76ers, Phillies look for new ways to rebuild sagging teams
PHILADELPHIA (AP) The 76ers have more official and unofficial catchphrases attached to their elongated rebuild these days than victories.
”Trust the Process.” ”Tankadelphia.” ”Since 1776.”
No, Philadelphia hasn’t been losing since 1776, though the winless Sixers are on a 17-game losing streak dating to last season.
This year’s marketing campaign is designed to connect a young, spirited franchise with the city’s revolutionary identity.
Not even the British took lumps like this crop of Sixers.
Under team president Sam Hinkie, the Sixers have been open and unapologetic about a plan aimed at contention that includes trading veterans, shedding salary and gobbling draft picks. And yes, losing games, all for the shot at a championship future.
But some fans once on board with Hinkie’s grand plan may now be tuning out a team that seems farther away from contention than they were in 2013.
Philadelphia’s 17-game losing streak matches the fourth-longest mark in franchise history. Three of those lengthy losing streaks have come since the start of the 2013-14 season.
Scott O’Neil, in his third season as CEO, looked beyond the losing for hope in the next few years. He sees No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor already putting up big numbers and second-year forward Nerlens Noel blossoming into a solid NBA player. Throw in Nik Stauskas and Robert Covington – and two players from the 2014 draft who have yet to play – and the Sixers (0-7) could have some keepers once they emerge from the fog of failure.
”We’ve got (Joel) Embiid and we’ve got (Dario) Saric, who said he’s coming. We’ve got four firsts,”’ in the draft, O’Neil said on Tuesday. ”I want to scream, like, `Are you guys kidding me? I would scream it.’ When people say, `You’re set back. You’re too slow,’ I’m like, `Have you guys lost your (bleeping) minds?’ Like, seriously, this is it.”
Controversial or not, at least the Sixers had a plan.
Across the street at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies had little vision toward the future once they no longer were NL East contenders. They hung tight to every core remnant of the 2008 World Series championship team until the talent faded, the payroll exploded and the farm system dried up. The Phillies mostly ignored analytics and watched teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago and New York use new age stats, promising prospects and shrewd moves to zip past them in the standings and into the postseason.
The Phillies named Andy MacPhail president and 35-year-old Matt Klentak general manager to start the organizational overhaul much the same way the Sixers did in 2013. They take over a club that finished last in the majors with a 63-99 record. Jimmy Rollins. Chase Utley. Cole Hamels. All fan favorites. All better off elsewhere. Ryan Howard could be next.
”We were guilty of probably being a little complacent,” MacPhail said.
Philadelphia Eagles president Don Smolenski, O’Neil and MacPhail were part a panel on The Impact of Sports sponsored by The Rothman Institute. They all share a sports complex. But the executives responsible for making Philadelphia’s pro sports teams go rarely share a stage except at the yearly event at Lincoln Financial Field.
Because of the front office shakeups that come with all the losing, no executive has made it to all three panels.
The Sixers, Flyers, Eagles and Phillies all made their version of the finals from 2000-10. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and lost in 2009; the Eagles lost the 2005 Super Bowl; the 76ers lost in the 2001 NBA finals; and the Flyers lost the 2010 Stanley Cup championship.
The Flyers have toiled in mediocrity since their last run, and the Sixers are perennials in the draft lottery. The Eagles (4-4) won the NFC East in coach Chip Kelly’s first season but traded key players after missing last season.
One of the first steps in reviving each franchise is changing the thought process in the front office. At last year’s panel, former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said of analytics, ”the first thing our scouts, when they do when they walk into the ballpark, is pick up a stat sheet.”
OK, that’s not quite it, one reason why the Phillies turned to Klentak, a Dartmouth product who has a strong analytics background.
”If you are committed to this path and you stay committed, you will be rewarded,” MacPhail said. ”No one knows exactly when. But it definitely will happen. Kansas City and the Mets are two examples.”
It’s a gamble the Sixers are willing to take – even if the losing is painful and plentiful.
”There’s some element of hope in this business,” O’Neil said.