The Philadelphia 76ers have lost all these games by an average of 16 points thus far. A 91-83 loss to New York on Saturday at Madison Square Garden was just the fourth time this season that they didn’t lose by double digits. They fell 114-104 on Monday night at home to Portland, but their coach remains abnormally upbeat.
“Nobody is rolling over or pointing fingers,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said after Saturday’s loss. “This locker room is great. You go home and sleep OK. It wasn’t that bad. There were a lot of positives tonight.”
Are we to believe that?
This is a roster built with young, inexperienced talent, many of whom would probably be fringe players at best on other NBA teams. It’s probably easy for players to get quickly discouraged by all these losses, and Brown said that his biggest challenge is trying to get his players to continue to buy in.
“It’s my greatest challenge, trying to find the fine line of keeping it real and coaching them and helping them succeed, putting them in a position to do well,” Brown said. “That whole thing is very difficult.”
Yet Brown always comes off as constantly hopeful and optimistic about his team despite the constant skepticism and negativity surrounding his team coming from all directions. He does that in part by focusing on how the team performs in non-game situations.
“I feel like the stuff that goes on outside of an NBA court is spot-on,” Brown said. “I’m proud of the day-to-day stuff we do with development, wellness. I’m proud of all of that. I think that my staff has stayed together. Our team will stay together. It’s one of my missions and goals also of this year.”
Sixers players interviewed for this article consistently focused on the team staying together and focusing on how to improve rather than dwelling on all their defeats. They are either hopelessly optimistic or resigned to their fate. Either way, they do not radiate self-hate or self-pity.
“I don’t know how much you can learn from losing this many games,” said 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, “but we need to try to stick to ourselves together and keep putting ourselves in position to try to get a win.”
Guard Tony Wroten said that he learned what it takes to win during his days with the Memphis Grizzlies and tells his teammates that they should never get accustomed to losing.
“You just learn what it feels like to lose,” Wroten told SheridanHoops regarding the team’s season-opening skid. “And myself and speaking for the team, we can never get used to losing. That’s definitely a big learning experience in all aspects.”
With six years of NBA experience, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is the most seasoned player who travels with the team (injured Jason Richardson is technically on the roster). Brown called him “sort of the adult in our locker room.” Mbah a Moute has never in his life lost at the rate his team is losing right now, but his job as a leader is to keep the team focused and on track without harping on the results in the NBA standings.
“It can be hard if you let yourself be distracted by the losing,” Mbah a Moute told SheridanHoops. “Obviously you have to take that in account and consideration, but if you remain focused on getting better, there are different aspects of getting better but in general if you just focus on each game to try to get better and to try to learn from the mistakes and get better from that, then that’s the main thing.”
“The worst thing about this is if you take a loss and you don’t learn from it,” Noel told SheridanHoops. “But we’re really learning from every loss and every team we play against.”
Another way Brown and his players stay positive is by having team- and player-oriented goals focused on areas and aspects of basketball independent from wins and losses.
“Our measurement this year isn’t ‘do you win or do you lose.'” Brown said. “At the end of the day that is why we do our job. There are realistic goals that we’ve put to our guys to help guide them along this year. Everyone has a realistic road map from body weight, to free throw percentage, to goals in regards to just leadership.”
Brown said that a big part of his job right now is to keep giving his players hope and having them continue to work hard.
“To me hope is generated when they know they’re not cheating days,” Brown said. “That the days are real, that they work hard. That the film sessions and the weight sessions and the individual sessions reflect the possibility to improve and mirrors our development philosophy. And I have to stay on point with the things that are most important, given the stage that we are at.”
Clearly the team’s record doesn’t rank overly high in the things-that-are-most-important department, but credit Brown for keeping his players positive and finding silver linings in what should be another lost season.
“I feel very good about where we’re at,” Brown said. “I know that might sound funny when you look at the win-loss record, but I think that the foundation of the system is in place.”
Brown and his troops get another chance to break their winless skid when they host Brooklyn on Wednesday. They also are just four losses from tying the 2009-10 Nets, who set an NBA record by beginning the season 0-18. If the losing continues, Philadelphia could break the NBA record for losses to start the season on Dec. 5 when hosting Oklahoma City.
Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for SheridanHoops who focuses on analytics, profiles and features. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. Follow him on Twitter.