Northeast Times

For 76ers, it’s the wait-and-see approach as usual

Six­ers fans flocked to Brook­lyn’s Barclays Cen­ter in droves for last week’s NBA Draft, but there will likely be many more losses com­ing in 2014-15. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF JOHN KNEBELS

NEW YORK — Dur­ing the hours that pre­ceded Thursday night’s 2014 NBA Draft, be­ing a 76ers fan was a beau­ti­ful thing.

No longer was hav­ing the second-worst re­cord in the en­tire league last sea­son of any im­port­ance. Des­pite over­whelm­ing evid­ence to the con­trary, it had be­come re­mark­ably easy to be­lieve in a fran­chise that has been ba­sic­ally ir­rel­ev­ant since reach­ing the NBA fi­nals in 2001.

The 2014 NBA Draft had the po­ten­tial to fur­nish one gi­gant­ic Do-Over.

Des­pite the ven­ue be­ing the oddly shaped — but weirdly at­tract­ive — Barclays Cen­ter in Brook­lyn, Phil­adelphi­ans seemed to be every­where. Milling around the out­side of where the Nets play their home games, op­tim­ist­ic Six­ers fans ap­peared in droves. They pa­tiently took turns snap­ping pic­tures in front of a wall em­blazoned with the of­fi­cial 2014 Draft logo. T-shirts and jer­seys provided a clue as to how des­per­ate Philly fans long to fully em­brace a spe­cial play­er, be­cause the only names on the backs of that ap­par­el were Erving, Iver­son and Stack­house — a sad test­a­ment to the dearth of tal­ent that has de­flated even the most op­tim­ist­ic.

But this draft con­tained sig­ni­fic­ant treas­ure that, in the weeks since the NBA lot­tery, had been probed and dis­sec­ted by both ex­perts and clue­less dream­ers alike. Aided by the sim­ul­tan­eous gift — or, per­haps, mi­graine — of so­cial me­dia, every con­ceiv­able out­come was rumored as gos­pel truth, this des­pite the fact that not one single me­dia mem­ber had been able to in­ter­view al­ways-cryptic Six­ers gen­er­al man­ager Sam Hinkie on the re­cord.

Still, in the weeks lead­ing up to a cru­cial in­clu­sion in the 76ers’ largely in­ept an­nals, there had emerged a tid­al wave of hope – some real­ist­ic, and some, well, just silly.

Maybe the Clev­e­land Cava­liers, an­noy­ingly se­lect­ing first for the third time in four years (des­pite a 1.7 per­cent chance to win the draft lot­tery), would trade the golden tick­et to the Six­ers for their top three picks and for­ward Thad­deus Young. Or per­haps the Six­ers — hor­ror of hor­rors — would trade down and build for the fu­ture. Maybe Clev­e­land would pull a 2013 — when they stunned the NBA land­scape by draft­ing a nobody named An­thony Ben­nett out of UN­LV first over­all – by tak­ing a fly­er on yet an­oth­er pro­ject.  

Best case scen­ario: Maybe someone — Kan­sas’ An­drew Wig­gins or Duke’s Jabari Park­er be­ing the front-run­ners — would emerge as our town’s next su­per­star.

Thus was the un­cer­tain at­mo­sphere as a packed audi­ence filled the seats around and above the make­shift stage where NBA Com­mis­sion­er Adam Sil­ver would form­ally wel­come the next wave of NBA su­per­stars.

As the an­ti­cip­a­tion painstak­ingly ap­proached the mo­ments of truth, Phil­adelphia etched a rather proud con­tri­bu­tion to the archives of an­nu­al drafts. As the 70,000-pound over­head score­board dis­played spon­tan­eous re­ac­tions of at­ten­tion-starved fans jump­ing up and down while point­ing to their re­spect­ive team lo­gos, the Philly faith­ful con­trib­uted the most rauc­ous cheers and the most em­phat­ic boos, and no one wore their team’s at­tire more proudly.  

Fi­nally, it was time. 

A palp­able nervous­ness filled the arena. Goofi­ness had sub­sided, and all that was left was why every­one had come from all over the coun­try, but par­tic­u­larly from Philly — the Oscar Award-like di­vul­gence of the win­ners.

“With the first pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, the Clev­e­land Cava­liers se­lect … An­drew Wig­gins.”

Lots of groans em­an­ated from Six­ers’ en­thu­si­asts, but all was not lost.

“With the second pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, the Mil­wau­kee Bucks se­lect … Jabari Park­er.”

More groan­ing. Even some early des­pair.     “With the third pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, the Phil­adelphia 76ers se­lect  … Joel Em­biid.”

Ah, yes. The 76ers had just chosen a 7-foot gi­ant from Cameroon (like Wig­gins, from the Uni­versity of Kan­sas) with, gasp, “ter­rif­ic up­side,” an­oth­er play­er — just like last year’s top pick Ner­lens Noel — who likely won’t be play­ing any­time soon be­cause of a stress frac­ture in his foot that re­quired sur­gery (Em­biid had also missed the NCAA Tour­na­ment while re­cov­er­ing from a stress frac­ture in his back).

And yet, the 10th pick still re­mained. Surely the Six­ers would grab a starter — maybe someone like Creighton’s Doug Mc­Der­mott, one of the na­tion’s purest out­side marksmen, who would at least sell some tick­ets from now un­til Oc­to­ber.

But, alas, the 76ers chose little-known point guard El­frid Payton in­stead, and then traded that pick to Or­lando for 6-foot-10 Croa­tian for­ward Dario Sar­ic, who had already signed a con­tract to play pro­fes­sion­ally in Tur­key and doesn’t fig­ure to dribble a bas­ket­ball on a South Phil­adelphia court for at least two years.

The rest of the draft offered little drama. The Six­ers snared a hand­ful of play­ers whom most people ap­peared to have nev­er heard of. As the names were an­nounced, the vis­ibly thin­ning crowd re­spon­ded with apathet­ic, ped­es­tri­an ap­plause be­fore re­turn­ing to their cell phones, where they ven­ted their frus­tra­tion by Tweet­ing or tex­ting friends about a draft that had be­gun with such prom­ise, only to fin­ish with a feel­ing of non-descript dis­ap­point­ment.

With the draft now of­fi­cially com­plete, a dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent mood en­vel­oped Philly fans as they pre­pared for an un­cel­eb­rated two-hour drive home. What had been a con­stant shar­ing of prom­ising high fives among en­er­gized, com­plete strangers con­nec­ted only by their fan­at­ic­al zeal had trans­formed to a fu­ner­eal walk to­ward the exits. Or maybe it was just ut­ter fa­tigue after an emo­tion­ally drain­ing day and night.

An off­season of dis­con­tent was already un­der­way in Phil­adelphia, fol­lowed by what will un­doubtedly be yet an­oth­er year of un­in­spired bas­ket­ball that should again pro­duce some­where between 15-20 wins.

But show­ing their clas­sic re­si­li­ence, many Six­ers diehards could be heard dis­cuss­ing a brand new top­ic that provided some en­thu­si­asm on the way out the door.

The 2015 NBA Draft … only one year away. ••

You can reach at jknebels@gmail.com.

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