Are The Sixers Really Tanking?

In the summer of 2012, the 76ers brass concluded that their 8th seeded team had maxed out on its current roster composition and made a blockbuster trade to acquire C Andrew Bynum. Bynum never suited up in his one mystery injury-riddled season with the Sixers, and the trade cost Philly their best player (Andre Iguodala) and three valuable assets (Moe Harkless, a 2015 1st round pick, and double-double machine Nik Vucevic). In the wake of this disastrous trade and the 34-win season that followed, Sixers coach Doug Collins resigned and the organization cut ties with GM Tony DiLeo, a Billy King-era front office holdover.

Enter: Sam Hinkie, a whip smart GM with tutelage under Rockets GM and devoted champion of analytics, Daryl Morey. Hinkie inherited a roster with one tradable asset in PG Jrue Holiday, a 23-year-old borderline All-Star type on a fair market contract. So when Hinkie dealt Holiday on draft night for an injured rookie and a 2014 draft pick, the narrative became that the Sixers were “tanking” the 2013 season; making themselves bad on purpose in order to maximize their lottery odds. I reject this narrative.

As I noted earlier, the Bynum trade sapped Philly of nearly all of its positive assets. Sam Hinkie saw the Jrue Holiday trade not as an opportunity to make the team bad, but as a chance to acquire a potential superstar in Nerlens Noel and a possible lottery pick in a highly touted draft class. Hinkie’s next move was to draft Jrue Holiday’s replacement, Syracuse PG Michael Carter-Williams. Here is the Sixers 2013-2014 “tanking” lineup versus the one that finished the 2012-2013 season:


Through February, the Sixers had traded exactly one player and replaced him with the rookie of the year. Their decline in play (seven fewer wins through 55 games) could be largely attributed to replacing departed free agent veterans like Dorrell Wright and Nick Young with a carousel of young, inexperienced players. If there is any way in which the Sixers have “tanked”, it is their preference to hoard cap space instead of signing mid-level veterans, but I have yet hear the argument that failing to retain Dorrell Wright and Nick Young is against the integrity of basketball.

That brings us to the February 20th trade deadline, when Philly shipped out Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, and Lavoy Allen for Henry Sims, Danny Granger’s contract, and 2nd round picks. The pundits and fans already invested in the #TankingForWiggins narrative saw this as Sam Hinkie trading three of his most productive and veteran players in order to “catch” the Milwaukee Bucks for the title of worst team in basketball. When the team responded by going on a record losing streak, it seemed to confirm that narrative. In reality, the Sixers were already terrible by the time Hawes and Turner were dealt. They owned the league’s second worst record, were dead last in point differential, and were already nine miserable games into their historic losing skid. Hawes, Turner, and Allen were dealt because they were set to become free agents after the season, not because Sam Hinkie thought that the league’s second worst team was playing too well. If Hinkie was so concerned with the Sixers securing the worst record, then why did he wait until the deadline to make these trades? And why didn’t he move Thaddeus Young who, unlike Turner and Allen, is actually good?

Hinkie’s tanking master plan was supposed to culminate with the selection of Kansas uber-prospect Andrew Wiggins in the 2014 draft. That was not to be, as the Sixers landed the 3rd pick and Wiggins emerged as the #1 prospect. Instead, the Sixers selected Joel Embiid, who, like Nerlens Noel a year ago, will likely sit out the season to recover from surgery. After swapping the pick they received in the Holiday trade (#10) to the Magic, and scooping up a future 1st and 2nd rounder in the process, they grabbed Croatian F Dario Saric, who will spend the next two seasons playing professionally in Turkey. People who saw these moves as Hinkie setting up another tanking season miss the point again. This was a GM with time on his side using it to his advantage by pouncing on opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have been there. Even after breaking his foot during the pre-draft process, Joel Embiid was still thought in many circles to be by far the best prospect in the draft. Dario Saric is a 6’10” player with professional experience and a unique skill set, and it is possible that he wouldn’t have been available at #12 had he been able to jump to the NBA right away. If you are still convinced that the Sixers are revving up “Tank 2.0”, what do you suppose they would have done if Embiid or Saric had been taken before them? Gone for the next-best injured player? Come on.

