Monday, December 15, 2014

5 comments Bill Plaschke Lectures the Philadelphia 76ers About Their Lack of Integrity

Bill Plaschke is not happy with the Philadelphia 76ers and their feeble attempts at putting an NBA-quality team on the court. In fact, he thinks the only thing the Sixers succeed at is not succeeding and this offends his sensibilities. He thinks it is disgraceful that the Sixers lose games to get a high draft pick. Of course, Bill didn't think it was disgraceful when he claimed the Lakers "deserved" a higher draft position than 7th in the 2014 NBA Draft. Bill doesn't see why the Sixers drafted Joel Embiid, though he had no issue with the Lakers drafting Embiid, and was in fact upset the Lakers didn't get the chance to get the big man from Kansas. Plaschke is tired of the Sixers tanking, and much more importantly, he is now writing actual paragraphs instead of one sentence paragraphs.

The most disgraceful team in the NBA is on the verge of a milestone, 

And congratulations to the Knicks and James Dolan for continuing to sell Knicks fans on supporting the team when the Knicks organization has consistently shown they don't necessarily deserve it.

A collection of mostly playground talent that was specifically built to lose games — at the expense of competitive integrity and their longtime fans — is actually not losing a game.

My feelings about the Sixers is that I feel very bad for their fans. The team has taken a long-term rebuilding approach that essentially tears the team down only to build it back up. I'm not sure I could be that patient if I were a Sixers fan. But still, the intent of building a strong core is taking shape. Young players are getting playing time, but the team still lacks that superstar player (in my opinion). That's been the biggest issue for the Sixers and that's why they continue to rebuild. There does seem to be a plan. Unfortunately, part of the plan right now is building around two guys taking 30 shots per game who can't even hit 43% of their shots and relying on players better off being on the bench to start, but they have their own and the Heat's Top 10 protected pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. They will have their pick of big men to choose from in the draft, which means they can trade Embiid or Noel, or even trade their draft pick for an established star if they chose to do that. Either way, they are accumulating assets. It may not work or it might work.

Rather than pretend they aren't rebuilding, the Sixers are gathering and evaluating talent. There are obvious risks, like young players who are developing big habits (which I think is happening to a few Sixers players) and a losing environment being nurtured. That's where a good head coach comes in to prevent this from happening. We'll see. It's a long-term plan, but I think it doesn't lack integrity. What lacks integrity more? Admitting that your team isn't going to be competitive, or blowing smoke up the fans' asses about the competitiveness of the team while making short-term moves that keep this illusion up while sacrificing long-term competitiveness? There are NBA teams misleading their fans at the expense of the team's long-term health, no doubt. Doesn't that lack some sense of integrity? At least Sixers fans know what they are getting. I'm not necessarily a fan of tanking, but I think it sure beats pretending to field a competitive team and keeping a team mired in mediocrity because management is unable to face the truth.

When the night's mess mercifully ends, the Philadelphia 76ers have missed 50 shots, committed 18 turnovers, yet achieved their first victory in 18 games this season with an 85-77 decision over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

"The Sixers have done it!" cries Zumoff.

Who says cheaters never win?

Who said the Sixers are cheaters? How is losing basketball games intentionally cheating? Oh, so trying to get a high draft pick is cheating? Then what is whining about a team not getting a high enough draft pick considered? From Plaschke's whiny post-NBA lottery article:

There should be a rule against giving another No. 1 overall pick to a team that spent last year's No. 1 overall pick on somebody who averaged two baskets per game. Does even Anthony Bennett remember Anthony Bennett?

The Lakers deserved better. They at least deserved to pick where they had finished. 

They should have been rewarded for their injuries, their incompetence, their dysfunction, and the fact that they somehow talked Mike D'Antoni into leaving town.

Heck, if the league was smart, it would have helped the Lakers move into the top three. Considering a new rumored NBA scheme surfaces about every month, why couldn't one have popped up now?

The Sixers lack integrity when they try to get a high draft pick, while if the Lakers are awarded a high draft pick then it's merely for the sake of the NBA's own good.

They have the scrawny appearance of a junior varsity team. They play with the wildness of a pickup team.

They stumble into an offense that usually devolves into a game of one-on-one and often ends with a wild brick off the backboard.

