In collaboration with Sixers Nation and in anticipation of the Thunder/Sixers game on January 6, Daily Thunder is seeking and giving advice to another team’s fanbase (very) familiar with the rebuild process. Today, Justin Hickey1 gives some tips to Sixers fans on the other side of a rebuild.
Dear Thunder Fans,
Your team once went from Young and Exciting Land to title contention overnight, just as we have. While we hope the Sixers fare better than those Thunder did, we’ve already tasted the thrills and heartaches that characterized OKC’s now-finished run. How do we enjoy the ride while being pulled to obsess over the roster’s flaws and the rivals that exploit them in the playoffs?Sincerely,
What to expect
The 76ers were possibly a Kawhi Leonard shot away from going to the 2019 Finals. Had they advanced, what happens against the Bucks is anyone’s guess. Losing Jimmy Butler was a big blow this offseason, but adding Josh Richardson and Al Horford is a huge plus. Your team is no longer overachieving; they’re expected to win now and anything less is a failure. The Sixers are now contenders, and don’t have the underdog mentality anymore.
That mentality has also been removed from the fanbase. The NBA is a cruel gauntlet year in and year out. You need to be ready to play each and every night. That one game in December could cost you in playoff seeding.
Every season will be grueling. Get used to it.
How to deal
That gasbag who is stubbornly wrong about a Sixers player? No matter how much evidence stacks against their case, they won’t relent. They never caved on Russell Westbrook, and they won’t on Ben Simmons. Let someone else be the take police—your appreciation for Simmons’ actual contributions, or Joel Embiid’s narrative-resisting makeup won’t be transferred to casual fans or drive-by media pundits regardless of how often you @mention them or screenshot their contradictions.
Similarly, don’t subject Philly media members to your most unvarnished criticism. Instead of spamming their Twitter, consider emailing a more thoughtful disagreement to them, or supplying a thought-provoking mailbag submission to their podcast. This isn’t to protect their feelings2 but to influence the larger conversation for good. They will only roll their eyes at your eye-roll gifs, confirming their biases that those holding to <insert opposing take here> are jerks or numskulls. If you take them more seriously, maybe they’ll take your angst about a terrible rotation commitment more seriously, and put it on the record.
Media coverage does matter, and the better and more nuanced it is, the better for the organization to hear and factor it into their decision-making.
Don’t worry, plenty of outrage about firing the coach or trading player X will continue to flood social media whether or not you participate.
Suck in the air from your open title window
Rebuilding can seem like forever. Countless blowouts: not fun. Thunder fans have been on both sides of that. But when it comes to an open title window? That can go by in the blink of an eye. This can be a tough pill to swallow. Your window can shut very fast, for any reason. Guys don’t like playing with each other, injuries strike, poor coaching persists—the list goes on.
The Thunder were legit contenders for six seasons. Four of those were ruined by untimely injuries, and one of them ended with a loss in the NBA finals. The team blew its last opportunity with that 3-1 lead against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
Just like that, Kevin Durant had left and the window was slammed shut.
The Sixers’ window has cracked open. But Embiid and Simmons have already piled up injuries. Horford won’t get any younger with time. If Philadelphia can’t get a championship within a few years, patience will grow thin. Even having players under contract doesn’t mean much, as one of them can become unhappy and derail everything.
Want the title, but don’t expect it
While you still have Giannis Antetokounmpo and a very formidable Raptors team in the way, the Philadelphia lineup featuring Simmons, Richardson, Tobias Harris, Horford and Embiid is as good as any in the league.
But after making it through the Eastern Conference, there are a plethora of talented teams out West that await. There is no easy road. Winning a championship is very hard to do, and nothing ever goes as planned.
The Thunder started with Kevin Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden, but made the NBA Finals just one time. That losing appearance was also the last time their homegrown trio would play together.
Easy on the reset button
Whatever legitimate reasons there were for blowing up a core that good—odd fit, disappointing play, long-term salary cap concerns, rumored off-court drama—it wasn’t worth it. Similar rumblings about parting with Brett Brown or trading away one of Simmons or Embiid are already connected to hypotheticals regarding the Sixers’ playoffs success or lack thereof.
Be careful what you wish for, because you can’t get back that core once it’s been split up. Make your
demands opinions about the team’s title about process more than results. If the team plays at a championship level but fails, live with it. It’s better than dying by the what-if, watching Simmons beasting in another city for years to come.
Dear Sixers Fans,
You’ve been through an intense, prolonged rebuild before. We’re on the precipice of one ourselves. How do we stay committed to our team while knowing every win hurts and every player we fall in love with could get dealt?Sincerely,