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.

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Hellickson good to go; Franco sits again

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Hellickson good to go; Franco sits again

Phillies (15-28) vs. Rockies (30-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' nightmarish skid continued Tuesday as they dropped a second straight game to a Rockies rookie starting pitcher.

They've been outscored 16-3 in the first two games of this four-game series against a Colorado club that has the best record in the NL and more road wins (17) than the Phillies have total wins.

Let's take a look at Game 3:

1. Hellickson good to go
The Phillies got a scare last Friday night when Jeremy Hellickson hurt his lower back during his seventh-inning at-bat, but they avoided disaster when it was diagnosed as mere stiffness as opposed to something more serious like a strained oblique.

Hellickson said that night and again the next morning that he felt fine and wouldn't miss a start. The Phillies are thankful for that given the inefficiencies of their rotation, which has just 16 quality starts in 43 games, third-fewest in the majors.

Hellickson (5-1, 3.44) was locked in last weekend against a weak Pirates lineup but this is much more of a challenge. Don't expect him to set down 16 of 17 batters the way he did in Pittsburgh.

The Phillies are 8-1 when Hellickson pitches this season and 7-27 when anyone else does. The only loss in a Hellickson start came against the Cubs on May 2, the first of a three-start skid in which Hellickson allowed 12 runs in 13⅔ innings. Of those 12 runs, 11 scored via home runs. He allowed seven homers in those three starts after giving up just two in his first five.

The Rockies present a lot of challenges and one of them is that they've been the second-best team in the majors this season against changeups, which is Hellickson's go-to pitch. Only the Marlins (.312) have a higher batting average vs. changeups than the Rockies (.286).

(For reference, the Phillies are 28th in baseball against changeups with a .201 batting average.)

Then again, not all changeups are the same, and Hellickson did limit the Marlins to one run on seven hits over six innings when he faced them April 27.

Current Rockies are just 10 for 56 (.179) off Hellickson. Ian Desmond has the only homer (2 for 5, HR, double).

2. Blackmon the Destroyer
Charlie Blackmon, good lord.

The guy has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. Over that span — Aug. 12, 2016 through last night — Blackmon has more homers at CBP than any Phillie.

Think about how ridiculous that is. Aaron Altherr and Ryan Howard are next with six homers in 15 and 17 games, respectively. Then comes Freddy Galvis with five in 26 games.

3. Fading fast
At 15-28, the Phillies are on pace to finish 57-105. They've dropped 19 of 23 and now have the second-worst record in the majors, ahead of only the 16-31 Padres.

The offense has been completely devoid of life lately. It's not like these guys are going out and playing with zero energy, but when you don't hit it's always going to seem like that.

Since May 12, the Phillies are 2-9. They've hit .225/.273/.345 as a team for the second-worst OBP and OPS, ahead of only the Mariners.

They've been middle of the pack with runners in scoring position over that span, but they have just 89 plate appearances with RISP, which is seventh-fewest in baseball.

A lot of this can be attributed to the top of the order. Cesar Hernandez is 9 for 54 (.167) with no extra-base hits over his last 14 games. And that vaunted 1-2 in the Phillies' order — a duo which hit close to .350 in April — is down to .282.

4. Scouting Chatwood
The Phillies face 27-year-old right-hander Tyler Chatwood (3-6, 5.09).

He was the Rockies' best starting pitcher last season when he went 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA in 158 innings. He walked 70 and those control issues have continued this season — 27 walks in 53 innings.

He's been especially wild lately, walking 19 in 21⅔ innings this month. 

Chatwood averages 95 mph with his fastball and sinker and 88-90 with his slider and changeup. He also throws a high-70s curveball.

He faced the Phillies twice last year and went 0-2, allowing 10 runs (eight earned) in nine innings. Interestingly, though, no active Phillie has an extra-base hit against him.

Hopefully, the Phils will be able to make Chatwood work tonight and take advantage of their opportunities with men on base. They stranded the bases loaded three times last night.

5. Franco sits again
Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp are sitting again. Pete Mackanin wants the extremely inconsistent, wild-swinging Franco to sit back and watch for a few days to regroup. He also wants to see some more of Andrew Knapp after a rough defensive week from Cameron Rupp.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Aaron Altherr, LF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Andres Blanco, 3B
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Andrew Knapp, C
8. Michael Saunders, RF
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

Bringing fun back: Counting down the 10 best Eagles touchdown celebrations

Bringing fun back: Counting down the 10 best Eagles touchdown celebrations

Up until Tuesday afternoon, many fans assumed NFL stood for No Fun League. And with often-excessive fines for celebrations such as this and that, it's easy to see why.

In a letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell, though, the NFL finally wants its players to have "more room to have fun."

Yes, there will still be no twerking -- sorry, Antonio Brown -- as the league will still flag "offensive demonstrations," but we might actually get back to the good old days. And of course, I wish we could enjoy the creativity of guys like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco on a weekly basis.

But the Eagles have had plenty of fun on the field in years past and we're all hoping to see more from Carson Wentz, Jordan Matthews and the rest of the new wide receiving corps in months to come. Until then, let's count down the (entirely objective) 10 best Eagles dances and celebrations of all-time:

10. Shady's got moves...
WATCH
LeSean McCoy danced plenty and although he didn't change it up very often, the guy had his signature celebration.

9. ...And Donovan too?