When Plaschke wrote this column, the Sixers were 29th in field goal percentage, while the Lakers were shooting the lights out in 23rd place in field goal percentage. As far as the offense stumbling into a game of one-on-one, the Sixers and the Lakers were tied for 21st in the NBA in assists per game. Not that Bill Plaschke has never taken the opportunity to bash the Lakers, but he's basing a lack of integrity from the Sixers on issues that the Lakers themselves face.

If they're not gunning it, they are kicking it out of bounds or throwing it into the stands, after which they cruise back on defense and watch the other guys rush in for uncontested layups.

The Lakers were 30th in the NBA in opponents' points per game and the Sixers were 26th. The Lakers were also 30th in opponents' points per shot, while the Sixers were 28th. The Lakers were 29th in opponents' field goal percentage, while the Sixers were 24th.

My point is that while Bill Plaschke is correct the Sixers are not winning games or playing well, he's not mentioning the Lakers are putting a team on the court built for now and they aren't exactly playing well either.

"They play that bad and we still lose?" Corey Brewer said. "We have to look at ourselves, man. It's tough. We can't lose that game, period."

The team that needs to look in the mirror is the 76ers, who are making a mockery of the NBA and its draft lottery,

Of course it's not a mockery for the Lakers to be hugely successful over a long period of time, have a down year, and then Bill Plaschke throw a fit that they weren't allowed to make a mockery of the NBA lottery during their one down year.

openly sacrificing an entire season while gambling they will be rewarded with high draft picks and future stars.

Again, not to create a strawman argument, but isn't openly sacrificing a season for high draft picks with a long-term plan better than tricking fans by spending money on players who can't help the team win in the short-term or the long-term?

It's what the Lakers could have done, but the notion of losing intentionally went against the ideals that have defined their championship legacy.

This from the sportswriter who wishes the Lakers had gotten a higher draft pick in the last NBA Draft lottery. I laugh at the idea the Lakers hold the moral high ground due to a "championship legacy" considering they are paying Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin, Wayne Ellington, and Steve Nash a combined $23.9 million this year. Jordan Hill is playing well, so I won't criticize them for the $9 million that he is making this year.

I'm afraid that Bill Plaschke is getting "defining their championship legacy" with "not being gutsy enough to fully commit to a rebuilding plan and wanting to fool their fans into believing they are fielding a competitive team." The Lakers are on the hook for $47 million next year as well, but no, it's the championship legacy that is keeping them from tanking and not a fear of actually committing to a rebuilding job. They'll just find some free agents to sign and everything will be fine. Right? THAT WILL HAPPEN, RIGHT?

The 76ers apparently have no such ideals, no such respect for their legacy, and thus have descended into madness.

Eh, since Bill made the direct it not respecting their legacy for the Sixers to field a bad team that will get a high draft pick in an effort to hit the "reboot" button on the franchise? Or is it recognition if they spent money extending players like Thaddeus Young then it would just be spending money in an effort to create the illusion of winning times being dead ahead? The Sixers plan may fail, but they also have $43.9 million committed to salaries over the next three years. I personally believe madness is overpaying a franchise icon (like Kobe) and then pretending they are going to field a competitive team around him just to avoid the appearance the team is rebuilding.

One night they lost to Toronto by 32 points. A couple of nights later, they lost to Dallas by 53 points — a game the Mavericks would have won had they not scored in the second half. The rest of the league quickly got the message and most teams have stopped taking them seriously.

It's pretty bad. I won't deny that.

"It's a team you feel like you're not supposed to lose to, no offense to them," the Mavericks' Chandler Parsons told reporters.

When is the last time you heard a professional athlete talk about an opposing team in such open, matter-of-fact dismissive terms? It's as if the rest of the NBA has decided, if the 76ers organization doesn't respect itself, why should anyone else?

Possibly, but who really cares what the rest of the NBA thinks? The rest of the NBA doesn't give a shit if the Sixers are a competitive team in five years or not. So what the rest of the NBA thinks is irrelevant if the Sixers believe in their plan. Plus, other NBA teams should be thrilled the Sixers aren't very good because it means it's easier for them to win more games.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for the fact that they never once quit on themselves," their relentlessly positive coach, Brett Brown, said afterward.

Brett Brown has to be relentlessly positive. It sort of comes with the territory when coaching a team that has lost as many games as the Sixers have.

He's right. Even though last season's rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams, former first-round pick Nerlens Noel and second-rounder KJ McDaniels are their only potential impact players, the team still plays hard. And Brown, a Gregg Popovich disciple, is considered a rising star.

