THE SHAME of the latest series of unfortunate events for the Philadelphia 76ers is that the 2016-17 season was turning into a watershed one for the franchise.

On the court, "The Process" was finally yielding dividends as double red-shirt rookies Joel Embiid and Dario Saric showed they were worth the wait, and the development of holdovers Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell helped turn a group of lost-in-the-woods misfits into an NBA team.

Given a consistent full roster of legitimate players, head coach Brett Brown showed he was more than just the caretaker of the worst three-season record of any coach to start a career.

Off the court, Sixers fans gained newfound enthusiasm for a franchise that had been dormant for so long.

On Jan. 30, the Sixers beat the Sacramento Kings 122-119 to finish the month with a 10-5 record – their best month since going 13-4 in January, 2012.

Despite still having a losing overall record, talk of the Sixers making a run at a playoff spot could not be dismissed.

Embiid was discussed as a potential All-Star.

There was even hope that the debut of injured No. 1-overall draft pick Ben Simmons was only a few weeks away.

The light at the end of the long dark tunnel shined brighter than ever.

Then February began, and the shortest month of the year turned into a long and miserable mess for the organization.

The Sixers have gone from a franchise experiencing a much-need revitalization to one that may be in greater peril than when this whole rebuild thing started.

In a stunning month of devastating punches to the gut, the Sixers germinated a seed of mistrust from their fans and grew it into a full-grown mighty oak tree; shut down Simmons for the season after flip-flopping about the condition of his broken foot and traded away contributing and popular players Ersan Ilyasova and Nerlens Noel.

The first day of March only made things worse when the five-week soap opera involving Embiid and the bone bruise and "slight" meniscus tear in his left knee culminated in the Sixers announcing Embiid was also done playing for the rest of the season.

The Sixers responded to that news Wednesday night by getting whacked by the Miami Heat, 125-98, their worse beating since also losing by 27 to Toronto on Nov. 28.

Today, it seems the positive energy the Sixers gained during the first 31 days of 2017 has been burned through.

After recovering somewhat last week during a press conference when he announced Embiid's status had been downgraded to "out indefinitely," Sixers president/general manager Bryan Colangelo is again being referred to as a confidence man and liar, now that Embiid is closed down.

The conspiracy theory that the Sixers withheld information about the severity of the injuries to both Simmons and Embiid so that they could sell more tickets is in full rage.

It certainly did not help that perception when the team raised remaining ticket prices from Tier D to Tier A for the first game after the All-Star break at home against Washington, leaving many with the impression that was when Simmons would debut.

In reality, the injuries to both Simmons and Embiid were unfortunate but normal parts of big-time sports. The way the Sixers medical staff has dealt with them weren't out of the ordinary despite many feeling the players should have healed faster.

However, the way the Sixers handled the public relations aspect of the injuries, which by the way was also consistent with most professional sports teams, led to the belief of skullduggery.

The results are devastating to a franchise that was reestablishing itself in Philadelphia.

In addition to Colangelo, owner Josh Harris and the Sixers medical staff coming under fire, some are starting to even disparage the players.

They say Simmons could have come back from a Jones fracture in his foot but did not because he wants to be eligible to win the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year Award and collect a bonus from Nike.

There is no evidence of that.

Embiid, whose spectacular play had fans dreaming of him leading the Sixers to future titles, is now being called fragile and too much of a question mark for the Sixers to risk extending him with a four-year, maximum contract before the end of October.

The only serious injury was the fracture of the broken foot that cost him his first two seasons. This season's injury typically is not serious.

The hopes of the future are becoming the nopes of the future.

Lost in the uproar is the fact that the Sixers have already more than doubled their win total from last season.

Had Embiid stayed healthy and Simmons played, it is not hard to envision that this team could have made the playoffs.

That would have been an extraordinary accomplishment and marked a major step forward.

With both expected to return next season, the playoffs are a strong possibility.

Still after three seasons of staring into the void through rose-colored glasses, the events over the last month make it hard for many to remain wildly optimistic about the future.

Now March has come in like a Lion for the Sixers. They should be lucky enough to have it go out like a lamb.

@SmallTerp