PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia 76ers have a promotional schedule dotted with the standard T-shirt giveaways, discounted pretzels and the always popular $1 hot dog nights.
There’s even a deal for one January game where the first 15,000 fans will receive “buy one, get one free” coupons for Pennsylvania lottery tickets.
Seems fitting, since this entire season is built around the Sixers cashing in on the NBA’s version of the lottery.
Sixers owner Joshua Harris treated the offseason like one giant scratch off ticket, scrubbing away the likes of former coach Doug Collins, general manager Tony DiLeo, president Rod Thorn, and one-time franchise centerpieces Andrew Bynum and Jrue Holiday, all in the hopes of finding the winning numbers that will lead the team back into title contention.
Only problem is, there are no instant winners in this game.
And that’s just the way the Sixers planned it.
After years of treading water in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers threw a thermal detonator at the roster and decided to tackle the long, painful road of rebuilding, counting on 50 or 60 losses to earn them two lottery picks in the 2014 draft.
First-year general manager Sam Hinkie hired coach Brett Brown away from San Antonio’s staff with a four-year contract, a needed sign of support for a rookie coach where the first season is going to be a forgettable one.
“When you’re looking to rebuild, and you’re not on the side of the win column as much as you’d like to be, it’s got to be done out of respect, out of work ethic, a competitiveness, a toughness,” Brown said. “Those will be the types of qualities our fans come and see.
“We want them to support us.”
It’s going to be tough to sell fans on coming out in support of Vander Blue, Daniel Orton, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen. Those 15,000 lottery tickets can probably be spread out over three games. But Harris and Hinkie are committed to their plan — it just might take until 2016 or 2017 to truly pay off.
Here are five things to watch with the 2013-14 76ers:
NOEL WAITS: Is the big man going to play? How are his knees? What’s the timetable? Remember all those weekly questions for Bynum? Just swap his name for former Kentucky star Nerlens Noel and the Sixers are in the same boat. In a draft-night stunner, Hinkie traded Holiday to New Orleans for Noel — even though the 6-foot-11 center was still recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Noel was the sixth overall pick of the 2013 draft and a huge piece of the “Together We Build” effort undertaken by Brown. But Brown said this week there’s a chance Noel may not even play this season, an opportunity to both recover, and not be poisoned by the losing culture that could swallow the franchise.
TURNER’S TIME: The last time the Sixers had the No. 2 pick in the draft, they went with Evan Turner, the AP Player of the Year out of Ohio State in 2010 who ... did not turn into a franchise player. Or even an All-Star. Or find any sort of consistency in his first three NBA seasons. That’s the huge risk to Hinkie’s gamble. Sure, he could find championship cornerstones in the lottery — but he could instead land the likes of Turner and Kwame Brown, watching the three-year rebuild twist into a decade of wretched hoops. Turner is playing for a contract, likely with a new franchise, and has steeled himself for what’s ahead. “I’m not going to sit here and be a loser,” Turner said. “No matter how you put it, losers sit there and say ... we’re going to lose. I’m not a loser.”
BROWN’S PATIENCE: It’s no wonder the Sixers coveted Brown. He spent the last seven seasons as an assistant for the Spurs under Gregg Popovich, and was part of the franchise for all four of their championships. Brown coached Australia in the 2012 Olympics and has a proven winner’s pedigree. He’ll need patience guiding a team that will make last season’s 34-48 team look like championship contenders. “I feel like we’re not skipping steps, we’re not cheating the system, we’re going about it like we’re building something,” Brown said. “That’s why they hired me. That’s what I intend on trying to do.”
MCW: With Noel out, the Sixers’ top rookie is former Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams. Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-6, 185-pound guard, played two seasons at Syracuse. He led the Orange in assists (7.3) and steals (2.8) and averaged 11.9 points last season. The Sixers are counting on those two lottery picks, along with Noel and Williams, to form the nucleus of an Eastern Conference contender several seasons down the road.
JUST LOSE, BABY: It’s as simple as that. The Sixers aren’t hiding it. They are in it to win it — the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. Hey, at least there Flyers are around to keep Philly sports fans occupied this winter. On second thought ...