CHICAGO - How easy is it to sit back and watch, through squinted eyes, the 76ers lose game after game, in a variety of ways, and think that it's all OK because the result is going to be another high draft pick, preferably LSU freshman sensation Ben Simmons?
While observers notice the lack of talent or the seemingly never-ending, head-scratching plays that go on, there are always those who protect the product and point to the assets that general manager Sam Hinkie has gathered, most notably having potentially four first-round picks in next June's draft and the possibility of two of them being lottery picks.
There is the continued hope that Joel Embiid is recovering from his foot surgeries and will be the type of dominating force in the middle of the paint that many envision him to be, and that Dario Saric truly will be coming to Philly next season and does possess true NBA talent.
What those who aren't around the team on a daily basis don't see is the constant bashing of the current product, which is sure to have some sort of adverse effect on the players. No matter how impenetrable the cocoon built around the players by the coaches and management seems to be, the organization is just too easy a target right now for the players not to hear, see and feel the insults lobbed in their direction on a daily basis. And when you possess the youth that this franchise does, it's not a good thing.
Monday night in Chicago, after the Sixers blew a five-point halftime lead by getting scorched to the tune of 64-40 in the second half, there were some media members standing outside of their workroom, talking about what had just transpired. They were specifically discussing the play of oft-injured Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, who had just posted a pedestrian game of six points and four assists in a little over 26 minutes. "He can't even get good numbers against a D-League team," said one of the gathered. "That's what the Sixers are, a D-League team."
At the time, there were a couple of Sixers players and staff within hearing distance. Whether they heard, or cared, isn't known. But it is the culture that is hovering around the perimeter of this team everywhere it goes.
It has been said a million times, and accurately, that Brett Brown has done a magnificent job of keeping his team together. That they play hard on a daily basis is simply unfathomable, especially when you consider they've won once in the past 36 games. Think about that for a minute.
But the losing now appears to be almost expected. A five-point halftime lead becomes a blowout simply because the opponent decides it so. And, more concerning, because the Sixers players have very little confidence, if any, that they can pull out a victory.
This is where the defenders chime in, saying it will all be worth it. Understood, but to think that after enduring so many losses the important players of this program are going to be able to learn how to win in the NBA may not be as easy as it sounds. And it isn't just the losses. It's the constant torment of fans, the endless pokes on national television and in well-read magazines. It's former coaches saying the team should do this, current executives challenging them to do that. It's mishandling of a player's off-court troubles. It's the hide-and-seek mentality of the front-office figures, some rarely willing to talk about the product, others talking when things are going well, hiding when they aren't.
The turnaround isn't just going to happen with draft picks and free agents and trades. That will only be part of it. Before it's all said and done, this may be the losingest three- or four-year streak in all of sports. That is almost impossible for a player to endure and come out unscathed.
Still, Brown knows what it will take moving forward.
"This is your program," he said. "Have a say, talk to each other with strength and authenticity and set standards. You don't have to belittle, you don't have to put people down. But you have to talk freely and challenge each other and keep it real. Our group is so young they say, 'Aw (bleep), what just happened there?' We need to respond when we get punched. Right now we don't."
That was Brown after the 19-point loss to Chicago. It could be the rallying cry for the organization.