MILWAUKEE — Now that the dust has settled and the adrenaline has subsided, it might be helpful to remind ourselves of all that is right with the Sixers.
- They entered Thursday night’s game against the Bucks on pace to win 50 games despite having lost each of their last three.
- Just six weeks ago, they were on pace to win 57.
- They’ve played six straight games without their starting two-guard.
- Their franchise center recently returned from a nine-game absence and has spent the last week playing with some sort of stabilizing contraption on his non-shooting hand.
If you spent the days and weeks before the NBA’s trade deadline hoping for some miraculous reinvention of this team, it’s probably going to take more than the power of positive thinking to alleviate your angst. But, wait, did we mention Alec Burks?
Right, as we were saying ...
Look, the Sixers have not accomplished anything over the last 48 hours that should markedly change how you feel about this team. They are better now than they were before, if only because you are less likely to see Raul Neto, Furkan Korkmaz, and Shake Milton sharing the court between now and the end of the regular season.
Burks was a good scorer on a bad team, the kind of guy who hardly pops off the screen when you look at his numbers and then watch him play. But he can dribble the ball a little bit, and he’s a 37% shooter from three-point range over the last couple of seasons, and when you put those things together that gives the Sixers a guy who at least has the potential to score some points off the bench. Granted, he was not all that productive in that role when he filled it for the Jazz. But, well, he’s somebody different, and that means he has a chance to be something different than the Sixers already had.
Sorry if that doesn’t send you scurrying to your betting app for an update on their championship odds. If it is transformation you are looking for, it was never going to come at the trade deadline. The last few years have lulled us into thinking that the NBA is a Showcase Showdown with unlimited spins at the wheel. Markelle Fultz didn’t work out? Here’s Jimmy Butler. Not enough? Let’s bring in Tobias Harris. Still not enough? Voila, let’s turn Butler into Josh Richardson and Al Horford and give it a go.
Thing is, all of these moves came at a cost, and while the checking account may not update until Monday, the red ink eventually comes. Burks and Robinson may not be Derrick Rose or Davis Bertans, but that is the way the cookie crumbles in a market economy. You don’t go to Five Below looking for a Tumi bag, and you don’t go shopping for players with elite tools with pennies instead of dollars. In a world where Robert Covington ended up traded for two first-round picks that were better than any disposable asset the Sixers had, they weren’t going to come close to being able to add the sort of skills set that would have substantively altered their fundamentals.
The whole reason the Sixers were shopping with pennies was that they had already used the majority of their resources to build the roster that they have. They are going to win with the blueprint they followed this offseason, or they are going to need to reexamine everything once the next offseason arrives. It was always going to be that way, and that is how it is right now.
It will not come as a surprise that, once the deadline passed, Brett Brown chose to view this reality in the best possible light.
“I think that the group that we have now is more than capable,” Brown said, “and I look forward to just sort of taking this group that we have and getting out of this losing slump, trying to fix our road problems, and I think you are more apt and able to do that with the group that we have than thinking that there’s sort of a magic bullet out there that’s going to come in and fix things.”
Brown also acknowledged something that he has, undoubtedly, long understood.
“What I do feel is it’s not something that you scratch your head and say how can this happen, why is this,” he said. “I get it. I know why. And so now it’s on me to fix it.”
These next 30 games and however many lie beyond will be Brown’s ultimate test: maybe not of his overall ability to coach, but certainly his ability to coach the current team that he has. As ill-fitting as the parts may seem, as confounding as their performance has been through 51 games, we simply have not seen enough to conclude that they are incapable of winning three straight postseason series. One year ago, the Sixers were almost exactly where they are now, with a 34-20 record, on pace for 51 wins, playing a puzzling brand of basketball in which Jimmy Butler did not seem to fit. Three months later, they came within inches, within minutes, of beating the eventual NBA champs. The defense kicked it up a notch, Butler transformed into a ball-dominant star, and the Sixers proved to be a different team in the playoffs than they had been in the regular season.