The NFL has the Super Bowl. The NCAA has countless bowls, covering an eclectic array of classics like the Cotton, Orange, and Rose, and shameless advertisements including the GoDaddy, Hyundai Sun, and Nova Home Loans Arizona. The NBA? Well, it has the Suck Bowl.
Tonight in Philadelphia, two team with a combined record of 2-32 will square off. In one corner, there are the Lakers, whose Stone-Age coach’s stubborn dismissal of common sense has them at 2-14. In the other, there are the Sixers, whose New-Age general manager’s continued plea to “trust the process” has the team at a dismal 0-18.
These are two teams heading in similar directions, but it’s always intriguing to map out how each got to where they are.
Let’s begin with the Lakers, a team that is dysfunctional enough that it allows Kobe Bryant to airball at least four shots a game and whose coach, Byron Scott, recently said: “Our guys get along. They just don’t trust each other”. And no, I’m not sure how that makes any sense, but remember, this is the same guy who seemingly believes that two and three are equal, based on his insistence that his team not shoot too many threes.
Anyways, way back in 2012, the team traded for stars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. The team was expected to be great; however, Mitch Kupchak, the team’s general manager, apparently forgot that defense is as important as offense en route to a disappointing 45-37 season.
Despite their final record, the Lakers were still in the playoffs as the seventh seed, so there was still hope for their season. Then they got whipped by the Spurs by an average scoring margin of 18.75 over a four game sweep.
In the offseason, Howard fled to Houston, ending the team’s hope that he would be its bridge from Bryant into the future. Instead, the Lakers extended Bryant’s contract by two years for 48.5 million dollars, condemning the team to mediocrity or worse for the foreseeable future.
The next season, Los Angeles went 27-55 and Bryant played in a mere six games due to injury. There was a bright side to the team’s awfulness: a high draft pick resulting in Julius Randle, a power forward out of Kentucky. In addition to Randle, the Lakers nabbed Jordan Clarkson, a guard, at 46th overall.
In the 2014-15 season, the Lakers went 21-61, the franchise’s worst record throughout its entire history. Adding to the dismal display, Randle broke his leg in his NBA debut, immediately ending his season, and Bryant again suffered through various injuries, playing only 35 games. However, Clarkson had a sparkling rookie season, excelling in March and April once he received playing time, with averages of 17 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.7 assists over the last two months of the season.
Another ugly season led to another high draft pick, and with the help of some luck in the lottery, the Lakers were able to draft D’Angelo Russell, a star point guard, at #2 overall.
That’s where the team stands. It’s got an aging star who’s not a star any more (and is retiring after the season) and a couple of young studs. The team sits at an ugly 2-14, but there’s plenty of hope for the future.
In Philadelphia, there’s also hope, but the team took a far different path to get it.
The story of the present-day 76ers team began in 2013, when Sam Hinkie tore down the team to tank for a high draft pick. The team finished 19-63, but only got the third pick in the draft, with which they took Joel Embiid. Later on in the first round, the Sixers traded its 10th overall pick to Orlando for the 12th pick and a 2017 first rounder (which led to some hilarious awkwardness as I discussed here), and selected Dario Saric, who can’t come to the US until at least 2016.
After another horrific season at 18-64, the Sixers again had the third overall pick, and again took a big man, this time taking Jahlil Okafor out of Duke.
As Philadelphia stands now, it has a ton of solid players on its roster, from Nerlens Noel to Robert Covington to TJ McConnell to Nik Stauskas to Tony Wroten to Isaiah Canaan to Jerami Grant. It has a wealth of future draft assets (as Business Insider details here). It even has a couple of 2014 first-rounders coming in the future when Embiid finally makes his debut and Saric comes over from Turkey.
It’s clear that Hinkie is pushing all his assets into the future while imploring the team’s fans to “trust the process” and, despite the agonizing state of the present-day team, the plan is nearly guaranteed to work. Zach Lowe wrote over the summer that “if Philly is really willing to do this for five, six, or seven seasons, it almost cannot fail. It will either land a superstar or draft so many good players that they will gather a solid NBA team.”
Until that glorious future, however, Sixers fans are stuck with the current team. Despite its numerous quality players, it’s winless at 0-18. The team isn’t as bad as it record shows, though, as Philadelphia has had a lead in the fourth quarter of each of its last five games, only to fritter it away, resulting in agonizing loss after agonizing loss.
Tonight’s game against the Lakers is especially important, because, if the Sixers lose, they’ll set a record for the worst start to a season in NBA history. Luckily, Philadelphia is favored by 1.5 points, but if they lose again tonight, another shot at a victory may not come for a while.