Team Name: Philadelphia 76ers
Last Year's Record: 41-41
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
A season removed from signing the biggest free-agent on the market (Elton Brand), the Sixers failed to make a big splash -- if any spash -- this off-season. The bad economy, a handful of terrible contracts, and refusing to commit more than one year to any free agent all factored into the Sixers inactivity. That said, they still managed to have a surprisingly productive off-season.
Interim coach Tony DiLeo resigned immediately after the season and resumed his role in the front office. Since DiLeo was officially named assistant GM in 2003, the Sixers have nearly achieved draft perfection. Him returning to the front office was not only good for the Sixers short-term, but long-term, because he can focus on dominating drafts rather than coaching mediocrely.
Now head coach-less, Ed Stefanski quickly hired former Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan. There were other candidates, but Stefanski felt Eddie Jordan's leadership and knowledge of the Princeton Offense benefited the Sixers roster most. (Their long-term friendship probably had nothing to do it.) Last season, one of the Sixers biggest weaknesses was the lack of an organized offense. In 2007-2008 when they made an inspired playoff run under Mo Cheeks, the Sixers M.O. was to out-run, out-jump, and out-hustle their opponents. They had no set offense; it was 'fast break or bust'. Their style was fun to watch and effective in the regular season, but fizzled in the playoffs, so they signed Elton Brand, hoping his post-presence would fix their problems. However; the Sixers failed to realize they also needed a coach who could integrate Brand into the offense without taking away the team's biggest strength -- the fast break. Mo Cheeks sure couldn't, so he was fired, and his replacement, Tony DiLeo never had a chance since Elton was injured for the majority of his tenure. This year the Sixers have a healthy Elton Brand, and a coach who has the ability to blend his post-game with the Sixers fast break.
As far as personnel moves are concerned, the Sixers had very few. They traded an expendable player in Reggie Evans to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for the best three-point shooter (tied with Steve Kerr at .45%) in NBA history, Jason Kapono. Why is this significant? The Sixers were the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA last season (32%), so trading Reggie Evans for one of the best three-point shooters in the league is definitely a good move. Reggie Evans was a fan favorite because of his unprecedented hustle and energy he provided every night, but he wasn't a very skilled basketball player, and wasn't going to receive much playing time behind Sam Dalembert, Elton Brand, Jason Smith, and Marreese Speights.
Other significant moves: drafted Jrue Holiday and signed Rodney Carney for the veteran's minimum. Jrue is the point guard of the future, but that doesn't mean he can't contribute this season. In my opinion, he's one of -- if not the best -- defender in this draft class. All the Sixers need from him this season is 10-15 minutes of lights out defense; the rest is gravy. Carney was a sneaky good move. He was cheap. He's comfortable with the team and the city. His athleticism fits the Sixers style perfectly, and he's an improving outside shooter.
Elton Brand and Jason Smith also return after missing the majority of last season with injuries.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Athleticism: you're hard-pressed to find another NBA team with as much athleticism as the Philadelphia 76ers. I watched a JV basketball game last season. Team A was fundamentally sound, well-coached, and basketball-smart. Team B looked like they barely knew what hoop to shoot on, and bricked 90% of their jumpers in warm-ups. Team A lost; they were literally run out of the gym, blown out, destroyed, and any other adjective you would use to describe a painful beating. Why did this happen? Because Team B was the most athletic JV team on the planet. They didn't need basketball skill, because they didn't take a jumpshot the entire game. They ran, they jumped, they dunked. Why am I telling you this story? Because the Sixers have done the same a handful of NBA teams over the past two seasons. That should give you an idea of how athletic they are.
The Sixers athleticism allows them to out-run and out-hustle slower, older teams in a 48 minute game, and even more so in an 82 game season. It's no coincidence that the Sixers have played their best basketball after the all-star break recently. Other teams wear down; the Sixers do not.
