Cost of Doing Business: An unprecedented Sixers season merits unprecedented consequences

Cost of Doing Business: An unprecedented Sixers season merits unprecedented consequences

The Sixers go for number 26 tonight.

It's been almost exactly two months since Evan Turner hit that tough runner in Boston to beat the Celtics, 95-94. Since then, the Sixers have played 25 games and have lost each and every one of them. None of the games have gone to overtime. Until that wacky comeback against the Knicks in presumed garbage time, none have even come down to the final possession that I can recall. Most of the games have not been close, and the few that were usually didn't really feel that way. This is not a team that lucked into a 25-game losing streak, this is a team that was legitimately the lesser squad in every game it played for nearly a third of a season.

Only one other team has ever lost 26 games in a row before. That was the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers, already a part of history for marking the first season since the best player in franchise history, LeBron James, left them in heartbreaking, humiliating fashion. Like the Sixers, that team overachieved to start the season, beginning the season 4-3, and slowly let gravity bring them down to their lowest point. And like the Sixers, by the time they got to loss #26, there just weren't a lot of true NBA players on their roster--of the eight players on their roster in that game three seasons ago, only J.J. Hickson and Ramon Sessions are still getting regular minutes on an NBA roster today.

Chances are, the Sixers will lose tonight and tie the Cavaliers' all-time record. They play the Houston Rockets in Houston, and the Sixers already used up their miracle win against H-Town early in the season, so that's probably not going to happen again. Then a couple days later, Philly takes on the Pistons at home. Detroit has hardly been unbeatable this season, but they've certainly handled the Sixers pretty easily in their first two meetings this season, winning in double figures both games, and will likely do so once again on Saturday. The Sixers will lose 27 in a row, and they will stand alone in the history books.

I really didn't want this streak to get this far. Even as I knew one win could end up making all the difference for us in terms of draft positioning, I rooted with my whole heart for them to get that one stupid W, to pay some small reward to Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young and the rest of the team who never stopped playing their hardest during this dead-ended season. It seemed fair. It seemed right. It seemed humane. Rare is the NBA player who never has to experience losing big, but losing 26, and potentially as much as 36 in a row...that's the kind of character-building shit not even Calvin's dad could endorse in good conscience.

However, the more I think about it, the more palatable it becomes to me. I still hate to see it, and I'm still rooting against it, but I've come to terms with it, not just as an unfortunate byproduct of the Sixers' grand design, but perhaps as the fair punishment for it. It doesn't seem wrong to me anymore. If anything, it just seems...honest.

The important thing to remember with this Sixers team is that what they are trying to do this season is unprecedented. They're trying to do a full rebuild in the space of just one season, which I'm pretty sure has never been done successfully, and to my knowledge has never even really been attempted in good faith. Traditionally, it's at least a three-year process--the Sonics/Thunder were bad enough to land Kevin Durant in '07, and after a whole lot of further losing, in '10 they were back in the playoffs. That's how long it took them to complement Durant with Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden through the draft, and fill in with free agents like Thabo Sefolosha and Nenad Krstic around the margins. That's how long it usually takes a team to go from dormant to competitive.

But at the 2013 draft, GM Sam Hinkie hunted out a shortcut. He found a home run of a blow-up-the-roster deal for Jrue Holiday, a deal that now completed, you might not see again for another decade--Holiday for Nerlens Noel and a lightly-protected future first. The brilliance of the deal, from a rebuilding perspective, was threefold: It grabbed arguably the best long-term asset in the draft in the big man Noel, while also affording them a clean roster with which they could take the best player available with their own pick (MCW, it turns out), and also ensuring that with no Holiday (and Noel not expected back till late-season, if at all), that their own pick in the next year's draft would be a high one.

Essentially within the space of one trade, the Sixers went from having one blue-chip future asset in the good-but-pricey (and arguably slightly overrated) Holiday to potentially having four high-upside, dirt-cheap long-term pieces to build around as soon as the next year's draft. That's an incredible turnaround, and one that many teams would gladly hit the reset button on their roster for the chance to start fresh with. And Hinkie was deservedly celebrated for his deal, especially as the Pelicans quickly made it clear they would be lottery-bound once more this season. Everything was going to plan for the Sixers.

