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Dear Philadelphia 76ers, You're Tanking Wrong

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Dear Philadelphia 76ers, You're Tanking Wrong
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

What gives, Philly?

You were supposed to lay down and wait for the draft this season. Y'know, seven months from now, when you could be in the lottery, maybe with the top overall pick?

That's how you get good. Beating the two-time world champions will get you nowhere. You're supposed to be the Fightin' Wiggins!

Now you're just the Silly Sixers, already confused about your identity. 

The Miami Heat traveled to Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia Wednesday night, and the Philly tanking plan didn't exactly run smoothly. On a day when Allen Iverson officially retired, the 76ers won...and lost.

Each win this season will be exactly that. Each win means a step further from a franchise-changing superstar in the making. A superstar like...

Michael Carter-Williams. The rookie began his NBA career in style with nearly a quadruple-double, posting 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals.  

The bigger question, of course: What in the world was Philly thinking? 

The tanking narrative has become so pervasive in today's NBA that it can take the game out of basketball. Jeff Goodman for ESPN The Magazine broke down the art of the tank, speaking with an anonymous general manager who seems ready to take the plunge:

You need superstars to compete in this league, and the playing field for those guys is tilted toward a few big-market teams. They are demanding trades and getting together and deciding where they want to go in free agency. It's tough for us to compete with that. So a high lottery pick is all we have.

That sure sounds like a speech made for the 76ers. Still, the idea of tanking, even when thoughtfully engineered, begs certain questions. Like, what about the guys on the floor? What about a small matter of pride when the best team in the league, looking for a three-peat, waltzes in on the first night of this thing that you give everything to?

Writing for the generally pragmatic Philadelphia Business Journal, Jared Shelly gave a 76ers fan's prospective:

But should they really tank? I know that it's a good long-tern plan to rebuild the franchise, but who really wants to see their team lose night after night? How will that affect young players like Evan Turner, Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel (if he actually plays this season)?

So what about those guys? Turner led all scorers with 26 points. And Carter-Williams? The rook set a record for steals in an NBA debut. Completely out of line, right? Not so fast.  

Philly won't win the Larry O'Brien Trophy this year, that's for sure. And maybe for one brief shining moment, the Sixers go about tanking all wrong.

Still, analysts are warming to the idea of losing in order to win. In Los Angeles, Dwight Howard exited stage left, and a sudden and immediate cry sprang up—the Lakers just had to tank, it was the only true way. Skip a year and hopefully get lucky in the draft. 

But Carter-Williams' display on Wednesday night was a reminder that players and fans want nothing to do with the T word.

In their season debut, a Lakers squad playing without Kobe Bryant trashed the Clippers, mainly on the strength of their bench. And in Cleveland, the lowly Cavaliers, who are burdened with the carcass of a thoroughly finished Andrew Bynum, beat the new-look Brooklyn Nets. Plus, Bynum actually played for the first time in a century.

So what's up with the year of the tank?

Is it really such a brilliant new management model? Or is it simply that we as a society of sports fans have turned into the courtside equivalent of rubbernecking at a car wreck? Is this really how we want the game to play out? Is the idea of tearing something down just to build it back up really that delicious?

LeBron James called A.I. the best pound-for-pound player to ever lace them up. Iverson was, of course, the 76ers' top pick way back in 1996. He must have been proud of his old team Wednesday night.

They played with heart and with passion. And that's a good thing for the league. It's a good thing for the game of basketball.

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