Their athleticism also leads to a lot of fast break points. There aren't many teams who can keep up with Andre Iguodala and co. in transition. Fast breaks normally end with a high-percentage shot, and for a team who doesn't shoot the ball particularly well, you'll take as many easy buckets as you can.
The Sixers second biggest strength is also fueled by their athleticism: defense. Most of their players run fast, jump high, posses cat-like reflexes, and the endurance of Kobayashi during a hot dog eating contest. All bode well for playing solid defense. If the Sixers stay healthy, I predict their defense ranks in the top 5 of the NBA.
Other strengths are: team chemistry, hustle, and an uncanny ability to comeback from a 20-point deficit.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. Can't shoot. They're biggest weakness is their inability to make jumpers consistently. Double D's can only take you so far (Dunks and Defense). If you're going to be a contender, you're going to have to make a jumper once in a while. The Princeton Offense, Jason Kapono and rumored improvement from Iguodala, Thaddeus and Lou should help, but we won't know for sure until the regular season.
The Sixers other major weakness is the point guard position. Andre Miller is gone, and many would argue that he was the Sixers best player during his tenure in the black, gold, white, red, blue (I'm glad those uniforms are gone!). He's in Portland now, and his replacement Lou Williams has been inconsistent and disappointing more often than not. Call me crazy, call me biased -- I'm probably both -- but I believe this will be Lou Williams breakout season. The Princeton Offense does not require a true point guard, which benefits Lou. He's a score-first guard, always has been, always will be. If I remember correctly, the last score-first point guard to run an Eddie Jordan offense was Gilbert Arenas. If Lou can play anything like Gil (with a little more defense and a little less flare) -- and I think he's talented enough -- the Sixers will go a long way.
4. What are the goals for this team?
"We expect to make the playoffs, then you have to make some noise in the playoffs. You always, or you better think that you want to win the world championship." -- GM Ed Stefanski
The number one goal is to make the playoffs and win a series. The Sixers came close the past two seasons, but failed to close out game four not once, but twice. This year, they have the most talented team they've had since Iverson, and two years of playoff experience. If they miss the playoffs or lose in the first round the season will be considered a failure.
My second goal might be first on some fans' lists: the development of the young core. As far as Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams go, I think this will be their final year to drastically improve. However; Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holiday, and Marreese Speights have a long way to go before their reach their full potential. Whether or not they improve this season will determine whether or not this year is a success in the eyes of many Sixers fans. (the ones who don't believe their good enough to make the playoffs and/or advance.)
5. Things a non-Sixers fan might not know.
1) The Sixers are not a better team without Elton Brand. He wasn't 100% healthy last season, and never had a coach who knew how to use him. This season will be different. Don't expect 20-10 Elton, because that isn't what the team needs from him. His presence will be felt on defense and on the boards.
2) Andre Iguodala is a top 15 NBA player. Just because he doesn't score 20 points per game doesn't mean he isn't. Sixers fans are tired of making and/or hearing this argument, so I'll save my breath and link any non-believer to this article. It pretty much sums up our feelings.
3) Andre Iguodala is a really good dunker. Thaddeus Young is a really good dunker. Marreese Speights is a really good dunker. None of them are as good as Rodney Carney.
4) The Sixers lost at the buzzer 8 times last season. If half of those don't go in we're looking at 45-37 instead of 41-41.
5) The Sixers haven't had an All-Star since Allen Iverson left.
Oh, and if you missed it, here are 10 predictions that didn't make the preview.
Predicted Record: 48-34, loss in the eastern conference semifinals to Cleveland Cavilers.
I think the Sixers will be a top 5 team defensively, and the Princeton Offense will allow them to be average on the offensive end. Dominant defense, and average offense should be enough for 48 wins in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers reached 41 last season with a ton of injuries and coaching problems, and I think they're much better this year. I'd be inclined to go even higher if the learning curve for the Princeton Offense wasn't so high. I expect another slow-ish start and strong finish. The Atlantic division will add another "big 3" this season in the form of Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, and Thaddeus Young.