There was only one problem: They still had a season to play between the 2013 and 2014 drafts.

It's a hard thing to throw in the towel on a season before it even begins. And that's what the Sixers essentially did this year, trading Jrue, not signing a single free agent of consequence and acquiring only assets of long-term value. And is if that wasn't enough, after cooling off from a shockingly hot start to the season--seriously, how long ago do those Miami and Chicago wins feel now?--the Sixers doubled down on their rebuilding by trading away three of their veteran (by Sixers standards) rotation guys for spare parts and second-rounders, depleting the pro talent on their surviving roster to a near-unsustainable level.

This was always going to have consequences. There's a difference between not trying to avoid being bad and doing everything in your power to ensure that you're not going to be good, and the Sixers have opted for the latter route and never looked back. If we thought we could just meander through the second half of this season with a roster that would level out at "respectably bad," we were foolish in our naivete. We are attempting something historic, and it only makes sense that the price we pay for it should be similarly historic.

But that's fine. Let it be historic. Bring on the record books. Losses don't carry over into next season; there's no relegation in the NBA. It'd be much easier to put a pretty face on this unique rebuilding season if we were just bad in an unassuming, imminently ignorable Sacramento Kings-y way, but that's just not what this team is, and there's no real point in pretending otherwise. If our goal was to be bad at all costs, we may as well be the very worst. There's integrity to be found in that, sort of.

Of course it's easy for us to say, since we don't have to be the ones out there actually competing in these unwinnable games in front of unamused, half-empty crowds. The victims in all of this are of course your 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers, the players and coaching staff who inherited a team that was basically the East Dillon Lions of the NBA. The potential for a touching triumph-of-the-heart story was there, perhaps, but it's a lot harder for real-world mortals to construct a season's worth of wins out of clear eyes and full hearts than it is for Coach Taylor.

That said, don't waste too many tears for these guys. Brett Brown has a multi-year deal and a front office that only thinks big-picture; he's not going anywhere and he won't be coaching scrubs for much longer. (Brown's mentor Gregg Popovich went 17-47 in his first incomplete season as head coach, he seems to have recovered adequately.) Michael Carter-Williams might not have signed up for all this losing, but he's also the prohibitive Rookie of the Year favorite as the Sixers' unquestioned starting point guard, an opportunity he wouldn't have had (at least with such certainty) had he been drafted by nearly any other NBA franchise. And for most of the players getting minutes on this team, if they weren't on the Sixers right now, they'd either be in the D-League, in Europe, or in an absolute best case scenario, pinned to the end of some team's bench, hoping for a trade or injury to open up playing time. The Sixers don't owe these guys anything.

The one Sixer you do have to feel for is Thaddeus Young. He's already lived through his share of Sixer struggles, and as a seven-year league veteran now, he's a little old to be asking to grin and bear it through such an extreme rebuild. But even he is getting opportunity on this team he'd never get elsewhere--opportunity to stretch his range as a shooter, a playmaker, a ball-handler and a defensive hawk. He's learning and he's getting better, and that'll pay off for him someday, either on this roster or for another contender. Thad has a ton of good basketball left, and it won't be long before the horrors of this season are just a distant memory for him.

And really, if you ask these guys if they'd rather go throw an extreme rebuild in one year or a gradual rebuild over three or four, how many do you think would actually opt for the latter? How do you think Minnesota's Kevin Love, currently in his sixth year with the Wolves and still yet to reach the postseason, would feel about getting that opportunity? What about DeMarcus Cousins, whose Sacramento Kings have barely improved at all over his first four years in the league? As painful as this year has been and will continue to be, it's already almost over, and the Sixers have incredible amounts of excitement and (hopefully, eventually) prosperity to look forward to shortly thereafter. Can you really suggest that this flirtation with unprecedented ignominy won't be worth it?

The bottom line: If the Sixers lose tonight--which they almost definitely will--it'll be rough, and it'll be emotional, but it'll also be just and inarguable. We must embrace this fate, because for better and worse, it is exactly what we signed up for. This is the tanking business we've chosen.