It is the 76ers front office — managing owner Josh Harris, Chief Executive Scott O'Neil and General Manager Sam Hinkie — which has shamelessly given up.

Now I'm confused. Hinkie has put together a team of three potential impact players and a rising star coach, but he's given up? I won't argue that these three guys have put a great product on the court, yet Hinkie seems to be finding some sort of talent in the draft doesn't he?

The team was awful last season, losing a record-tying 26 consecutive games while finishing with just 19 wins. But then management decided to sink even lower, deplete even further, lose even more.

Which ruins the Sixers integrity because they are not claiming to be putting together a playoff team, while nothing can ruin the integrity of the NBA teams pretending to win while knowing they won't be putting a quality product on the court. Crappy teams like Charlotte, Minnesota, New York, and the Lakers who aren't putting a quality product on the court have integrity obviously. James Dolan drips integrity.

With the third pick of last spring's draft, they chose Kansas center Joel Embiid even though they knew he might not play this season because of foot problems. 

Is that the same Joel Embiid that Bill Plaschke was bemoaning couldn't play for the Lakers? It seems to be:

Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and Dante Exum are guys who could have immediately made the sort of impact that would make the Lakers fun again. 

None of them is expected to be around at No. 7, which is a location currently occupied on draft boards by guys like Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Marcus Smart, none of whom will immediately make a well-coiffed courtside head spin.

So it's foolish for the Sixers to have drafted Embiid at #3, but Plaschke is upset the Lakers didn't get a good chance to draft Embiid in that spot? Funny how Plaschke's opinion changes depending on what he is looking to prove.

Oh, and the Lakers drafted Julius Randle after he reportedly foot surgery. Unfortunately, Randle then broke his right leg in the first game of the season. I wonder where Bill's outrage at the Lakers drafting an injured player is? He thinks the Sixers shouldn't have drafted Embiid because he was injured, so I wonder if the same goes for the Lakers drafting Randle? Bill is the authority on integrity, so I would like to hear his take on this.

Their other first-round pick was Daro Saric, a Croatian player who had already signed a three-year contract to play in Turkey.

Saric is 20 years old. He also won the Euroleague MVP for November. Saric is planning on coming to the United States to play in two seasons, so it isn't like he has to spend all three years in Turkey. The Sixers aren't the first team to draft an overseas player high in the draft, then wait on him to come to the United States. What's the benefit of Saric playing in the United States now?

You know how teams are criticized for being under the salary cap ceiling? The 76ers are $20 million under the salary cap floor, with a payroll of around $38 million. That's about as much as the Clippers pay Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

You know Bill, I think you are proving the point behind the Sixers long-term plan. If they don't have $38 million wrapped up in two players then that means they have payroll flexibility. Would Plaschke think the Sixers have more integrity if they had won 1 game and had $38 million spent on two players? Would that make him feel better about the Sixers intentions of winning basketball games?

"If they win 15 games they will have overachieved to the highest level," Detroit Coach Stan Van Gundy said.

The Pistons had won two more games than the Sixers when Bill wrote this column.

On game nights, one longtime worker at the train station near Wells Fargo Arena has fists full of tickets handed to him by angry fans who ask him to give them away. The 76ers attendance is second-worst in the league.

Obviously losing games isn't going to draw a huge crowd to Sixers games. You know what does draw huge crowds? Winning basketball games, which is the end goal for Sam Hinkie. He's going about it in a slow and deliberate way, which apparently makes Bill Plaschke question the 76ers' integrity. 

And the scorn is rising even from longtime Philly stalwarts such as Larry Brown, who led the 76ers to their last NBA Finals appearance against the Lakers in 2001.

"I hate what's going on in Philly," Brown, who coaches Southern Methodist University, told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this season. "It makes me sick to my stomach."

During an ensuing interview on Philadelphia's SportsRadio 94WIP radio, O'Neil ripped Brown for not winning at SMU,

Intentionally tanking is not a very well-regarded strategy. I don't particularly like it, but I really, really am not sure increasing payroll and providing the illusion of winning is the direction the Sixers should go.

then explained his team's strategy with, "These building programs, they take a little time … the plan is the plan is the plan."

The 76ers did not respond to interview requests for this story, but surely even they understand that this plan is not guaranteed.

