80 games later...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008: It was a crisp fall afternoon and I could hardly contain my excitement. Mere hours stood between me and the beginning of the Sixers 2008-2009 season. In my 20 years of being, I had never been as excited for an NBA season. I even took it as far as listening to songs like these for a week straight. I was pumped. The monster signing of Elton Brand, re-signings of two franchise cornerstones - Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams, a draft night steal in Marreese Speights, and the alleged development of super-rookie Thaddeus Young had me expecting big things. Little did I know what lied ahead...

Friday, December 12, 2008: The Sixers were blown out by the Cleveland Cavilers 88-72, dropping to 9-14 on the season. At this point, nothing was working. The Sixers were playing the most depressing basketball I had ever seen. Andre Iguodala was shooing 40 percent. Andre Miller was shooting 42 percent. Lou Williams was shooting below 40 percent. Big free agent signing Elton Brand was not fitting in. Everything was a mess.

Saturday, December 13, 2008: Head Coach Maurice Cheeks was fired and Tony DiLeo was named interim coach for the remainder of the season. The Sixers had reached an all-time low and looked lottery bound. A small glimmer of hope was given to Sixers Nation with a 15-point win over the Washington Wizards and Elton Brand's best game of the year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008The game immediately following Tony D's coaching debut and Elton Brand's best game of the season, Brand fell to the floor after a block attempt, dislocating his right shoulder in the process.

Saturday, January 17 2009: Led by Andre Iguodala, the Sixers won their seventh straight game to reach .500 for the first time since October 31. Ironically, after 40 games their record was 20-20.

Thursday, February 4, 2009: After a failed attempt at a comeback, Elton Brand was officially shut down for the season with a right shoulder injury.

Saturday, February 21, 2009: In the 54th game of the season the Sixers finally had an individual score 30+ points in a game.

Tuesday, March 17 through Monday, March 23, 2009: The Sixers pulled out three wins on their toughest road trip of the season, giving every Sixer fan hope -- hope that this season was something special. The road trip included "The shot heard round Philadelphia" and the Blazers slugfest

Tuesday, March 31, 2009: The Sixers looked well on their way to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. There was some serious potential for a first round victory against the Atlanta Hawks -- the team they happened to be playing. Then, the worst thing that could've happened did. After having the month of his lifetime, averaging 20 points a game, Thaddeus Young landed awkwardly on his right ankle, severely spraining it. His injury was a season-ender (until now!) and completely altered the Sixers season as we knew it.

Monday, April 13, 2009: Here we are, 80 games later, riding a five-game losing streak. The cliche "limping to the finish line" would be an understatement. We have possibly seen the last of 76ers victories in the 2008-2009 season. It'd be such a shame for a season with so much potential to end like this. Is there still hope?

Click through for answers to all the burning questions.

Does this team have heart?

I have a problem with people questioning this team's heart or effort. I'm not going to sit here are say that every NBA player or every NBA team wants to win, but I'm 99 percent sure the Sixers do. The core of this team has always been a part of teams lacking talent. They've always relied on effort and grit. The bottom line is, sometimes players just don't have it. The Sixers are banged up physically. Even the players on the court are hurting. Two of the NBA's iron men, Andre Miller and Samuel Dalembert, are playing with injuries where others might shut it down. Andre Iguodala has logged the most minutes of any NBA player in the past four seasons. 

If you've watched this team for last 160 games, you know they want to win. Sometimes outside variables get in the way. Fact of the matter is, a decent-looking, 200 pound, acne laden teenage girl might really want to be prom queen, and might put forth more effort than any other girl on the planet. Does that mean she's going to be prom queen? No. And does that mean if she's not prom queen that she wasn't trying hard enough? No. We need to face the reality that the Sixers are about 70 percent healthy right now. They aren't going to be able to win the same games they would if they were healthy -- as much as they want to, or as hard as they try.

Should/Will Tony DiLeo be the coach next season?

No. He's better suited for the front office. His substitution patterns have been questionable at best. He's ridden the Andres into the ground by playing them 40 minutes a night. The defense is still bad, specifically the perimeter D, which is atrocious. The team collectively sucks at free throw shooting, and I think the head coach should carry some of the blame. Tony D believes that the best play to run at the end of quarter's 1-3 is an iso for Lou Williams. That's all well and good, but 90 percent of the time it ends with a contested fadeaway. He uses the same play at the end of games with Andre Iguodala. He inexplicably leaves zone-buster Donny-Ice on the bench. No, no, no! He's Mo Cheeks all over again.

But will he be the head coach next season? Yes, because the Sixers aren't going to want to shell out the cash for a new coach and Ed Stefanski probably thinks DiLeo is good. Normally I'm not this pessimistic, but I truly believe he'll be the coach next season, and I truly believe it will be a big mistake.

What happens when Thad returns?

We cannot expect Thad to return to his March-dominance to carry the team to a playoff victory this season, but we can expect improvement. With Thad on the floor the Sixers will benefit from the following:

  • Less Reggie Evans.
  • A faster, more athletic team to run with.
  • Less Reggie Evans.
  • A legitimate jump shooter.
  • Less Reggie Evans.
  • Someone with a post game.
  • Less Reggie Evans.
  • An emotional lift with the team's best young player returning.
  • Invaluable playoff experience foe the 20-year old future all-star, Thad "Baby Legs" Young.
I'm just letting you know right now, Thad's not going to return to the lineup and drop 20 points right away. First of all, he's not in basketball shape. Secondly, it's going to be in the playoffs -- not exactly the easiest atmosphere to play in.

 

What can we look forward to in the off-season?

I'll elaborate on all of these when the season if officially over and this is all we have to talk about, so don't freak out if you see something weird. This is how I feel right this second.

  1. The possibility of a new head coach.
  2. A healthy roster.
  3. The draft.
  4. The Summer League.
  5. YouTube clips.
  6. Watching this every day.
  7. A potential trade of Sam Dalembert, Bill Green, Reggie Evans or all three (wishful thinking).

What is the best case scenario for the rest of the season?

Thaddeus Young returns for the final two games in an attempt to tune-up for the playoffs (and stays healthy). The Sixers manage upsets against a banged-up Celtics team and a Cavs team with nothing to play for except a 40-1 home record. The Sixers ride Thad and a two-game winning streak into the playoffs as the six seed and give the three seed Orlando Magic a run for their money. Then proceed to the off-season with high hopes for 09-10.

Worst case?

In an attempted return, Thaddeus re-injures his ankle. The team finishes the season with a whimper, losing 11 straight (playoffs included), leaving a horrible taste everyone's mouths that lingers for an entire off-season.

As a fan, should I care about the rest of this season?

Absolutely. I started writing this before I got word that Thaddeus would indeed return for the final two games of the season. That news alone completely changed my outlook on the rest of the season. Now we have something to be excited about again. If Thad can return to form quickly, we might just have a shot in the first round -- a lot better shot than we would have had without Thaddeus. 

We now have hope Sixers fans! It comes in the form of number 21.

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