The two worst teams in the NBA this season and by quite a distance from any other underperforming team are the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. Both have been terrible for quite some time, but they’re approaching their rebuilding/tanking purposes in different ways.
We’ve discussed the 76ers a number of times here. We’re not fans of tanking. The NBA owners aren’t fans of tanking, and pretty much forced the Sixers to hire Jerry Colangelo so he’d start telling Sam Hinkie what to do, which turned into putting Mike D’Antoni next to Brett Brown, in a perfect position to get rid of him when the time is right. The Sixers aren’t just hurting their own brand; they’re hurting the NBA, and that means losing money, something owners hate to do.
The Sixers have a very simple plan which hasn’t been working and in fact, making the team worse and maybe pushing them further from that success they’re looking for. Tired of hitting that conference semifinals ceiling, the Sixers decided they’re getting rid of anyone who is old (and by old is over 25 for the most part), costs any money and is of any value to any team. What was the plan? Stockpile draft picks and hope to land some gem that transforms the franchise.
Well, 157 losses and counting since the transformation began, it’s clearly not working. Some will say that fans need patience, but how long must they either pay for a horrible product intentionally putting an inferior team on the floor, or simply stay away from their favorite team? The Sixers went with Michael Carter-Williams and got rid of him. Nerlens Noel had a year out before showing his ability. Good player, but not too special. Joel Embiid is going to miss his second NBA season since being picked. Jahlil Okafor? Like Noel, he’s good, maybe even slightly special. But he’s not changing the franchise around, and putting all your chips on young big men isn’t working in the 2015-2016 kind of NBA we have. There’s no style that the Sixers are implementing to last, or at least they’re not doing it well. There’s no team identity. There’s just shuffling of players until something clicks. You don’t need a “genius” as a general manager to do that.
The Lakers have a different approach. First of all, they’d never admit they’re rebuilding. It’s always about winning in Los Angeles, or at least saying that. The Lakers decided they’ll rebuild with the least capable player of being on a rebuilding team, Kobe Bryant. They gave him a two-year, $48 million deal when they knew it was impossible to win a lot of games and especially a championship. They also had to know free agents weren’t going to feel too happy about playing next to one of the most selfish NBA players in history who used to be great, but hasn’t let his decline come between him and shooting the ball.
The Lakers landed some nice players in the draft. Even something of a mini-steal in Jordan Clarkson. But everything is in suspended animation. Everything is on something of hold until Bryant is gone, retired, and no longer holding this organization by the throat. Anyone hiring Byron Scott as the head coach knows he’s getting nothing from the sidelines in terms of player development, offensive schemes and systems being implemented or anything else worthwhile. He’s a caretaker, of the worst kind.
Despite being one of those “ancient” teams that’s a big part of NBA history, the Sixers haven’t been successful for a very long time, with only one NBA finals appearance since 1983. The Lakers represent almost constant success until the last three years, with five NBA titles from 2000 to 2010, just one championship overall (16) less than the Boston Celtics, and the most shiny team in the NBA’s arsenal. Their fall is about not being able to let go of the past. The Sixers inability to rise from their lowly state is dysfunction of a very different kind, and one that’s ruining fans, the team and player’s careers all at once. It’s sad to see both going through it.