By Peter Gleason

The 18-61 Sixers have just five games left this season, which began with absolutely no hope and is ending with so many green shoots they are hard to enumerate:

Nerlens Noel amazing development (photo above).

The 6-9 Robert Covington’s outside shot.

Jerami Grant’s evolution.

Brett Brown’s ascendance as a future NBA great coach.

But the national media is taking shots from 35,000 feet, without the advantage of actually watching the team night in and night out.

Sort of the difference between the “eye test” and the “analytics test.”

Even the normally prescient Bill Simmons of Grantland.com has weighed in:

They squandered the past three years because of the catastrophic Bynum trade and what Grantland’s Rafe Bartholomew dubbed the NBA’s first Ponzi scheme. So what’s left? Let’s see … Joel Embiid (missed his entire rookie season), Dario Saric (playing in Europe), Nerlens Noel (solid rookie year; looked extremely Theo Ratliffish), Robert Covington (an NBA rotation guy), a top-six lottery pick, Miami’s 2015 pick (top-10 protected), a future Lakers pick (they’d need a miracle to get it next month, otherwise it’s top-three protected in 2016 and 2017 and unprotected in 2018), a heavily protected OKC pick (expires after 2017; can’t be a lottery pick), about 297 second-round picks and all kinds of cap space.

Keep in mind: They tossed away three years, and counting, for everything in the previous paragraph. It’s no different from how a private equity firm would gut a struggling company: strip it, lower the operating costs, profit short-term while figuring out what to do long-term, target cost-effective assets, then hope an improving market boosts the company’s value (which is exactly what’s happening with Philly). Every move made sense on paper. If you’re gonna stink in the NBA, you might as well S-T-I-N-K. If you’re gonna lose 60-plus games for two straight years, you might as well cheap out. If Jrue Holiday and Michael Carter-Williams could never be one of the best two guys on a title team, you might as well flip them for three lottery picks and improve your odds to find a franchise guy … right?

It’s exceedingly logical. All of it. But if you’re asking me to find positives, it’s tough. The Sixers just became the first NBA team ever to say, unapologetically, “For two straight years and possibly three, we aren’t going to give a damn about the product we’re putting out … but by all means, please keep spending money on your seats.” Check out their season-ticket page: “THIS STARTS NOW” in all caps. What starts now? Giving a shit? You just stole money from your fans for two straight years. Are your season-ticket holders getting future credit for the two years they just threw away?

And what customer would put up with a business that operates like this? Imagine your parents purchasing season tickets for the opera if the Met said, “Hey, this opera is gonna absolutely suck for the next three years, but starting in 2018 or 2019, we have a chance to be really good, so, um, can we have your credit card?” I shopped for season tickets on the 76ers website and found that, for the ludicrous price of more than $10,770, I could purchase two seasons in Row 13 of Section 113 (midcourt) for a team that just lost 120-plus games over the past two seasons and is probably headed for another 60 losses next season. No promise that it’s a fixed price for the rest of the decade, no incentive plan, nothing.

STEALING YOUR MONEY FOR A THIRD STRAIGHT YEAR — THIS STARTS NOW.

Sixers fans need luck with (a) the 2015 and 2016 lotteries, (b) the health of Embiid and Noel, (c) the Lakers pick, and (d) Saric. They need to know whether Embiid and Noel can actually play together. They have to hope that Sam Hinkie knows what he’s doing … and considering that he just punted on MCW after a year and a half, who knows? They have to trust that their owners, at some point, are going to spend money. It’s the illusion of hope, personifed. Just trust us. We know what we’re doing. Well, what if they don’t? What if this really is a Ponzi scheme? However it works out, Philly fans will always remember it. Either your NBA team will be good in two to three years, or this will become one of the five best 30 for 30s ever. There’s no third outcome. This starts now. Shut up and drink your Corona.