PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The official news came this week that the Philadelphia 76ers — the forlorn franchise of the NBA — had signed an all-star forward and all-first team defensive pick.
Just don’t rush out quite yet for a jersey — it’s Malcolm Thomas, an NBA Development League all-star for the Austin Toros.READ MORE: Navy Veteran Had Stroke In Costa Rica, And Now He's Stranded As Family Tries To Pay Five-Figure Medical Bills
Thomas will earn a nice pay bump, first-class travel, fantastic coaching and call himself an NBA player. But given expectations of the 76ers this season, he as may as well still play in the D-League.
“If they win 15 games,” Stan Van Gundy said, “they will have overachieved to the highest level.”
Think a 26-game losing streak and 19 wins under coach Brett Brown was pretty lousy last season?
This year’s Sixers may tumble their way toward NBA infamy with a collection of castoffs. The losses should stamp them the favorite for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft — and the record book as one of the worst teams in NBA history.
The Sixers have mastered the art of tanking, fielding a noncompetitive roster in hopes of better odds at high draft picks and potential franchise players.
Foolproof plan, right? Look how the Sixers became championship contenders after selecting Evan Turner with the No. 2 overall pick in 2010. OK, bad example.
With the approval of team owner Joshua Harris, 76ers president Sam Hinkie has set course for a dip in the standings for several seasons with the wildly optimistic expectation that the franchise will rise into title contention in three or four years.
That means lottery picks Michael Carter-Williams, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Dario Saric will blossom into all-stars and at least one, maybe two, will become franchise-type players. That means Hinkie won’t whiff on future picks or get burned on trades. That means star free-agents will bypass Miami, New York, Cleveland, San Antonio to flock to Philly.
Can all of that happen?
Maybe. But for now, a championship parade through downtown Philadelphia is just a wild dream.
None of their nine first-round picks preceding Carter-Williams in 2013 play for the Sixers. None helped the Sixers ever advance out of the second round of the playoffs.
Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, Nikola Vucevic and Andre Iguodala were on the 2011-12 Sixers that made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Thinking they were on the cusp of a breakthrough, the Sixers traded Iguodala and Vucevic to get Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum.
Bynum never played a game in his lone season with the Sixers because of bad knees and the franchise unraveled.
“It’s a little painful right now to be a former Sixer and see the losses and all,” former 76ers player and coach Doug Collins said.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Arctic Blast Coming Late Tuesday Night
When the team opens the season Wednesday at Indiana, Jason Richardson – injured and facing retirement – will be the only player left from when Hinkie took over the team in May 2013.
Some good news for Carter-Williams, the NBA rookie of the year has been cleared to return to practice following shoulder surgery on Nov. 6 and could return a week later.
The Sixers play their home opener Saturday against Miami in front of what should be a packed Wells Fargo Center, but are having trouble selling tickets beyond that.
“I can … see why you would never buy a ticket right now because it’s a substandard product,” Van Gundy said.
One that Hinkie – and his analytics-minded front office – has vowed to improve.
As of Monday, the 76ers had just $32 million committed to this season’s payroll, the lowest figure in the league by about $20 million. They have only $4.6 million on the books for next season (Laker star Kobe Bryant will earn $23.5 million alone this season), giving the downtrodden franchise millions to offer free agents in 2015 and beyond.
But what player with any competitive spirit would want to sign with Philadelphia?
Money always talks, but it will take a brave all-star or two to decide the Sixers are headed into contention.
“At some point, you’ve got to develop a culture of winning and winning habits and gaining some results so the guys can believe it,” former NBA coach and all-star guard Mark Jackson said. “Because that can fester and be like a disease you’ve got to rid those guys of in order to get a winning culture.”
The Sixers already scored their biggest win of the season when NBA owners failed to pass draft lottery reform last week. The team with the worst record will still have a 25 percent chance at getting the top pick and cannot drop lower than fourth.
Hinkie isn’t swayed even though his method has been nicknamed “Tankadelphia.”
“A lot of it is, where does your self-worth come from,” Hinkie asked. “Do you need people every day telling you you’re doing well? Do you need the masses every day telling you that they agree with you? Or do you have some higher purpose in mind?”
Hinkie says he does. He’s betting his career and the team’s future that the Sixers can hit the championship jackpot with a bunch of winning lottery tickets.
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