The Philadelphia 76ers and the Phoenix Suns, after the first four days of the 2013-14 NBA season, look to be either the best tanking NBA teams ever, or the worst.
At a glance, you’d say they stink at it, if they’re dueling ambitions are to finish with horrible W-L records to boost their odds of a high pick in the loaded 2014 Draft next June. They’re each 2-0. By beating Miami Wednesday and Washington Friday, the 76ers in a span of 72 hours got 10 percent of the way to the NBA’s last-place victory total from last season (Orlando, 20). Rookie guard Michael Carter-Williams, after a brilliant debut, hit a 3-pointer to spark a 12-3 run deep into the fourth quarter that put Philadephia in control.
Ditto for the Suns, who followed up their defeat of Portland Wednesday with Eric Bledsoe‘s buzzer-beating game-winner against Utah Friday. Bledsoe, out of the backup shadows since his trade away from the Clippers and Chris Paul this offseason, turned the dare of the Jazz’s back-off defense into a 3-point dagger with 0.7 seconds left.
“I was waiting for this moment and I wanted the ball,” said Bledsoe, not sounding like someone who will play this season with a restrictor plate on his gas pedal. He is, after all, working without an extension – same as Philadelphia’s Evan Turner, after the deadline for such deals for 2010 draftees passed Thursday – and won’t have lottery chances and Andrew Wiggins on his mind as his retricted-free-agent future approaches.
“If it means we have to pay him a higher market value over the summer, that’s a good thing because that means he would have produced at a very, very high level,” Suns president Lon Babby told the Arizona Republic. “He’s an important part of this franchise for a long, long time to come.”
Happy happy, right? Except that 2-0 means the 76ers and the Suns already have spotted a two-game advantage in the lottery standings to 0-2 tankers (Boston) and 0-2 non-tankers (Washington) alike, with a few more 0-2 somewhere-in-betweens (New Orleans, Utah and Denver). Consider, too, that all 10 previous Phoenix teams that opened a season 2-0 closed it with an appearance in the playoffs.
Then again, if a team wants to avoid incurring wrath from NBA HQ and their fans, what shrewder way to begin a season of tanking than to throw everyone off the trail with some early unbeaten action? And if the brand-new coaching staffs of Brett Brown in Philadelphia and Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix truly are confident in their ability to steer their squads where they ultimately want to go – Nowheresville – they won’t be rattled by something as temporarily derailing as 2-0.
Brown, in speaking with reporters before the 76ers’ quirky upset of the Heat, certainly didn’t sound like a fellow determined to put his current roster through six months of misery for the iffy benefit of his future roster.
“We put so much effort into development,” Brown said. “We don’t spend a lot of time meeting as a staff during those practice times or possible practice times. We’ve invested everything we can into trying to help our guys get better. All of our guys have put in the time. And I hope – just from a personal level, forget being their coach – that they can find some success, that they see a reward for the work that they put in.”
That’s either great for motivation or marvelous as misdirection, if the object truly is to lose today as the pathway to winning tomorrow. These 2-0 records seem to spring from the same place, a quick way to throw purists off the scent-slash-stench.
And if the 76ers and the Suns truly believe in themselves as worthy bottom feeders, staying in lockstep means neither has spotted the other any edge with, er, only 80 games and 25 more weeks to endure. Savvy sand-bagging indeed.