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Aaron Leibowitz | The Fan

Riding the tank-wagon

Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 13, 2014 03:02

Chris Baumohl is a Philadelphia 76ers fan. Always has been, from Iverson to Iguodala to Holiday. A Tufts senior who grew up in Philly, Baumohl wants only the best for his team. That’s precisely why he’s rooting for it to lose.

“Obviously, I like to see the Sixers win,” Baumohl said. “But I’m willing to sacrifice this season for watching them win late into the playoffs next year.”

The question is whether losing will pay off. The Sixers have been in full-blown tank mode since last May, when they hired Sam Hinkie to replace Doug Collins as their general manager. Hinkie is an analytics freak, always ahead of the curve. Team owner Josh Harris chose him to lead the team into the future — but first, to drive it into the ground.

“I think the majority of 76ers fans are realistic,” Baumohl said. “Whether we root for the Sixers to lose or not, it’s gonna be a bad season.”

From 2003-04 to 2012-13, the Sixers failed to post a winning percentage above .530. They reached the playoffs five times, losing in the first round the first four times and losing in the second round the fifth time. Last year they finished ninth.

But everything changed on July 27, 2013. That’s when Hinkie, six weeks into his tenure, made one of the seminal deals in Sixers history. At the 2013 Draft, he traded Holiday and 42nd pick Pierre Jackson to the Pelicans for sixth pick Nerlens Noel and a 2014 protected first-rounder. Then, with the 11th pick, he selected Michael Carter-Williams. Suddenly, the future looked bright. Just as suddenly, the present looked bleak. 

Only one player on the Sixers’ roster — 33-year-old Jason Richardson — is older than 25. They signed no major free agents in the offseason. Their payroll is about $10 million *below* the league salary floor, meaning the Sixers have to pay the NBA the difference.

The results have been, well, interesting. The Sixers recently suffered a 45-point loss to the Clippers followed by a 43-point loss to the Warriors. They became just the second team ever to lose consecutive games by 40 points. The other team to do it was — you guessed it — the Sixers, in 1994.

But fans know that, as long as the Sixers keep losing — entering last night’s game they were 15-38, second-worst in the league — they increase their chances to land two top-notch picks in a loaded draft class.

“Do I want them to lose every single game and be historically bad? No,” Baumohl said. “But in a draft that’s this deep, the important thing is, can they add two impact draft picks?”

With the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaching, Sixers fans are also hoping the team can find suitors for their two highest-paid players, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner. Turner is averaging a career-high 17.4 points, but he’s inefficient and is not in the team’s long-term plans.

If they do move some of their top players, the Sixers could end up sliding below the NBA-worst Bucks by season’s end. While Baumohl isn’t rooting for that to happen, he has faith in Hinkie. And while he doesn’t expect them to win a title next year, he knows that — with the right moves — the Sixers’ rise could be rapid.

“Basketball is the only place where you can have this very fast turnover if you do it right,” he said. “It’s not like baseball, where I’m mortgaging a marquee player [for a player] who’s five years out. It’s, ‘I can mortgage this player now for somebody who can have, if not the same impact, more impact next year.’”

That’s NBA Tanking 101. And Hinkie is teaching a master class.

Aaron Leibowitz is a senior who is majoring in American studies. He can be reached at Aaron.Leibowitz@tufts.edu.

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