Things haven’t exactly gone as planned for the Philadelphia 76ers this year.
After acquiring Andrew Bynum, they were supposed to become a serious contender and the biggest threat to the Miami Heat‘s reign of terror in the Eastern Conference. Instead, Bynum’s history of injury troubles came back to bite the 76ers in a huge way.
The season is about two-thirds of the way done and the Sixers are 22-29, four games out of the playoffs. It’s not impossible for them to sneak in, but with Bynum out and the team underachieving, it is starting to seem less and less likely. And really, even if Bynum does come back, he probably wouldn’t be his old self right away and there’s pretty much no chance of the 76ers contending for anything this season.
This begs the question: would the Sixers consider tanking the rest of the way?
If you aren’t familiar, tanking is what happens when a team that is already out of contention decides to, well, not try quite as hard. Star players are out with mysterious, often non-existent, injuries and non-rotation players start getting more and more minutes. When a team begins to do this, we can understand that there is less emphasis on winning and more emphasis on securing a solid lottery pick.
As of right now, it’s too early for the Sixers to consider something like this. They aren’t that far out of the playoffs and Bynum might still come back. In a few weeks, however, all of that could change.
Think of the teams that are currently right behind the Sixers in the East; the Detroit Pistons and the Toronto Raptors. Both of those teams just made huge trades that significantly improved their lineups, with the Pistons acquiring Jose Calderon and the Raptors acquiring Rudy Gay.
It’s not a stretch to think that in the upcoming weeks, the Pistons and the Raptors will both pass the Sixers in the standings, leaving them at 11th in the East. Even the once-lowly Washington Wizards have turned it up a notch lately, looking like the most under-the-radar scary team in the league. If they keep up their recent winning ways, the Sixers could find themselves dropping from ninth to 12th in no time flat. If Bynum continues to sit out, the odds of this would increase even more.
If this happens, we just might see the Sixers take the foot off the gas pedal a little bit.
Let’s keep in mind, this is a team that could gain a lot from grabbing a high lottery pick. They have a legitimate star in Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner is looking less like a bust and more like a quality starter with each passing season. There’s the inevitable question of whether they should re-sign Bynum (the disgruntled fans will be against it, but it wouldn’t be a horrible idea) and if they don’t bring him back, that would just give them the cap space to bring in another big free agent in the offseason.
There is the potential for a very good team here, and grabbing a high lottery pick would only increase that potential. When considering that this season doesn’t have an especially high ceiling, it’s not an enormous stretch to think the Sixers might a bit more focused on the future than the present. Whether that comes through in their performance the rest of the way remains to be seen.
Unfortunately, tanking is just something that happens in the NBA. That’s the consequence of a league where teams are scrounging for whatever draft picks they can get. Would a team that has the potential to be very good as soon as next season, but due to injuries isn’t there just yet decide to lay back the rest of the year and choose a solid lottery pick over a slim chance to sneak into the postseason? It might seem unlikely, but when Holiday is sitting out with a phantom thumb injury, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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