The season is a day away, Merry Christmas! The lockout ruined our swag and normal routine when it comes to previewing the Sixers, so we're kind of doing it on the fly. Rather than the typical preview I decided to ask myself five questions regarding the upcoming season, then give two versions of the answer – the short and long. If you're pressed for time (It is Christmas!) just read the short answers. If you're baffled by one the answers, read the method to my madness in the long-winded version. I'm normally optimistic about the Sixers, but this year I'm really sipping the Kool-Aid. Unzip your Jrue Happy Holiday onesie, put down your Fruity Pebbles and wake up from your top 10 nap, it's time to preview the Sixers 2011-2012 season! You know the drill, make the jump.
Will the Sixers make the Playoffs?
Short answer: Yes
Long answer: The lockout makes predicting a normally predictable NBA season pretty unpredictable. The season is starting two months later than it should be. Training camp and free agency were much abbreviated. Preseason lasted about a quarter of what it normally does. Questions remain whether the layoff will have teams feeling rusty or fresh. Teams have new coaches with new systems to implement, and new players to acclimate. With that said, the Sixers will be one of the handful of teams that actually benefit from the lockout. Here's what they have going for them:
1. They're young (average age of top 8 rotation player = 24.8); the tightly-packed schedule featuring more back-to-backs than ever and back-to-back-to-backs favors youth over experience.
2. Their team is basically identical to what it was a year ago when they made the playoffs. The 11 top minute-getters from a season ago are still on the roster. Continuity is going to be highly beneficial in such a helter-skelter season.
3. Their style of play stresses defense, hustle, team ball and athleticism. All four dimensions will be beneficial during back-to-backs and the newly-implemented back-to-back-to-backs. Unlike offense, defense remains fairly constant as long as the effort is there, and since the Sixers are full of hustle and effort that won't be a problem. Team ball prevents the Sixers from living and dying by a star player. Normally the lack of a true star hurts the Sixers – and it still will come playoffs – but it may help during the regular season. Teams aren't going to be able to rely on one guy to carry them consistently during back-to-backs and back-to-back-to-backs. And the team's athleticism – which they're oozing with – will help wear down already tired opponents during the course of a 48 minute game.
To answer the original question, yes the Sixers will make the playoffs this season. No, they didn't add anyone in the offseason, but there should be exponential improvement internally. This is year two under Coach Collins and the young backcourt of Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner looked poised for a breakout in their third and second seasons, respectively. The Eastern Conference did nothing to improve significantly during the shortened off-season, and the Sixers are a team on the rise. There's no reason they shouldn't make the playoffs again this season, barring catastrophic injury.
Will the Sixers win a Playoff Series?
Short answer: Yes
Long answer: It's been nine seasons since the Sixers franchise has won a playoff series, so I'm going bold with this proclamation, but the Philadelphia 76ers will indeed win an Eastern Conference Playoff series this season. I reserve the right to revoke this statement if they play the Heat in the first round again, but every other Eastern Conference team they have a shot of beating in a series. They will remain considerable underdogs against the Celtics and Bulls, but the Sixers will come out strong and finish with a good enough record for the fourth or fifth seed. The young and suddenly somewhat-experienced Sixers would be licking their chops at a four/five matchup against the Knicks, Hawks or Magic. I'm not buying the Knicks hype, especially because Iguodala can play Melo better than just about anyone else, and Jrue would destroy whoever they trot out at point guard. And the Magic and Hawks are clearly trending downward.
Can the Sixers compete for a title?
Short answer: No
Long answer: They're still too young, too inexperienced, too star-less and lack championship interior defense and rebounding.
Will Andre Iguodala be traded this season?
Short answer: No
Long answer: Andre Iguodala will not be traded because the Sixers will be playing well, attracting more fans than they have in nearly a decade and in the midst of a playoff race.
Should Andre Iguodala be traded this season?
Short answer: Yes
Long answer: I'm as excited about the season and the possibility of the Sixers winning their first playoff series in nine years as anyone else, but I'm still a big picture kind of guy. For any type of substantial long-term success it's in the Sixers' best interest to trade Iguodala before the summer of 2013 – before Elton Brand's contract expires. That sentiment has nothing to do with Iguodala being a bad player or being overpaid, because I believe he's neither. That said, it makes perfect sense from a salary cap standpoint and a team direction standpoint.
Iguodala's one of the elder statesmen – along with Brand – on a team whose core is young and on a different career arch. Holiday, Turner and, to an extent, Thaddeus Young's arrows are pointing straight up, while Iguodala is a year or two away from a steady physical decline. Iguodala's decline would be fine under two circumstances, 1) If he wasn't the team's second highest-paid player and 2) If he played a different role. The fact that Iguodala is a two/three on a team loaded with guards and swings (Holiday, Turner, Meeks, Lou, Thad) makes him less of a necessity and more of a luxury. If he was a top tier, highly-paid, aging big man on this team I may change my tune. But having him and his contract on the team by the time Jrue and Turner need extensions could ultimately stunt the championship growth potential of the franchise. This team is a dominant big man away from series title contention, and it's going to be damn near impossible to acquire that missing piece without parting with Iguodala.
Trading Iguodala this season in an effort to take one step back in order to take 10 steps forward in the next few years would absolutely ruin the possibility of winning a playoff series, but at the end of the day, future title contention > 2011-12 playoff series win. Regardless of whether or not Iguodala is traded this season, I think you're going to see the official changing of guard. This will no longer be Andre Iguodala's team, but rather Jrue Holiday's.
Prediction: 38-28, second round playoff loss, progress!