Flyers-Hurricanes 5 things: Avoiding another bad 1st period

Flyers-Hurricanes 5 things: Avoiding another bad 1st period

Flyers vs. Hurricanes
7 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live at 6:30

Another season, another slow start for the Flyers.

After dropping their home opener Thursday, the Flyers (1-2-1) welcome the Hurricanes (1-1-2) to the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night looking to snap a three-game losing skid.

Here are five things to know for Game 5 of 82.

1. Slow starts
Through four games, there are a few areas behind the Flyers' lousy start.

The defense continuing to abandon the goaltending and the lackluster power play are near the top of the list, but look no further than the first period of games.

The Flyers have been outscored, 6-1, in first periods through four games. Only Tampa Bay and Vancouver have scored fewer first-period markers with zero. The six first-period goals allowed are tied for the second most in the NHL. Only Calgary has more with seven.

It was an issue last season as well. In 2015-16, the Flyers were outscored, 62-50, in first periods, and the 50 goals ranked in the bottom five of the league. We've talked about slow starts in terms of wins-losses, but this issue extends to first periods too.

While the Flyers have exerted far greater efforts in second periods — leading the league with eight second-period tallies — getting behind so early results in playing from behind, and while resiliency is a trait of winning teams, it's ultimately cost them thus far.

On Saturday night, it doesn't get any easier for the Flyers, either. Carolina is an improved club from last season, which it, too, struggled scoring in opening periods.

That hasn't been the case this season. The 'Canes have outscored opponents, 5-2, in first periods, so it'll be important for the Flyers to come out of the gate with more authority.

2. Read-emption Song
One of the highlights of the early season for the Flyers has been the play of Matt Read.

Read scored his team-leading fourth goal of the season during the Flyers' 3-2 loss to the Ducks on Thursday, dusting off a play that brought back memories of years past.

The 30-year-old got behind the Anaheim defense on the backhand, drove to the net and deposited the puck into the net past John Gibson for a go-ahead score. It was very much a play we saw Read make a few years ago, but has been missing the last two seasons. Read came into training camp early this season hungrier than the previous two seasons, and on Wednesday, general manager Ron Hextall said Read knew he had to get back to the brand of hockey he was playing in 2013-14.

After the game Thursday, Read said his self-evaluation this offseason resulted in him realizing he has to get into the greasy areas to score and avoid playing the outside.

"I think that's something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player," Read said Thursday. "It's easy to be a perimeter player if you're going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you've got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks."

3. Not so special
Special teams so often decide hockey games and it should factor into Saturday's game, too. Carolina comes into the game with a power play and penalty kill both in the top five.

The Hurricanes' man advantage has found twine five times in 16 chances, and their penalty kill has killed off 15 of 16 power plays against. On the other hand, the Flyers have had their struggles on special teams in the early going.

On Thursday night, the Flyers’ PP played a huge role in their loss. They finished 1 for 7 on the man advantage against Anaheim but were 1 for 5 in the second period alone. With Anaheim asking to be beaten, the Flyers couldn’t make the Ducks pay. 

“I thought we had pretty good power plays, our first power play,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought we had a good power play during the second, scored a good goal. Had opportunities to stretch to 3-1. It’s disappointing we couldn’t.

“We had one poor power play at the end of the first, where we weren’t able to get set up at all. Our power play was OK. The bigger thing for me is the goal we gave up a few seconds after the last power play in the second period. Those are the type of goals that as a team we can’t give up.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: It hasn't been the smoothest transition to the NHL for Ivan Provorov, one of two 19-year-olds on the roster. Provorov has shown glimpses, but there have been hiccups, as expected. He had a nightmare of a game in Chicago on Tuesday, and followed it up with a not-so-great effort against Anaheim. But we have to remember he's a teenage rookie. Patience is important. Still, the spotlight should remain on him Saturday. How does he respond after a pair of games in which he's made visible mistakes?