Of course 76ers understand this plan is not guaranteed. No plan is ever guaranteed. What a stupid comment. Surely every team in the NBA understands their respective plan to field a competitive team isn't guaranteed. Or does Plaschke's Lakers think building around Nick Young, Kobe Bryant, Ed Davis, Julius Randle and Carlos Boozer is their best long-term plan? I doubt it.

The worst team in basketball has only a 25% chance of getting the first pick in the draft. Since the lottery system began in 1985, only four times has a team with the worst record received the first pick. So do the 76ers have to be this bad?

Oh, ok. It would show more integrity if the Sixers planned to be bad, but not too bad to where they lose too many games. I'd love to know the threshold for which Plaschke thinks the Sixers should aim in order to win enough games to keep their integrity intact, while also making sure they have a good shot at a high draft pick. Because again, giving the illusion of winning is what shows the most integrity.

Kenneth Shropshire, a Los Angeles Dorsey High graduate who is a sports business professor at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton school of business, says the plan is so unique, it's difficult to judge.

"Those guys are pretty sophisticated, smart guys, turnaround guys, and you want to think they stepped back and really thought of this," he said. "But I've never heard of anybody directly attempting a strategy like this before."

Because most sports franchises don't have the balls and patience to do this. I wouldn't necessarily rebuild a team in the way the Sixers are doing, but that certainly doesn't mean it is a bad strategy. I don't think some of the strategies other NBA teams are using are great strategies either. The Sixers are taking reducing payroll and building around young players to an extreme, that's for sure.

Shropshire quietly sighed, a sound heard frequently around the 76ers these days. "Whatever it is, it's still gonna take forever … unless Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is in that next draft," he said.

There's no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but there is a poor man's Tim Duncananother great shot blocker who played at Kentucky, an excellent rebounding PF/C, a poor man's Kawhi Leonard, and a natural point guard with good size.

There is a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a draft about once a decade, so I wouldn't expect there to be one in the 2015 NBA Draft. I doubt the Sixers are expecting to grab a Hall of Famer out of the draft come June.

Zumoff, the television broadcaster, offered his own explanation of the team's strategy, and why fans are buying it.

"They've seen the ham and egg approach, you patch and fill and make a trade, and you end up with another No. 15 draft pick," he said. "They get the fact that you have to tear it down to studs and start over in order to grow a team like a San Antonio or Oklahoma City."

Yes, and that's part of the issue. If the Sixers aren't going to be very good, they think they should just be very, very not good. Here are some of the players taken by teams in front of the Sixers over the past few years:

2012: Bradley Beal, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Damian Lillard. The 76ers drafted 15th.

2011: Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard. The 76ers drafted 16th.

2010: John Wall. The 76ers drafted 2nd (they blew this draft).

2009: Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez. The 76ers drafted 16th.

My point is they know they have a shot at drafting elite talent if they don't win games. If they pretend they want to win games in a weak Eastern Conference they may fuck around and accidentally win too many games. They will have their integrity, but also a pick between 10-20 in the first round. The Sixers have gone to great lengths to ensure this doesn't happen.

The NBA is growing increasingly pale watching this remodel, but a league which had the power to keep Chris Paul from joining the Lakers claims it can do nothing to make the 76ers try harder. Its answer is to change the lottery system and give equal first-pick chances to the league's four worst teams.

That's fine if the NBA wants lottery reform. The Sixers would still have a good chance of getting the first pick in the draft. The Jazz were the team that lost the 4th most games in the NBA last year and they won 25 games. It's not like they were fielding an excellent team or anything.

That would be a huge and deserved loss for the Philadelphia 76ers. But that's OK. 

Yes, that would be fine. The Sixers are currently playing within the rules and it doesn't show a lack of integrity that they aren't choosing to give the illusion of fielding a good team by signing a few expensive players and tricking their fans long enough to give them hope.

Losing has become their legacy, their corporate culture. And they're certainly used to it.