Sam Hinkie, Brett Brown, Josh Harris, and the rest of the Sixers regime have been honest and forthcoming about their commitment to a long-term plan, one that is indifferent towards short-term success. Though they haven’t made an honest effort to make this year’s edition of the Sixers competitive, they have not made a single personnel decision in the interest of bottoming out and getting a good draft pick. Even if the NBA adopted a lottery substitute that eliminates the incentive for being bad, all of the moves I detailed above; trading Holiday for Noel and a 1st, trading impending free agents for Henry Sims and 2nd rounders, drafting Embiid and Saric; would still stand as unequivocally good ones. Tanking is mostly a #HotTakes pundit-driven non-issue. Real professional sports franchises do not implement an organizational mandate to lose as if they were the Indians in the Major League movies. If the NBA chooses to punish the Sixers with reactionary lottery reform, they will find that they are only increasing the league’s already problematic talent gap.

24 thoughts on “Are The Sixers Really Tanking?”

  1. ANYONE WHO DOESN’T KNOW THAT THE SIXERS ARE TANKING IS A DANGER TO HIMSELF/HERSELF AND THE PUBLIC AT LARGE!! That’s why they protested so much about changing the Lottery. However, having stated the blatantly obvious, I support Hinkie 100% in building a real contender, instead of a perennial 1st round loser!

    1. Agree with you concerning building a winner,, but Hinkie got rid of Hawes,, Turner,,etc because they were BUMS. None will ever play a significant role on a championship team… Why keep them around ?? Especially considering they were free agents.. There were no free agent Stars willing to come here who could make this a contenders..
      So he is birthing his own Stars. Is it sure to work ?? No ! Is it better than watching Hawes play matador D or ET playing with himself…?? Waiting for Bynum’s knees to heal or for Swaggy to pass the ball ?? Damn straight….

      1. Tanking means losing purposefully in order to get a top draft pick. The Sixers dealt Holliday for two top 10 picks, shipped impending free agents, and neglected to sign Dorrell Wright-types. They are rebuilding.

  2. Good article that makes an argument (and backs it up with facts) that the Sixers weren’t in pure tank mode.

    IMO the real point is that tanking is a huge gray area, not just a blank and white issue where Hinkie’s every move has tanking as the No. 1 goal in mind.

  3. Honestly, the change of rules to the lottery, created by Hinkie’s perfecting it, will help the Sixers. There’s no reason to sit Embiid beyond his complete recovery and no reason for incentive to long stays over seas for our prospects. Kids can get thrown in the fire and begin gelin together without the ‘race to the bottom’ startegy as it not longer benefits us.

  4. That article didn’t show how they werent tanking, it just justified it.

    Anyway they need to be careful they don’t do what Minnesota did with the point guards. And the fact they got rid of Andre iguodala and jrue holiday for a team full of un established players is disturbing. Remember they went to the 2nd round a few yrs ago, and to break up a young team of potential all stars for the current roster is saddening. The team from 2 yrs ago would wipe the floor with the current team, and the fact that the past team was on the cusp of being a perennial playoffs team already is something to think about.

    1. I think you are vastly overrating the roster Hinkie inherited. That “young team of potential all-stars” won 34 games the year prior.

    2. HUH ?? Potential WHO ??? Vuke is nice but both Noel and Joel will be better ,, Jrue is nice but MCW is just as good ,, NOW !! Harkless is still “a guy”.. AND “the current team” is NOT THE FINISHED PRODUCT…
      None of the guys traded except possibly Iggie or Jrue (who will have a hard time out west) will EVER be an all star>

  5. And you can’t hope for this team to be a contender. They were one of the worst team in the history of the league, and now they have two injury prone big man and a Euro import which already says he doesn’t want to be here. What you have to factor in as well is even if they fulfill their potential, and that’s a big if, then they would demand huge contracts out of their rookie deals, which they spent yrs at a time hurt already. Instead of the established all star players and young talent (harkless, vucevic) they have all scrubs and three Lottery picks two of which can’t stay on the court.

    The point I’m trying to make is they already had talent, they just needed a few more peices and they would be in the championship discussion. But instead they did that rebuilding thing and you see the results. Protest tanking!

    1. Harkless and Vucevic were dealt by the previous regime. Had the Bynum trade never happened, those guys would still be there and the “tanking” narrative wouldn’t exist.

