The Philadelphia 76ers have got to be one of the more fascinating teams in the NBA this season. After a disastrous trade that cost them Andre Iguodala for the right to pay the final season of Andrew Bynum's contract while he limped around in bowling alleys, the Sixers started over from the ground up in one of the most impressive and thorough examples of "blow it up and start over" in NBA history.
So when I got a chance to ask some questions of Michael Levin, the editor at SB Nation's Sixers blog Liberty Ballers, I could scarcely decide what to ask -- there was so much to talk about. Be sure to head over to Liberty Ballers to read their preview, which includes my answers to his questions as well: spoiler alert, there's a Seussian excursion involved.
Steve Perrin: The Sixers seemed to have the perfect tanking strategy in place this summer, trading their most productive player for an injured lottery pick (Nerlens Noel) and another pick in next year's loaded draft, and they even talked about holding Noel out all season, which seemed like it was all part of the plan to be extra-terrible. Then they opened with three straight wins. They're 4-14 since then, which is more like it, but still a lot better than most people expected from this group. My question on all of this is: As Sixers fans, have you guys figured out how to feel about all of this? The scorched-earth-rebuild seemed like a good idea with Andrew Wiggins out there, but then again you're only two games out of first place in the Atlantic Division.
Michael Levin: The Sixers had been stuck in basketball purgatory for near ten years when Sam Hinkie arrived. Trading Jrue (a talented and beloved 22-year-old that is still lacking in a number of areas) was, in theory, one of the best moves in franchise history. It essentially guaranteed the team three lottery picks. And now that there's a plan in place, Sixers fans feel a thousand times better than when the team signed Brian Skinner to a 45 year contract under the guise of being "one piece away."
The first three games were mirage. Delightful, hysterical mirage. Now they're losing plenty of games while making their trade assets look good because of the pace they're playing at. I have no interest in first place in the Atlantic Division. Making the playoffs this season means giving Miami our first round pick. No thank you. This season is about development, trial and error, and losses. Truckloads of losses. Glorious, glorious losses. I've wanted this for five years and to see it being put into practice brings a tear to my eye.
SP: There's a guy named Hollis Thompson on your roster. No seriously, I was just looking on the internet and there's a guy named Hollis Thompson on the roster of the Philadelphia 76ers. And -- get this -- he's scored in double figures in five of the last eight games. So my question, I guess, is WTF?
ML: Hollis is excellent. I am in love with him.
He went to Georgetown, has a nice jumper, is reasonably athletic, plays defense, is named Hollis... I don't know what else anybody could ask for. He is perfect. Danny Green-esque. He should be in the Rookie-Sophomore Game or whatever it's called, but I doubt the NBA lets that happen, because that'd make three Sixers (MCW and Wroten), and America's televisions would explode.
SP: During the off-season, in SB Nation's mock draft, you and I participated in a mock trade that involved DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Hawes, among other things. I took a LOT of heat for that deal (essentially, the other bloggers mocked me, for something that happened in a mock draft -- can they even do that? Can I be mock-mocked?), but Hawes has been pretty darn good this year, averaging about 16 and 10 and hitting a bunch of threes. So 'splain to the peoples what it was that I saw in Hawes, and why he's so Hawesome.
ML: I love Spencer, but you got totally jobbed in that deal, brah. Taking J-Rich off my hands was the ultimate. I still reminisce about that trade. It's the little things.
Spence has been given lots more freedom to extend his range out past the three-point line. That and pace are the biggest differences between Doug Collins and Brett Brown. Doug is horrible, egotistical, and ignorant. Brett has the makings of a really, really good NBA head coach. He's allowed Spencer to take more threes, which has cleared the lane, allowed for more drive-and-kicks, and upped Hawes' TS% to a career best 60.1. He still can't play much defense, but he's an okay rebounder and would make a really good 3rd big on a contender -- like the Clippers!
And he's incredibly entertaining.
SP: Shaun Livingston was a long, reed thin, pass first point guard with uncanny court vision and a marvelous feel for the game whom the Clippers drafted fourth overall in 2005 -- sadly, his time in LA was ended by a gruesome knee injury, and while we can't know if he would have ever been a star, it's clear he's not the same player post surgery. The Sixers have what looks to me like a Livingston clone in lottery pick Michael Carter Williams -- except that MCW is exceeding everyone's expectations right out of the gate. Why has he had so much success so early at the NBA level?
ML: MCW's career started against Miami with a steal and fast break dunk, leading to a near triple-double. He hasn't been quite as consistently good since people stopped paying attention, but he's a rookie and off-games will happen, especially when you've been handed the keys to a team right out of college. He's actually in the hospital with a skin infection on his knee, which is a bummer. But they're being really cautious with him (and Noel as well) because why not? Why risk anything this season?
MCW's shot is better than expected but still a work in progress. Most impressive has been his defensive instincts and how in control he seems to be. He has his share of bad shots, but usually he's going at the rim or finding open teammates who are bad so they miss -- still the right idea. He looks like he can be a really good point guard for a long time. Saying more than that would be overstepping because his efficiency numbers, while better than expected and certainly explainable, leave much to be desired. I think we can say with some certainty that Hinkie got a steal at 11 in that draft.
SP: Are the Sixers ready to play "Pay us to take your spare contracts" between now and the trade deadline? The Clippers would make it worth your while to take two former Sixers back, Willie Green and Maalik Wayns
ML: Yes. The Sixers have a veritable ass-ton of cap space readily available for this exact reason. Taking Back Willie (my favorite alt-rock jazz band) would be HILARIOUS but I'm not sure what sort of assets you guys have to give since LAC doesn't own most of its picks. Reggie Bullock though!
As to the mock trade in the off-season, everyone knows that Jason Richardson did NOT pass his mock physical when my mock doctors mock examined him, so the trade was called off. So no one got jobbed. (I probably shouldn't have brought up the whole thing.) And no, you're not getting Reggie Bullock just for taking Willie Green off our hands.
Here's hoping the Clippers can provide Michael and the Sixers with one of those "glorious losses" tonight. It's a classic win-lose situation, only except where losing is like winning.