Well, let's not give Donovan McNabb too much credit here. His moonwalk pales in comparison to Michael Jackson and I'm still unsure of who he was imitating with his air guitar in Dallas. Hey, at least he tried...

8. Rip it down, Terrell Owens (October 24, 2004)
WATCH
Alright, can we stop bringing pain to Browns fans?

T.O. absolutely torched Cleveland in this one when the teams faced off in 2004, catching four balls for 109 yards and two touchdowns. And to cap it off, he brought Browns fans down just a bit more, ripping off their sign that read "T. Akes O. Ne To Know One."

Clever? Yes. Smart to mock one of the best wide receivers of the generation? Probably not.

7. Freddie Mitchell: The People's Champ


This one didn't happen in the end zone, but Aaron Rodgers, I think Fred-Ex wants his celebration back.

Although the wide receiver is best known for his catch on 4th and 26 against the Packers, Mitchell once called himself "The People's Champ" and after snagging a long bomb from McNabb against the Cowboys, he showed off his own championship belt.

6. Mike Bartrum doing his thing (September 26, 2004)
Before Jon Dorenbos, there was Mike Bartrum. The guy was a stud -- he played seven seasons with the Birds and not only could he long snap, but he could also catch passes as a tight end.

We don't have a video of this one, however, according to Larry O'Rourke of the Allentown Morning Call, Bartrum caught a touchdown in Detroit in 2004 and was then flagged 15 yards after what O'Rourke termed a "jubilant long snap."

Apparently, this was an elaborate plan by Bartrum's two young sons and the long-snapper told the media afterwards, "No more celebrating.... I don't think coach Reid was too happy. He didn't really say anything. Just that he wasn't happy."

I wonder how Doug Pederson would react if Dorenbos breaks out an end-zone magic trick this season.

5. Fred Barnett's Backflop (December 2, 1990)
WATCH
Now, I don't think Barnett's celebration was the highlight of this play. I mean, wow, Randall Cunningham was absolutely amazing on this one.

With the Eagles backed up inside their own five-yard line, the quarterback somehow ducked under a Bills defender and then hucked a pass 70 yards down the field. Let's pray Carson has some Randall in him somewhere because the guy was a wizard in green and white.

But let's get to Fred Barnett. He runs into the end zone untouched for the score, stumbles to the back, and then proceeds to do some kind of backflop while shooting the ball into the stands. I'm not entirely sure what was going on with this one, yet Cunningham's work pushes his teammate up this list.

4. Vai Sikahema boxes with the goalpost (November 22, 1992)


The current NBC10 anchor didn't last long on the field with the Eagles, but maybe he could have had a career as a professional boxer. Vai showed his skills off after returning an 87-yard punt vs. the Giants as the Birds blew out their division rivals 40-20 in the Meadowlands.

It wasn't much and I wouldn't necessarily recommend stepping into the ring against Floyd Mayweather anytime soon, but who knows? The multi-talented Sikahema might not fare all that badly (yes, he would).

3. Koy Detmer gives the Patriots the "Whuppin' Stick"(December 19, 1999)
Yes, you read right. We're actually discussing the same Koy Detmer that once backed up Eagles backup Doug Pederson and spent most of his time in Philadelphia as the holder for David Akers.

With the game in hand and the Birds' season going down the drain, Detmer stepped in as the third-stringer against the Pats in 1999, tossing three touchdown passes in a 24-9 victory. Afterwards, he told reporters that his hilarious touchdown dance was known as the "whuppin' stick."

It's not like he hadn't done the dance before — Detmer "whipped it" the year prior against Green Bay — but as he stepped toward the sidelines, he flipped his arm back and forth in a raunchy fashion that I still think might get flagged under today's rules. Andy Reid later said of the celebration, "[Detmer's] a beauty, but he's definitely not a dancer."

2. DeSean's "Nestea Plunge" (December 12, 2010)
WATCH
You remember the old commercial where the construction working dying of thirst does a backflop onto a carpet and somehow lands in a pool of water? Well, that were before my time and still doesn't make much sense to me.

But they became relevant again once more in December 2010 when DeSean broke loose for a 91-yard game-breaking score in Dallas. With no one around him, Jackson got to the goal line, turned around with no one covering him and took the plunge right for paydirt.

In the moment, it was awesome just to watch D-Jax mock the Cowboys, yet that was a huge play in a crucial game for the Eagles that season. The Birds took a 27-20 lead that they would never relinquish, and the win wound up being just enough to give them the 2010 NFC East crown.

1. T.O. mocks Ray Lewis to his face (October 31, 2004)
WATCH
I don't think anyone would ever dare try to replicate soon-to-be Hall of Famer Ray Lewis' infamous "Squirrel Dance" — except maybe T.O. Owens never feared an opponent, so would it surprise anyone that he'd rip off the 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker's own intro dance with Lewis just a couple of paces away? Not a bit.

With the Birds leading Baltimore 9-3 midway through the 4th quarter of their 2004 matchup, Owens eluded a trio of Ravens defenders to slip into the end zone and give the Eagles some breathing room. And just as he had planned, T.O. scooped up a piece of grass and got right into the motions. Although this one was not original, it definitely took some guts and certainly earns its spot at the top of this list.

Not-so Honorable Mention: Brent Celek is Captain Morgan
WATCH
There is not much to be said here. Brent, let's stick to blocking and maybe the occasional spike. Or at least watch a few ads and practice some more before trying again.