Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Sixers’ “Quick Fix” Fails

By Anthony Brancato

In 1967, when Damascus won the Belmont Stakes after finishing third in the Kentucky Derby (won by Proud Clarion at odds of 30-1), and then winning the Preakness, he was dubbed "The Magnificent Exception" because he became the first Belmont winner since at least 1929 to win the race despite having a Dosage Index of above 4.00.

This moniker stuck for 15 years — until Conquistador Cielo, who also had a Dosage Index of over 4.00 — won the 1982 Belmont (in a strange echo of that year, Gato Del Sol, the 1982 Derby winner, skipped the Preakness and then ran a very distant second to Conquistador Cielo in the Belmont — and the connections of Rich Strike, who won this year's Derby, will become only the fifth Derby winner since Gato Del Sol not to run in the Preakness, two of them on account of injury and one who was awarded first money via disqualification in the Derby nine months after the race was run).

Now, fast-forward to last season in the NFL — when the Rams, using George Allen's "quick fix" strategy of mortgaging draft choices for players who could help them win right away (2021 was the fifth consecutive year that the Rams lacked a first-round draft pick — a streak that will reach seven thanks to the Matthew Stafford-for-Jared Goff trade), rode that strategy to a victory in Super Bowl LVI.

(While it is true that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2002 after not having had a selection in either of the first two rounds of that year's draft, they had made eight first-round picks in the previous seven years — so they can hardly be conflated with the current Rams).

The Rams' ground-breaking Super Bowl win (they had opened as four-point favorites over the Bengals — who were, and still are, "maidens" when it comes to ever winning the Super Bowl) cast its shadow before it, when Daryl Morey, the "President of Basketball Operations" of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, decided to emulate the Rams before the fact, by sending 25-year-old Ben Simmons, who took the concept of "burning his bridges behind him" to a whole new level, to the "Somewhere East of Manhattan" Nets (they used to be the "Somewhere Southwest of Manhattan" Nets) plus 31-year-old Seth Curry, 28-year-old Andre (don't call him "Janitor in A") Drummond, and two first-round draft choices (one this summer, and the other, oddly enough, in 2027) for 32-year-old James Harden plus, purely as an afterthought, 37-year-old Paul Millsap.

George Allen, who was 2-7 lifetime in the postseason, would have been proud — and not for nothing, but the "Amazin' Mess" left by his predecessor, Mike McCormack, deprived Dick Vermeil, who goes into the Hall of Fame this summer, of any realistic chance of winning a Super Bowl while he coached the Eagles. Vermeil's retroactive requiem read as follows: no draft pick until the third round of the 1974 draft, until the seventh round in 1975, until the fourth round in 1976, until the fifth round in 1977, and until the third round in 1978; and based on how superbly Vermeil drafted when he did have high picks — Jerry Robinson in 1979, Roynell Young in 1980, and Mike Quick in 1982 (Leonard Mitchell in 1981 was Vermeil's only first-round bust; yet even there the exception proves the rule, as Mitchell was selected with the 27th overall pick because the Eagles had lost Super Bowl XV to the Raiders) — it is not a dangerous assumption to leap to that not only would Vermeil have won at least one Lombardi Trophy during his stay in Philadelphia, but that stay would have lasted a lot longer than the seven seasons that it actually encompassed, if not for the colossal blunders that McCormack, a former assistant coach under Allen at Washington, made.

And what did this blatant quick-fix trade get the Sixers?

True, they did finish with a better regular-season record — 51-31, up from 49-33 in 2020-21 — but they dropped from the 1-seed in the Eastern Conference to the 4-seed, due to their having had a 6-10 record within the Atlantic Division (Atlantic rival Boston and Milwaukee also finished 51-31).

But in the playoffs, the Sixers were eliminated in the same round as in the previous season, and went 6-6 in the postseason, down from 7-5 in 2020-21; and after having gone 27-14 on the road (as opposed to 24-17 at home) during the regular season, Philadelphia was blown out in all three road games against Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals by a combined 65 points.

Even so, head coach Doc Rivers' job is safe, at least for now — which will not please the creator(s) of the "Fire Glenn Rivers" page on twitter.

And in addition to their not having a first-round pick (a far more critical factor in the NBA than in the NFL because the NBA draft has only two rounds while the NFL draft has seven), the Sixers face potentially dire consequences under the NBA's Byzantine "luxury tax", as their projected 2022-23 payroll of $153,794,614 would be $31,794,614 over the threshold above which the luxury tax starts to kick in.

Therefore, the Sixers will be hard-pressed to stay out of the play-in tournament — if not, indeed, the lottery — in 2022-23.

This a highly instructive example of what can happen when a team sets out to be a "magnificent exception."

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