There are many ways to measure the success of an NBA franchise. The most obvious way might be by its record. By that measure, this was not a good year for the Sixers, who finished with 10 wins and 72 losses, at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Another way to measure success might be by examining the attitude of the players, the enthusiasm level of the fans, and the confidence of the staff. By that measure, the Sixers are a successful team.
The positivity all starts with dynamic CEO Scott O’Neil, who was hired in 2013 to take the Sixers to the next level.
Philadelphia hasn’t even won 50 games over the last three seasons, but O’Neil is still driven. "The things that motivate me are first helping to develop leaders in our organization,” he said. “Second, creating a culture where people like to come to work and we can get better every single day. And the third thing is leveraging what we have to make the world better.” He spoke specifically about using basketball to put a spotlight on education in the Philadelphia community and giving Sixers players and staff opportunities to give back and assume leadership roles in the city.
He also prioritizes the fan experience. During a recent home game against the Brooklyn Nets, families and fans of all ages packed the Wells Fargo Center. The music was loud, and the dancing was non-stop. T-shirts exploded into the crowd!
Philadelphia will likely be a very different team next year, starting with its GM. Sam Hinkie stepped down after three years, and the Sixers announced that Bryan Colangelo will assume the role of GM and president of basketball operations. Colangelo intends to speed up the Sixers’ quest to turn around the franchise.
The team could have as many as four first-round draft picks this June. The Sixers own one, and they have one from the Los Angeles Lakers, one from the Miami Heat, and one from the Oklahoma City Thunder through a variety of trades. This team, as O’Neil said, “could get better very quickly.” Between the draft picks, young talent, cap flexibility and solid leadership, it seems the Sixers are poised for a major comeback.
Center Elton Brand, who joined the Sixers before this season, helped lay the foundation for that growth. Brand, the top pick in the 1999 draft, has been a mentor to the younger members of the team such as Jahlil Okafor, the third pick in last year’s draft.
Like O’Neil, Brand has been very optimistic about the Sixers’ prospects. “It’s a very young team, and we know that,” said Brand. “It’s about the future and the potential of the team. We have some great pieces, and the sky is the limit for the team in the future.”
The Sixers brought on a strong leader in Brand. He had been retired for fewer than five months before the Sixers convinced him to join them. He consulted one of his own mentors, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, on the decision. Krzyzewski advised Brand to focus on the opportunity to lead even more than his work on the court.
This season Brand, who has again hinted at retirement, was happy to do whatever he could to help younger players. He had nothing but praise for Okafor, describing playing with him as fun. “He is really talented,” Brand said of the 20-year-old center. “His post moves are unprecedented at such a young age. He can score at will. He is working really hard.” Brand also valued how much they learned from each other.
Even in the Sixers’ match-up against the Nets, despite learning that a torn meniscus in Okafor’s right knee would keep him out for the rest of the season, Philadelphia battled for a 95-89 win and snapped a 13-game losing streak.
The Sixers are a young team learning to work together and clearly having fun along the way. With leaders like O’Neil and Colangelo, the future is bright. With multiple first round draft picks, it could be even brighter.
Photo: Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images (Okafor)