Take a glance at the NBA standings and you’ll see a 41-24 Sixers team sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Brett Brown’s squad is 1.5 games ahead of the Celtics and plays a back-end schedule that I think is easy enough to eventually jump the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers, who still have to play at Milwaukee, Boston, Golden State, Portland, Denver, and Oklahoma City.
Indiana will eventually hit the skids and Joel Embiid will soon be back in a Sixers jersey. Things are looking up, right?
I don’t know what it is, but this Sixers season feels exhausting to me, and I’m just a writer. Are you, the fan, really truly enjoying it? Sure, Elton Brand made a pair of blockbuster trades, two guys under the age of 25 were named All-Stars, and this team beat the Warriors in Oakland. They’re on track to begin the playoffs at home for the second straight year.
But there’s been A LOT of shit along the way, stuff like this:
- Markelle Fultz was a debacle and had to be unloaded for peanuts.
- There remains incessant questioning of Jimmy Butler’s fit on this team, both offensively and defensively.
- We survived the whole “Butler challenges Brett Brown at a film session” saga.
- The team continues to turn the ball over.
- They blow late leads and sometimes have trouble finishing games.
- Ben Simmons has improved in the post but still does not and cannot shoot the ball.
- Embiid has missed seven straight games with knee soreness after participating in the meaningless All-Star game.
- Even after wins, social media is nothing but one big fruitless argument over Brett’s coaching philosophies and decision making.
- Nonstop talk of Ben Simmons going to Los Angeles at some point in his career.
- Nonstop talk of whether T.J. McConnell plays too much or not enough.
- The bench still feels like a weakness.
- They still can’t beat Boston or Toronto.
- Zhaire Smith suffered the 1st round draft pick curse.
It seems strange to point out those things when the Sixers are on pace to win 50 games for the second straight season, which hasn’t been seen in this town since 1986, when I was two years old and Judas Priest had just released the Turbo album.
But that’s the reality of the situation we’re in now, where a slow and divisive rebuild has accelerated expectations at a pace so rapid it makes my head spin. It’s like we took the 2015 Process-era team, which was at the far end of the spectrum, shoved those guys into the Millennium Falcon, and then put the thing into warp drive. We exited hyperspace in a totally different galaxy, with expectations to win a championship just three seasons later.
Thing is, those expectations are probably justified. When you lose on purpose in order to rebuild the squad, and you tank to the extremes that Sam Hinkie tanked, there’s gonna be an equally intense snap back to reality. We’re all gonna have whiplash from being pulled to the other end of the aforementioned spectrum. To many, anything short of a championship will render Sam’s efforts ultimately feckless.
I don’t think many people put enough stock into the divisive nature of the Process and how it affects the arguments we have today. I get the feeling that a lot of Brett Brown’s critics are people who only recently returned to the bandwagon. They’re naturally more critical because they see him as a remnant of a bygone era that they did not like and fundamentally disagreed with.
At the other end of that rainbow are staunch Brown supporters, pro-Process types who suffered through the rebuild with him and feel as though he deserves more time and more support than the average NBA coach.
Whatever side of that argument you fall on, you should take a step back and think about the dichotomy that exists within the Sixers’ fanbase. The opposite ends of the spectrum are incredibly far apart, something I have brilliantly illustrated here:
I think this concept plays a bigger role than people realize. It’s a fractured fan base. Even before each new season begins, you’ve got a portion of people who disagree with the way we got here. The other half thinks those people are old and out of touch and incapable of forward thinking. All of it bleeds into the Brett Brown discussion.
It’s ultimately strange, because normally a team with two starters who are playing only their second full NBA seasons wouldn’t be expected to win much. You wouldn’t expect to promote a first-time General Manager from within the organization and then set the expectation of an Eastern Conference final, or bust, which is the vibe I’m getting from Josh Harris and ownership.
But that’s the world we’re living in, i.e. “we sucked incredibly bad and now we have to be incredibly good to justify sucking as much as we did.” Other teams that rebuilt in different ways (Milwaukee) aren’t being thrust from the womb in the same way the young Sixers are. The Bucks were able to spend a few days in the hospital while breastfeeding and adjusting to a new environment. The Sixers were given a bottle of formula and asked to start thinking about which pre-K program they’d like to enroll in.
Or, as Investor Jeff put it, the Process was “so arduous that it made people want too much, too soon,” which is something I’d agree with.
I’ll also say this:
I think Brett Brown has the hardest job in Philadelphia right now, just immense amounts of pressure on his shoulders. Phil Keidel would disagree with me and point out all of the talent he currently has on his roster, but that’s exactly why I think his job is so difficult. In Boban Marjanovic, Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, James Ennis, and Jonathon Simmons, 33% of Brett’s roster overturned at the February trade deadline. He’s coaching his third different team this season while trying to get all of the pieces to fit. He’s massaging multiple personalities at the same time. He’s sort of like the therapist who tries to deal with James McAvoy’s character in the 2016 M. Night Shyamalan movie, Split. McAvoy has 24 different personalities that pop up at various points throughout the film, and one of them turns him into a beastly, flesh-eating monstrosity.
That’s Brett’s job. He has to feed the beast and keep it happy, but he can’t lose control of it. We can’t have the beast breaking free of its cage and eating the flesh of people in section 115, near Shake Shack. We need the beast to protect the basketball, hit open shots down the stretch, and understand late-game micro-management and defensive adjustments.
If we can get that, all will be well. Philadelphia fans, of course, are emotional creatures of habit, and all it takes is a few good wins to make everything right with the world.
But so far this season has felt like a mental slog, a cumbersome trudge through peaks and valleys that ultimately brings us back to the same point, which is 4th place in the Eastern Conference. That’s not where this team should be right now.
Hopefully March will bring more enjoyment.