Hurricanes: Carolina has a few young players that are a joy to watch, but let’s highlight defenseman Justin Faulk, who quarterbacks the power play. The 24-year-old has a goal and three assists in four games, with two of the helpers coming on the man advantage. An extremely gifted blueliner, Faulk has scored 15 and 16 goals, respectively, the last two seasons, but that wasn’t enough to get him on Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey. We all know how that panned out.

5. This and that
• Read has 14 points in 20 career games against the Hurricanes.

• Dale Weise was suspended three games for an illegal check to the head of Anaheim defenseman Korbinian Holzer. Roman Lyubimov will replace Weise in the lineup.

• Carolina has killed off its last 11 penalties and has scored at least one power-play goal in three of its four games and two power-play goals in two of its four games.

Matt Read showing Flyers he's done his homework

Matt Read showing Flyers he's done his homework

To Matt Read’s credit, his hockey education never stopped.

Through a second straight subpar season with a murky summer ahead, Read realized he had to change, even on the cusp of his 30th birthday.

It was in late April when the much-maligned winger met with head coach Dave Hakstol and turned in his homework, almost like a student-teacher conference to address troubled grades.

Read vowed he had learned.

Now, nearly six months later, he’s off to the best start of his six-year career.

“He has always been a hard-working guy,” Hakstol said Thursday. “He is a guy that is doing things with a lot of confidence. For me, it started with Reader back in late August. He was in here working early, getting ready, getting prepared and he has carried that through everything he has done so far this year.”

What he has done is rip off a team-high four goals in four games, attacking the net at will and with an undeniable bravado. Really, it’s a Matt Read we haven’t seen before. On Thursday night in the Flyers’ 3-2 home-opening loss, he took a bouncing puck at the blue line, careened toward the net on a sharp, decisive angle and buried his fourth goal with skilled stick work.

“For myself, I’m just trying to play with speed and get to the net,” he said. “I had all the speed and kind of beat the goalie to the back post.”

Last season, the bottom-six forward needed 26 games to score four goals. The year prior, it took 54 games.

So Read studied. What exactly did he grasp?

“Even my linemates, we talk about that if we’re in the offensive zone, we’ve got to get somebody in the blue paint there,” Read said Thursday. “I don’t know the stat, but I think it’s near 90 percent of all goals are within 10 feet of the net. So if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get in that area.”

This offseason, Read looked in the mirror and, with some self-evaluation, knew what had to be done.

“I think that’s something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player,” he said. “It’s easy to be a perimeter player if you’re going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks.”

A new outlook has brought renewed confidence. It’s fair to question whether over the last two seasons if Read ever makes the play he made Thursday. He also knows it’s early and more can be accomplished.

“I feel good out there right now,” Read said. “Hopefully I continue to have good health, keep working out and being strong on my feet. A lot of it has to do with confidence. If you’re shy or not having the confidence, you probably won’t go to that far post.

“I know for myself in the last two years, I know I’ve got to be better. Even going into last year, I knew I had to be better and I did as much I could in the offseason to have a good season and I guess it didn’t go my way, or over the course of the season, it took its toll.”

Read amassed 11 goals and 15 assists in 79 games. The 26 points were a personal low for a full season. Those figures didn’t sit well with Read and general manager Ron Hextall noticed.

“You know what, Reader came in early before camp, he's absolutely worked his tail off,” Hextall said Wednesday. “He understood that he hadn't been as good a player as he should have been last year. He understood it, he took it upon himself, put in a great summer, came in early, got himself in great shape, and he's a hungry hockey player right now and he's been back to where he was.”

When signed by the Flyers in 2011 out of Bemidji State University, it was uncertain where Read projected. Over the past two seasons, he’s fallen to a fourth-line role and was even healthy-scratched last season. More buzz surrounding his status within the organization heated up entering training camp as the Flyers made additions and Travis Konecny blossomed.

Thus far, however, Read has won himself a promotion to the third line because of his early success. He played only 16 power-play seconds Thursday, but if goals keep coming and the Flyers produce more 1-for-7 results on the man advantage, maybe Hakstol increases the 30-year-old’s minutes there, as well.

“When Matt Read is playing like he can play,” Hextall said, “he's a helluva player.”

Not a bad student, too.