Outta’ Right Field: Basketball purgatory

By Ransom Cozzillio
April 24, 2012

Well that was certainly…interesting. As of this article’s writing, the 76ers of Philadelphia have just recently mathematically guaranteed their spot in the 2012 NBA playoffs. By the time this appears in print, those same Sixers will be one meaningless game against the lowly Detroit Pistons away from the start of the playoffs. Instead of optimism driven by our top-8 finish, I feel only sad Deja Vu.

Isn’t this just a tad bit too familiar? If it is, that’s only because this is roughly the position we have found ourselves year in and year out for the past 11 seasons. Ever since Allen Iverson dragged a scrappy defensive minded team featuring castoffs such as George Lynch and Tyrone Hill to the 2001 NBA finals, we have been stuck somewhere before second and third gear: hovering somewhere around .500, never falling far enough to draft a game-changer and never able to pull out enough stops to truly contend.

Never the bridesmaid nor the bride. There is no worse place to be than the middle in the NBA. Teams that bottom out are rewarded with high draft picks, and through them, the chance at superstars. Look at Oklahoma City, terrible for years on end, but gifted with opportunity to choose Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Very good teams compete for championships and are therefore the destination of coveted free agents and trade action. Think of the Spurs’ or Lakers’ decades long reign. (The spurious variable in all this is that the consistently good teams generally have good management, which helps.)

For everyone else and notably the 76ers, basketball purgatory. Too good to bottom out, not talented enough to truly compete. This has been the case for the 7-6 since that ill-fated championship run. Since then, we’ve never picked higher than 9th overall (netting us Andre Iguodala, not exactly a savior). And not having a true “leader” since Iverson left.

The Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and their ilk have languished in the unhappy middle for the past decade or more and now it seems the Sixers find themselves mired in the same tar pit of mediocrity.

So, after the Sixers started the season white hot and then promptly regressed back to the pack to enter the playoffs as either the 7 or 8 seed, and likely exit 5-6 games later, no I am not happy. This reeks of last season, last decade. Losing sucks but mediocrity abides. Someone press the restart already.

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Ransom Cozzillio

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