Strong words coming from a sportswriters who writes about an NBA team that had won five games when he posted this column. I don't think anybody really likes tanking, but I find the method by which the Sixers are rebuilding to have more integrity than how the Knicks have an $88 million payroll to justify the four victories they had when Bill wrote this column. The Knicks aren't rebuilding, so maybe they are off the hook in Plaschke's mind, because they have the integrity to just put a shitty product on the court and watch the fans pay for that shitty product. At least the Sixers have enough honesty to rebuild and make it known they are rebuilding. 


franc said...

to some extent, i really like what hinkie is doing. if he succeeds and wins a title in the next 5-10 years, he will be a hero in philadelphia, and if he fails, he will be a punchline for idiots like plaschke, guys who only moralize after the fact. hinkie is taking it to the end and will have to assume responsibility for whatever happens, and that is something philly fans can appreciate. as you said, nobody is trying to deceive them. the same cannot be said for the lakers, knicks etc. there is real integrity in what philly is doing and they are fully committed to their plan.
tanking is allowed in the nba, it is even encouraged to some extent. the problem for the nba (and sportswriters) arises only when it hurts their revenue. there is no moral problem here.

franc said...

of course, i am not saying that i enjoy watching the 76ers. i am just saying that tanking exists, it is a mockery of "competitive spirit", but if you lie about it (even to yourself, like the knicks), it is considered okay. what the sixers are doing precisely has integrity because it is not hypocritical in this way.

Eric C said...

It's like the Mets. As a Mets fan, last season didn't piss me off, because at least I knew they were auditioning a bunch of guys that will be part of the future. Watching last season, I actually felt good, as opposed to a few years ago when we were trotting Jason Bay and Luis Castillo out there.

I'd rather root for that than a team full of useless veterans that aren't going to be part of the next great team, like the Knicks as you mention. Bargnani, Stoudemire, Prigioni, Calderon, Dalembert, and the Smiths are not going to be part of the next great Knicks team (and who knows, maybe Carmelo won't be either, but that's another point). I'd rather watch upside and have some hope. I don't know what Acy, Early, Hardaway, Larkin, Wear, Aldrich, Shumpert, and guys like Antetokounmpo and Galloway on the d-league team are going to be. However, I'd rather hope a few of them will become solid starters (or better) than watch Stoudemire's knees fall off and Bargnani remind me of the fleecing Toronto gave us. At least Bargnani has the decency to be hurt and stay out.

As a fan, I'd be happy to see them release some of these old guys, because we suck anyway and may as well suck with our potential future. Guess I am saying, good for you Philly.

Robert said...

See, I agree the article is idiotic, but at the same time I appreciate the frustration of tanking - though from a slightly different perspective. I appreciate it as a fan (in several sports) of teams that always seem to be JUST outside of the playoffs. Because they're ok, without being good, they're stuck in that limbo. Never getting the great players, and so never getting over the hump.

All that does is incentivizes losing in the short term to get long-term prospects. It's risky, but it is something that we as sports fans should never want - we should never be in a place to want our teams to lose.

Personally I've always been a fan of one of two systems:

1) The top pick goes to the best team that does not make the playoffs, and then you go down in that order, then the playoff teams from last place to champion.

2) All non-playoff teams are in a common lottery with equal chances of getting the top picks. That way bad teams still get priority over good ones, but mediocre/building teams also get a good leg up. It also rewards teams that at least try and competence.

This method also alleviates the problem of the above - accusations that the weakest teams will never claw their way out of mediocrity.

Bengoodfella said...

Franc, it's a really long way of rebuilding and takes an incredible amount of patience. If he fails, he is going to go down as one of the worst GM's in NBA history. I enjoy watching the Sixers only out of morbid curiosity.

I don't think what they are doing lacks integrity. Does it suck for Sixers fans? Of course. But they are making sure they don't sign players they shouldn't sign and are keeping players they want to keep.

Eric, for me personally there is nothing worse than trotting out a "competitive" lineup that isn't really competitive. That's why I'm not extremely sad the Braves are breaking up their team. Frankly, it was a flawed team so a new plan is needed and I don't mind losing for a season to get there.

The advantage that Philly has right now is they are giving guys like Wroten, Noel, and Carter-Williams burn, plus they get to see how K.J. McDaniels will contribute down the road. They see the pieces they want and don't want. Still, it takes a ton of patience. Where would the Sixers be if they had re-signed Thaddeus Young? A better team, sure, but would that have them closer to a title?

Robert, if I were a Sixers fan then I wouldn't have patience for this rebuild. So I am totally for it, because it's not my team. Otherwise, I would struggle to be patient, even when I see the purpose of the tanking.

You and Bill Simmons wouldn't get along because he thinks a team should not want to be good enough to compete, but not good enough to make the playoffs.

I would be fine with #2. I don't have a problem with just throwing teams together with equal chances to get a pick. It sounds like fun to me, though I know the shitty teams would hate that idea.