You almost certainly missed it over the weekend, but the Philadelphia 76ers made a big addition to their roster, scooping up free-agent forward Robert Covington. If you've never heard of Robert Covington, that's because he's an undrafted second-year player who had previously seen the floor in just seven NBA games, and the Sixers don't really like signing players anyone has ever actually heard of. He's also the ninth undrafted player that the Sixers have signed so far this year, the latest testament to just how little of a shit the Sixers give about even pretending to field a competent basketball team.
Let's take a step back and look at what the Sixers have accomplished so far this year. After losing 100-75 to a Spurs team that played Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili for a mere 46 combined minutes last night, the Sixers dropped to 0-10 on the season. They have scored 100 points in a game just once, and the 88.5 that they are scoring is the worst mark in the league. Their offensive rating (91.15), which measures points scored per 100 possessions, is also worst in the league, almost seven full points clear of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that currently features two cardboard cutouts named Devin Durant and Ross Westbrook in its 10-man rotation, is scoring eight more points per 100 possessions than the Sixers.
The Sixers' current point differential is a staggering -16.9, a mark that will shatter the current single-season record of -15.2, if it holds throughout the year. And what's most ridiculous is that they're losing like this while playing philosophically sound basketball on both ends of the court. This is what a truly bad team looks like: a group of guys who are so terrible at basketball that they have no shot at winning even when playing the right way.
None of this is happening by accident, of course. For the second straight season, the Sixers are openly tanking in the hopes of securing yet another top pick in the upcoming draft. In the 2014 draft, they spent two top-10 picks on a guy who was going to be out for the entire season with an injury and another who will be stashed in Europe for at least a year. The plan was always to lose as many games as possible in 2014-15.
Which brings us back to Robert Covington. The Sixers did not sign Robert Covington or any of the other undrafted scrubs that populate the roster because they are looking for good basketball players who can help them win basketball games. They signed him because they only have to pay him $816,482 to go out and do things like shoot 1-of-5 from the field in 17 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs. Robert Covington is in Philly to help the Sixers lose.
Covington isn't the only one. Having already employed nine undrafted players this season, the Sixers are just one more signing away from collecting more undrafted scrubs than any team in history. And wouldn't you know it, they are reportedly interested in signing former Syracuse big man Arinze Onuaku, who went undrafted in 2010.
This is not normal! Teams that end up signing a lot of undrafted players usually do so because they've suffered a ton of injuries and need to scramble to fill the roster, or because their payroll is all tied up in a few big contracts and they can't afford to carry legitimate players at the end of the bench. Neither of these scenarios apply to the Sixers: Jason Richardson and Joel Embiid are the only two major injury casualties they have, and their team payroll is about $20 million shy of the CBA's salary floor.
That gulf between the Sixers' current payroll and the salary floor is the most blatant signifier that the team is unabashedly trying to lose. The CBA stipulates that any team that finishes the season below the salary floor will have to pay the remaining difference as bonuses to whatever players are on the roster. What this means is that the Sixers aren't even signing these shit-ass players because they want to save money—they're going to have to pony up that extra $20 million at the end of the season no matter what—but because they are actively trying to field the worst possible roster.
This brain-melting display of no-fucks-given is how we end up with guys like Hollis Thompson, Henry Sims, Brandon Davies, and Chris Johnson all playing 20 minutes a night. Fucking JaKarr Sampson is out here getting 11 minutes of run per game.
One might try to defend the Sixers by pointing out that the only difference between them and other teams that tank is their lack of shame. A pro-Sixers argument might go something like this: Other teams have gone through seasons hoping to lose as many games as possible, but they've just been a little more coy about it. And besides, none of this would be happening if it weren't for the draft, which is just an archaic system that's designed principally to dampen young players' earning potential. In a system this broken, full-throttle tanking might actually be the only the only rational response.
This is all true, but it doesn't mean that the Sixers' lack of shame should escape mockery or ridicule. A team can suck its way to a top lottery pick while also employing a few legitimate NBA players who might be able to parlay a decent season on a bad team into a bigger contract next offseason. Instead, those guys have been left to rot overseas or on teams where they can't get playing time while the Sixers give all their money to patsies like Robert Covington.
The Sixers deserve the scorn of the public, because they aren't so much a basketball team as a monument to the cold, dead-eyed cynicism that so often makes pro sports a huge bummer. They are the bastard children of an Excel spreadsheet, born for the purposes of minimizing risk and maximizing odds. What's even worse is that all the calculating that created this muck is perfectly sensible in a league that still largely rests on the morally cockeyed idea that rookies shouldn't have the right to choose where they want to play or negotiate a fair contract.
Fan satisfaction, entertainment value, and players who need to make a living never even enter into what the Sixers are trying to do, not when there's an extra fraction of a percent to be had. That fraction may turn into a top lottery pick, which may turn into a great NBA player, who may eventually help turn the Sixers into a team worth watching—but all that will have been born out of one of the most grotesque displays of cynicism the NBA will ever see, and it's bullshit.