  6. 1 – and most people miss this, Iggy was traded for Bynum in an attempt to pair him with Jrue and Evan Turner to be a BETTER team.
    2 – due to Billy King, former GM this team was in cap hell after iverson era ended. Just see what he is doing now to the nets
    3 – when Bynum deal blew up, many pundits thought sixers had two choices a) take another chance and screw your cap space for 5 more years and re-sign him or b) tear it all down. Sixers did what they had to do not what they wanted to do.
    4 – knowing they were going to be bad, they were blown away by New Orleans and received an incredible package of hurt but if healthy top talent in 2013 draft and a second pick for the supposed deepest draft in nba history (at the time of 13 draft) in 2014.
    5 – in the MIDDLE of the worst streak in recent years they decided to get something for expiring contracts of
    Players who already proves they weren’t part of a winning culture and not part of what they had to build
    6 – this years draft if wiggins fell they would have taken him hands down. But he didn’t so they went with top talent regardless of injury. Guess what? they wish they received a healthy player but there was no one there with value and didn’t want to waste the pick just because.
    7 – If they drafted wiggins at 3 they would have drafted mcbuckets at 10. However the 3 and 10 are not independent picks. The beginning of the draft dictates BPA at 10 regardless if he would play for a year overseas bc embiid is out for the year. Trading Payton for value was a great move to acquire more assets
    8 – trades Thad young which hurts but he asked to leave and they were willing to help as he was a team player last year and they received back assets including embiids mentor
    9- the other NBA owners and players signed a horrible CBA that leaves vast majority of teams with ZERO shot of competing for title. You either have to get lucky and be blessed with timing for a lebron James or tank like the Spurs did (Robinson is on record saying he could have come back that year but there was no reason bc they were so bad that it would only hurt their team) and the Celtics for last decade were built on Ainge admittedly tanking for assets to build the big 3. Or hope that the players decide your team should be the next big 3. Or your team has NO chance. The same owners complaining about the 76ers are the reason each step I listed were taken with its CBA implications and it’s effect.
    10 – when was the last time the worst team actually received the number 1 pick? Let’s change a system that works? Sounds like a shell game to me. Keep your eye on x meanwhile the issue is y (CBA). All “tanking” guarantees is top 4 pick now.

    Hinkie has taken the best players available for the long term and captured their picks back. Add on the fact that they have the most available cap space and this must be ruled as a huge success. If you want to call it tanking, feel free, I won’t argue. Just don’t ignore the facts evident in this process. I submitted same as story to several sites but was ignored (skill not quite at writer level understood). Feel free to share with open minded people.

    1. I agree with all of this except your speculations about the draft. We have no idea who Hinkie liked, only who he drafted.

  7. This was a really solid and interesting write up. However, I feel like Hinkie’s plan A was to draft Wiggins. Plan B (if Wiggins was off the board) was to draft someone who would not give an immediate impact (see Joel Embiid). Hinkie topped it off by drafting Saric who we won’t see for two years. It seems evident that they are trying to make the lottery again since they had a very quiet offseason. We will see.

    1. I highly doubt that Hinkie sought out players who wouldn’t provide immediate impact. It’s not like Dante Exum or Aaron Gordon would have made them world beaters this season, and this is all a moot point if Embiid doesn’t break his foot.

  8. As a Season Ticket holder for 15 years, it’s actually exciting to see what Hinkie’s plan is. His vision is long term and to build a team organically that will be a dynasty and contenders for 10+ years (like the Spurs). Is it guaranteed? NO!… but as a business plan to protect the longevity of the franchise it is a smart move… I caution Hinkie overloading on big men. This upcoming Draft (2015) is loaded with Centers/Power Forwards – Okafor/Towns/Alexander – so i question what the Sixers do this upcoming draft? Trade down or draft Okefor and trade either embiid / Noel + player #2 + cash for top 10 pick in 2015 draft?
    Also the Sixers have gaps at small forward + shooting gaurd that needs to be filled either via draft or free agent signings. Lastly, Point gaurd position with MCW his age concerns me… Maybe consider trading him for a young more poised point gaurd?
    There’s a lot to analyze, a lot of options for front office to consider, and a ton of pieces to the puzzle that can be traded or added.
    Overall, I advise patience to the fans. But at the same time, watch with excitement these next few years. 2018 contender?! We’ll just have to wait and see…
    – Ryan

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