By firing Doug Moe, the Philadelphia 76ers have admitted that they made an error in judgment -- yet again.
They seem to have a patent. Their recent history has been disfigured by one grievous miscalculation after another. Doug Moe is merely the latest round peg they have tried vainly to hammer into a square hole.
Either they shouldn't have hired him as coach to begin with or they should have supplied him with players who were equipped, physically and emotionally, to play his unorthodox style.
So they cut him adrift after 56 games, which was far too early to suit some people and which suggested panic to other people.
But what the Sixers chose to do was cut their losses here and now, which made eminently good sense. They -- meaning general manager Jim Lynam, with agreement from owner Harold Katz -- perceived the situation as unresolvable, not only this season but also next.
"Either the coach quit on the team or the team quit on the coach," Katz said. "Either way, it was an intolerable situation, and it wasn't going to get better."
That being the case, the Sixers did what they had to do, which was difficult emotionally but also absolutely necessary. However, the problem is that now the Sixers find themselves in a position they always seem to be in these days -- starting over.
They will try to salvage some respectability in the 25 games left in this tattered season, and then they are going to have to gut the roster once more.
There are only five guaranteed contracts. That means that any or all of the other seven players will be gone by next season.
The owner concedes that the Sixers have only four players he considers worthy of serving as a foundation upon which to rebuild. He identifies those four as Jeff Hornacek, Hersey Hawkins, Clarence Weatherspoon and Tim Perry. He must see something in Perry that escapes the rest of us.
The owner also concedes that he has been trying to make trades for the better part of two years.
Asked how far away he thinks his team is from contention, Katz replied: "If we get a top lottery pick and then one, two, three free agents, I think we'd be right there." In other words, just about a new starting team.
Complicating all of this is that you get no sense of stability, of continuity, of permanency, of a plan or of a determination to stay with that plan. The franchise seems in continual flux.
This spring is the 10th anniversary of the Sixers' 1982-83 NBA championship. And if that seems a lifetime ago -- if you can barely remember Maurice Cheeks at the point, Andrew Toney breaking down his man, Doc and Moses and the White Shadow, a.k.a. Bobby Jones -- well, the turnover has been continuous.
In the 10 intervening years, the Sixers have had four general managers (Pat Williams, John Nash, Gene Shue and Lynam).
And five head coaches (Billy Cunningham, Matt Guokas, Lynam, Moe and now Fred Carter).
In the intervening 10 years, they have gotten two draft picks of lasting significance -- Charles Barkley and Hawkins. Weatherspoon has the makings to be a third keeper.
In the intervening 10 years, they have made a number of trades jTC that haunt them still -- Malone, Jeff Ruland, Roy Hinson, Jayson Williams. They have passed on at least one move they should have made -- Brad Daugherty. And they have been convinced that the man to fill their perpetual hole in the middle is Charles Shackleford. And they have let go of Barkley for . . . for?
So, then, that is not a roll call that inspires confidence for the next new beginning.
If ever a team was ripe for a reversal of fortune, it is this one. But, then, the Sixers have no one to blame for their problems but themselves. The problems are ones they produced with a fatal combination of misjudged deals and misjudged drafts.
In retrospect, Doug Moe was a misjudgment, too. He, in turn, misjudged what he had and boldly predicted -- another misjudgment -- that this team could win 50.
All the misjudgments have combined to send a team that as recently as three years ago was winning its division gurgling to the bottom. Ultimately, someone will be called to account for the misjudgments. The logical choice is the general manager.
"I think it's too early to evaluate Jimmy Lynam," Katz said. "You need two years at least. Maybe three."
He is correct. Coaches can be evaluated more quickly than general managers.
Still, Lynam is starting from a definite hole. His first two mega-moves -- Moe and Barkley -- have not done him proud. But he also initiated and carried out the decision to sack Moe, and the owner backed him there, too, and without qualification.
The initial reaction to Moe's firing, coming as it did Sunday night, was that it had been prompted by Saturday night's 56-point train wreck in Seattle. In fact, Katz said, Lynam had approached him almost a month ago with thoughts of junking Moe and his motion offense -- a system that the players never bought into.
"It wasn't just that one loss," Katz said. "We had stopped being competitive. It's one thing to lose and try. But I cannot tolerate, Jimmy cannot tolerate and the fans cannot tolerate a non-competitive team. It had gotten disgraceful."
Moe's scalding tongue and irreverent approach to all things goes down easier when chased by victories. The Sixers, though, stumbled from loss to loss and became openly mutinous. Finally, they just lay down and refused to get up.
Which is not something they should be especially proud of, for it suggests absence of pride.
Nor does the owner absolve the players of blame.
"Maybe Doug's style didn't fit the players or maybe it was the other way around," Katz said. "But whatever it was, they are highly paid. They should play hard for anybody. There's no way, in this league, that one team is 56 points better than any other one."
Unless the loser openly, defiantly, goes into the tank. Which the Sixers did. And which leaves them starting over -- yet again.