Bitch, whine, moan.
Sob, fret, complain.
Gripe, grumble, cry.
That’s what I heard from MANY – not ALL – but MANY Sixers fans on Saturday night, the entirety of Sunday, and also Monday morning when I reluctantly opened Twitter.
I’m willing to bet that the loudest complainers were anti-Process types who just came back to the bandwagon this year, set unrealistic expectations for a squad featuring a rookie point guard, second-year center, and second-year power forward, then went off the deep end spitting nonsense after a team with zero playoff experience failed to meet the outrageous goals that THEY THEMSELVES set.
Take a breather.
The Sixers are down 3-0 to a better team with a better coach as of May 7th, 2018. Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Brett Brown have disappointed under the brightest glow of the still-nascent spotlight. There’s no disputing that. I think everyone is in agreement that the coach and the two stars have underwhelmed, though I’d also extend that to Dario Saric and Robert Covington and a number of the veterans who have actually been here before. Nobody is blameless.
Does that mean that the players suck and the coach should be fired and the general manager should resign? No, of course not. It means that the more experienced team with the more experienced players (minus future superstar Jayson Tatum) simply took round one in what will inevitably become the Eastern Conference’s premier rivalry over the next half-decade.
That’s it. That’s the explanation. That is William of Ockham’s razor.
Yet here we are, doing what Philadelphia always does, and proclaiming the franchise dead and buried and flattened to the point of no return.
“They’ve been EXPOSED!” is a local favorite.
Can we please stop using that word? He got “exposed.” She got “exposed.” We say it as if coaches and players and executives can never evolve or learn or adapt, as if once a flaw is exploited, it always remains.
There are a million examples of people who were once “exposed” but figured it out and turned it around. Doug Pederson and Nick Foles come to mind. How about LeBron James? Jared Goff? 2004 Drew Brees vs. 2003 Drew Brees? Even Sergio Garcia won The Masters.
Of course the counterpoint to that is Byron Maxwell, so I’ll give you that one, but let’s continue with the Eagles theme.
These knee-jerk, “fire everyone” types are the same fans who became so irrationally flustered when the Eagles hit the wall after starting 3-0 with a rookie quarterback and first-year head coach. That pair, Pederson and Carson Wentz, won the franchise its first Super Bowl the very next season. Same thing with the cross-section of fans who complained about Earl Thomas vs. Brandon Graham for YEARS. “Why did we draft THIS GUY when we should have drafted THAT GUY!” Blah blah blahhhhhhhhh! Well, the guy you loved to hate just secured the Lombardi trophy. Jason Kelce basically wrote this column for me when he highlighted every criticism of a championship squad.
Have we learned nothing?
It’s obvious that we as a group of media, fans, and Philly people in general lack the simple ability to evaluate recent history and apply it to likewise scenarios. It’s like a provincial version of “Batman Begins,” where instead of pouring that hallucinogen into the Gotham water supply, the villain instead creates a drug that forces all Philadelphia sports fans to grow up with advanced-stage nearsightedness.
Here’s the thing; the best trait of the Philadelphia sports fan – unconditional support and emotional attachment – is also the worst trait of the Philadelphia sports fan, because it results in a recurring and collective lack of critical thinking and temperance.
I said at the beginning of the season that I felt like 2017-18 was a developmental bridge. This was the campaign that was supposed to connect the end of “Process” era to the beginning of the competitive era. The goals were to establish Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Markelle Fultz as cornerstone players, qualify for the postseason, and get that crucial April and May experience under your belt. They hit all but one of those goals (Fultz).
A final and related goal, in my opinion, was to head into this offseason with a full understanding of what you currently have and what you are also lacking, which I’d have to label as incomplete because of Fultz debacle. If Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are known quantities now carrying crucial regular and postseason experience, then Fultz is still sitting on the basketball tarmac and waiting for takeoff.
I think one of the problems is what I mentioned earlier, the fact that people who are just returning to the Sixers are expecting immediate success. The contrast is that the Sam Hinkie/Process supporters are extra-patient by default, so it creates a large disparity, or maybe a wider spectrum I would say, that separates each respective end of the Sixers’ fan base. Lost and forsaken in the expansive middle is the calm and rational fan who says, “you know what, I’m disappointed right now, but they’ve taken a lot of steps forward this year.”
The Sixers have talked about adjusting expectations this year, the idea that their goals changed as they figured out that they were better than advertised. First it was playoffs, then it was home court, then it was 50 wins. I appreciated that from a competitive standpoint but didn’t find it to be healthy in regard to practicality. I’ll go to the grave believing that expectations must be set at the beginning of the season and can’t be placed on a sliding scale, because progress is best documented in larger chunks that incorporate a more robust sample size or body of work.
Look at the treasure trove of information Bryan Colangelo and Brett Brown now have, RE: what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed. This ass kicking is so valuable to the Sixers because it puts their glaring weaknesses on display for everyone to see. If they didn’t know it before, they now understand exactly what teams are going to do to slow them down and bottle up Ben Simmons. They know that they need players who can create their own shot on offense. They know what Embiid has to do to improve his low post game. There’s data and film on turnovers, rebounds, transition opportunities, dribble hand-offs, horns, SLOBs, and every play imaginable.
They’ve got the entire summer to figure out.
If Bryan Colangelo blows the offseason, or you see a lack of improvement next year, then you absolutely start thinking about the head coach and the strategy that’s currently in place. As far as I’m concerned, this was year number one for the coach and year number two for the GM, and the latter has much more on his shoulders than the former.
All of that said, this season was a wild success. You’ve got two young superstars, a couple of key supplemental pieces, and a road map for the future. To say otherwise is total horse shit, no matter whether you were pro-process, anti-process, somewhere between ambivalent and apathetic.
We all just need to be a bit more like Andy Reid. We need to “do a better job” of taking the erudite long view and suppressing our hereditary knee-jerk myopia, because it’s utterly rudimentary and pointless and makes us look like jabronies.