extended colonoscopy—smart people tell you it’s necessary, but that doesn’t lessen the feeling of having something unpleasant crammed up your ass.

But I shouldn’t complain. We asked for this.

We knew when we hired general manager Sam Hinkie that it was destined to happen. It’s what we brought him in for. We wanted it to happen. We even worried when we started the season 3-0 that maybe we’d fucked it all up, destined for another 30-win year and mediocre draft pick. We kept watch on the standings like the ABM crew kept watch on the block in State Property, calculating lottery odds all the while. We treated the Bucks and the Magic and the Jazz as rivals, quietly fist-pumping whenever they won.

To be honest, I didn’t expect this year to be so, well, distasteful. The Sixers season has been like an extended colonoscopy—smart people tell you it’s necessary, but that doesn’t lessen the feeling of having something unpleasant crammed up your ass.

As I’m writing this, the Sixers are 15-55 and have lost 24 straight games. That’s the longest streak in team history (a history that includes one of the worst teams ever, the 1972 squad that went 9-72). And it's not just the games lost that are dispiriting (we’re still two games “behind” the Bucks, for fuck's sake, and they weren’t even supposed to be tanking this year)—it’s the gruesome way in which we’ve lost them. The Sixers’ average point differential for February was a comical 19.1, third worst of all time. The accepted wisdom on the “right” way to go about tanking is to be competitive for most of the game only to screw everything up at the end—the Sixers, not so much.

Haters around the NBA punditocracy have taken the Sixers to task for the mid-major level of talent they’ve rolled out post-trade deadline. But they’re missing the point—there’s potentially way more going on here than just tanking and the lottery. The proper way to appreciate the Sixers season is as the Illmatic of tanking, the NBA basement’s answer to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. They’re in the process of shattering the existing paradigm into a thousand pieces. The Sixers are playing for a chance at immortality!

The longest losing streak in NBA history is 26 games by the 2010-2011 Cavaliers, a team that featured a 35-year-old Anthony Parker playing 29 minutes per game. With 12 games left, it seems nearly impossible that the Sixers won’t obliterate that record. And to make matters worse (better?), our next 2 games are against the Spurs and Rockets

But the Cavs' streak is only the beginning. If the Sixers lose their next three games as expected, the next big record to fall is the ‘71-72 Lakers' streak of 33 straight wins. Lose all of our final 36 games and we won’t just have earned a 25 percent shot at Andrew Wiggins, we’ll have pulled off a piece of post-modern performance artistry on a grand scale. After all, if you’re gonna tank, why not be the greatest tanking team of all time?

One of the great things about rooting for a tanking team is the overwhelming feeling of potential. The Sixers will have two lottery picks in the best draft in memory. They’ll have last year's No. 6 pick, who would have been top-3 if not for a knee injury (which has allowed him time to turn himself into a 7-foot flat-topped Steph Curry. Seriously, Nerlens wasn’t allowed to touch the ball with his off-hand for four months!). We’ve got like 25 second-round picks, smart ownership, and a new-school coach and GM who (seem to) know what they’re doing. Shit, if Brett Brown and Sam Hinkie rebuild as well as they tank, we’ll be in the NBA Finals in no time!

All in all, things could be worse. We could be the Knicks. 

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