Stop. This isn't me looking at the Sixers through rose-colored glasses. I've been where you are. In fact, I made a very public display
of my pro-tanking feelings last season. I thought all hope was lost when Iverson was traded. I wound up feeling very foolish when the Sixers turned things around and actually had a legitimate shot at the playoffs with a couple of weeks left in the season.
What's the best-case scenario if they had tanked last year? I guess the absolute best would've been the number one pick and Greg Oden dressed in a snazzy suit on the bench for the entire season. Second best would've been watching Kevin Durant take 18 shots/night to get 19 points and contributing next to nothing in every other area of the game. If they had gotten the number 3 pick, Al Horford would be a Sixer. That I could live with. After that, is there really a guy you'd rather see as Sixer than Thad Young? Here are the guys who were picked between #4 and #12:
- Mike Conley - Might turn into a good point who can't shoot.
- Jeff Green - Versatile player who will probably never be more than a team's #3 option on offense
- Yi Jianlian - 7-footer who's shooting 43% from the floor and averaging only 5.7 boards in 27 minutes.
- Corey Brewer - Good perimeter defender, horrible offensive player (5.4 ppg in 22 minutes, shooting 35% from the floor)
- Brandan Wright - Getting no playing time in Golden State. Seems like a good athlete with a lot of learning to do.
- Joakim Noah - Hustle player with extremely limited offensive game.
- Spencer Hawes - Seeing no playing time on a bad team in Sacramento. Production on par with Jason Smith.
- Acie Law - Combo guard doing very little for Atlanta in about the same minutes as Thad has seen for the Sixers so far.
I'm not saying that the guys on this list won't turn into stars, although I have serious doubts about most of them. My point is that even if the Sixers had tanked last year, and hadn't built up the positive momentum they brought into this season, they'd still probably be in worse shape than they are right now.
What are we hoping for if they tank this season? Is O.J. Mayo going to make the difference in Philly? Or to put last season in some kind of perspective, would the Sixers be better off if they'd intentionally lost last season, Iguodala and Lou Williams hadn't been given the opportunity to grow and we had Yi instead of Thad right now? I don't think so.
The Sixers have a nucleus here right now, a core of solid players who need another piece or two to become legitimate contenders in the East. Think about it, Boston is old, Detroit is old, the Cavs are not that good. Orlando has youth and talent, so does Toronto, but beyond those two teams is there anyone who you can see being a dominant team in this conference? The East will be wide open a year or two down the road, and the Sixers are learning how to win tough games right now, as a young group. Let them take the steps. Last year, they finished strong against tough odds. This year, maybe they make the playoffs. Who knows where they could go next year with the right additions to the team.
There are differing philosophies on how you build a winning team. Some think you have to do it through the draft, some think you need to get the right guys through free agency or trades. Most think it's a combination of the three. I think there's one thing that's commonly left out of the equation. You have to build a winning atmosphere. You have to give your team a taste of what winning feels like. The Sixers are doing that. They're slowly, but surely, making Philadelphia a place where free agents will want to play. A playoff berth may be the difference between luring a Josh Smith and having to settle for an over-priced aging PF like Antawn Jamison.
It's never too late to get on the playoff bandwagon, so once again, I implore all tanking advocates to stop, take a look at where this team is, and start rooting for wins every night. All of the Sixers problems aren't going to be solved in the upcoming draft. They're in a position to make a major splash in the trade and/or free agent market, so this season becomes about making the guys on the team better and making Philadelphia a place where players in the league want to play. Winning now is the solution.