After weeks of silliness on the part of the local pro basketball franchise -- the ham-handed handling of injuries, the peddling of key players for pennies on the dollar, etc. -- we seem to have come full circle.
We seem to be left with T.J. McConnell, Symbolic Sixer.
He represented optimism -- remember those two game-winning jumpers? -- when the team was showing a pulse in January.
But now he represents a team trying to hang on to … something. Respectability? Dignity? Hope?
Who better to do so? This is a guy who was one of four healthy point guards the Sixers took to training camp in 2015 after he went undrafted out of Arizona.
He’s the only one left.
And this is a guy who appeared to be the third man on the totem pole as this season dawned, behind Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez.
He’s been the starter since Dec. 30.
"He doesn’t go away," coach Brett Brown said before Saturday’s 136-106 loss to Detroit. "He just doesn’t go away."
Even so, Brown reiterated his plan to open next season with Ben Simmons at the point. But, you know, see above.
"He’s a survivor," said T.J.’s dad, Tim (listen to Zoo's Views podcast for Marc Zumoff's one-on-one interview with McConnell).
The elder McConnell -- he’s Timothy John Sr., his son Timothy John Jr. -- just finished up his 24th season as the coach at Chartiers Valley High School in Western Pennsylvania, having once had T.J. on his roster. Now Tim watches every Sixers game, whether live (he hopes to attend 15 this season, in either Philadelphia or Cleveland) or on TV.
He sees in his son what everyone else sees -- a guy who has grown into the job.
"A guy," Tim said, "that feels like he belongs."
CSN Philly studio analyst Jim Lynam, the former Sixers coach, remembers the point-guard free-for-all in the ‘15 camp, one that included not only McConnell but Isaiah Canaan, Scottie Wilbekin and Pierre Jackson. (Two other points, Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall, were out with knee injuries. They’re gone, too.)
At that point, Lynam said, McConnell didn’t display the same attributes he does now -- the ability to invade the lane and create, the willingness to defend 94 feet, the leadership, the certitude.
His development in all those areas has led Lynam to reach a greater truth.
"Given what’s happened over these past several seasons," he said, "I think the Philly Sixer fan identifies with this guy. He, in a way, epitomizes the climb that this team has been on."
The fans are not the only ones who can identify with him. Take Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who like McConnell played at Arizona. A second-round pick in 1988, Kerr played 15 NBA seasons and won five championship rings, three with Michael Jordan’s Bulls and two with the Tim Duncan’s Spurs.
Different player than McConnell -- Kerr was a lights-out shooter, not a pure point -- but same mentality.
"I always identify with the guys who kind of have to scrap and claw and maybe weren’t drafted or weren’t first-round picks," he said before the Warriors beat the Sixers last Monday. "I always kind of root for those guys, quietly."
And take Wizards coach Scott Brooks, who broke into the NBA with the Lynam-coached Sixers in 1988 as an undrafted free agent. In all, he manned the point for six teams over 10 seasons.
"He’s much, much better," Brooks said, comparing McConnell to himself before a recent game. "He makes game-winners; I never did."
Then again, Brooks deadpanned, "(Charles) Barkley never passed, so I could not."
And take one other point guard: Ish Smith, reacquired by the Sixers midway through last season when the coaching staff came to the realization that the rookie could not "walk down a game," as Brown likes to say.
"He’s taken the biggest step from his first year to his second year," said Smith, now with Detroit. "I’m proud of him."
Smith knows McConnell well. They share a personal trainer and worked out together in the weeks and months leading up to the younger man’s rookie year. Smith also knows something about persistence; the Pistons are his 10th team in seven NBA seasons.
"Anything in life and the game, it’s just all about opportunities," Smith said, "and he was given a great opportunity. And he’s taken it and run with it."
Bayless was supposed to be the Sixers’ point guard this season, but that never materialized because of a wrist injury. Rodriguez started the first two months of the year, then rolled an ankle and never regained the job.
And about that walking-down-the-game thing: McConnell’s buzzer-beating jumpers, his first on any level of play, came against the Knicks on Jan. 11 and then vs. Magic on Feb. 9. He was playing so well -- as was the team, which went 10-3 in one stretch -- that there were reports that the Cleveland Cavaliers, in search of a backup point, wanted to trade for him. And that the Sixers turned them down.
Mull that a moment: The defending champs -- i.e., LeBron -- wanted him.
"I didn’t really pay attention to it," McConnell said before a game in early February, "because I knew if it happened, it’s going to happen. And if it didn’t, I’m not worried about it. I’m more focused on trying to get our team a win, and just playing here."
That very night the Sixers were leading Miami by five in the final half-minute. McConnell was streaking up the left side of the floor, just over midcourt, when he spotted Nerlens Noel -- perhaps you remember him -- flying toward the rim. McConnell’s alley-oop was true, Noel dunked and the Sixers won.
It seemed another sign of growth, of a play McConnell not only wouldn’t have made last year but one he wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to make since he wouldn’t have been on the court at that stage of the game. Not after Smith arrived. And McConnell didn’t disagree.
"If I saw it last year, who knows if I would have thrown it?" he said. "I’m just a little bit more experienced this year."
Lynam, who in addition to everything else is an old Saint Joseph’s point guard, understands as well as anyone.
"When these young guys, almost without exception, come in, you have to feel your way a little bit," he said. "Maybe you want to feel that (confidence) at the beginning, but guess what, until they do it, there’s a seed of doubt. That’s just human nature."
The doubts are gone. These days, with so many players of consequence injured or discarded, McConnell is introduced last at home games, an honor usually reserved for the biggest star.
Maybe, just maybe, the fans see something more when they see the Symbolic Sixer.
Maybe they see hope, persistence. Maybe they see possibilities, if only you continue to seek them out.