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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Why are 76ers' fans so patient?

The team is one and forever, having beaten the also hapless Timberwolves the other night, which must have gotten former 76er Thad Young to thinking that he is living in one of Dante's circles of hell because the 76ers traded him precisely to get worse, and then they beat the team that he's on, which also has Andrew Wiggins, who apparently was the object of the 76ers' desires when they adopted their strategy of losing last season, only to get another big man with a bad wheel, this time Joel Embiid.

Philadelphia fans can get a bad rap.  Sure, they aren't patient and yes, they can be profane, but that's what many fans are about today.  Perhaps they did throw snowballs at or boo Santa Claus in the early 70's, but reports from the game indicated that this happened because the man impersonating St. Nick was drunk and behaving badly.  At any rate, despite the fact that many are diehards, they are giving the 76ers a huge pass for losing badly, fielding a terrible team (even though it tries gives it the old college try, which makes you wonder whether a college team like Kentucky could give them a run) and not caring whether they win.  The front office has taken the love of drafting prospects to an extreme (where it's more fun to take someone with potential than someone with a proven track record, so seniors in the draft are doomed) and dangles the promise of a front line of guys named Noel, Embiid (who admittedly looked like the best college big on film since guys named Olajuwon and O'Neal) and Saric.

It's hard to know whether the diehards know that these three can be special, whether they have put their  fanaticism in abeyance because of the rise of the Philadelphia Eagles or that they have stopped caring to the point that they are not even complaining.  The latter would worry the front office the most, for while they have enough money to float the team, so to speak and carry it forward until the glory days return, most fans don't have the type of money to invest in season tickets and watch a team which, if it were in the English Premier League, would definitely be relegated to the next league down and be playing in smaller arenas in the 33rd through 64th largest cities in the United States.  Instead, they still demand NBA price and, as a bonus, fans get to see the visiting teams and their stars.

It's not as though the 76ers have offered discounts to fans for watching such an awful team or even lower prices now in exchange for higher prices a few years down the road.  The fans who do come like the arena, like the vibe, love the game and like the visiting teams.  Many who come are smart enough not to purchase season tickets (and whoever talks about fan loyalty to me is a bit silly given that management really isn't serving the fans all that well with the product they are putting out on the floor) from the team but to purchase individual tickets at cut-rate prices on StubHub.  Perhaps they are curious, perhaps they are buying the propaganda that management is putting out about how good the team can be in the future.

But here's a question:  don't most great teams have veteran leadership, and don't they have a mix of players, some of whom are veterans, some are younger and some are rookies?  It's hard to conceive that a bunch of young players the same age will be able to beat veteran teams consistently and become an elite team.  They will need veterans, and while it's understandable that they traded Thad Young, ultimately they will need leaders.  And that begs the biggest question of them all:  once Saric comes over from Turkey and Noel and Embiid are healthy, what veterans will they sign?  And who will come to the team?  Fans can assume that veterans might come to play with the young nucleus the 76ers are putting together, but if they do so they will demand a premium.  Why?  Because they are veterans, and they are the least patient of them all to win and win now, because they know how short careers can be and how few chances the average veteran has to play on a special team.  And I'd be skeptical of those who really want to come to Philadelphia initially unless they are proven winners, because it could be that they want the payday more than the rings.  And if they have won a title before, will they still have the hunger to win again?

Look, I know I am parsing this finely, but the 76ers have adopted a risky strategy that, while unique, has its risks -- that all players will be healthy, that all will be good, and that some veterans will come over as free agents to help form an eight- or nine-player rotation that can quickly climb into the top four teams in the Eastern Conference.  Right now, the fans are buying it because they did grow tired of rooting for a team whose upside was that maybe they would win 45 games and lose in the first round.  They grew tired of Comcast's ownership, of Ed Snider's mismanagement of the club  and of Comcast's treating the team as the poor stepchild to the Flyers.

All that's fine, and the new ownership has said the right things and brought more zing and oomph to the franchise.  But after a while, the fans will yell "call," and they will want to see a big-league team.  I don't know how long the fans will wait, but it won't be much more than beyond this season.


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