The Philadelphia 76ers are coming off a season in which they went 41-41, made the playoffs, and barely evaded a sweep at the hands of eventual Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat. With a new coach in Doug Collins left to clean up the mess that Eddie Jordan left, expectations were low enough that a 14-win improvement and a first round playoff exit got the organization excited at the young team they're putting out there. Now here we are a few months later, having narrowly avoided a lost season, with almost the exact same team as the quirky hustlers that went .500 in 2010-11 and a new ownership that wants to continue the same trajectory.
Earlier this morning, Jordan ran an article outlining his optimism at the Sixers shortened season ahead of us. In keeping with my Grinch-like qualities, I'll be playing Devil's Advocate, Mr. Scrooge, Salazar Slytherin, Miss Trunchbull, Jaime Lannister, that muscle-y guy from Avatar, ccancer, and the Soup Nazi to his rose-colored glasses he can't seem to take off. Brace yourself for a harsh dose of realism and neverending depression after the jump. Happy Christmas, Harry's and Ron's.
The NBA isn't a place where you get enough decent guys together and win a championship. Without a superstar, mediocrity and failure are as imminent as a Louis Williams isolation. It's not because superstars get the fans excited to buy tickets, lacking a true top 10 player in the league that they can count on to carry the team makes them vulnerable to teams that have one. Asserting dominance at crucial points in the game and the season comes from having a guy that teams can't stop. The Sixers do not have that guy.
2004 Detroit Pistons
They're chanting the same words about trying to emulate the 2004 Pistons, a team that won a championship despite not having one of the upper-echelon players in the league. Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace were better in '04 than any of our current players and Ben Wallace was the best defensive player in the league. It's not like they started Jason Smith and Jarron Collins. They started five defensive-minded players with the right coach and the right formula and happened to run into a Lakers team that was busy trying to dole out charity championships to decrepit Karl Malone and brittle Gary Payton. That Pistons team is an anomaly. It has happened exactly once in the modern era and should not be a template for half the teams in the league who decide since they don't have a superstar, we'll just be the Pistons. It doesn't work like that.
A Commitment to What
Doug Collins, since arriving last year, has done and said all the right things to try to get the casual fan back into Sixerland. They want to win now, they're not settling for losses, we're all about improving... anything to attract those straggling Eagles fans who don't like hockey. But while the Sixers will almost surely finish with a slightly better record than last year and make the playoffs, the team hasn't and won't exponentially improve to the point of actually contending with the top-tier teams in the Eastern Conference. If the Sixers are committed to winning games, sure, this is going to be a fine season for winning a few. But if they're committed to winning a championship, this is not the right path.
The development of Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner remains the most, and borderline only, important element to the hypothetical future "contender" status of this team. If Jrue and Evan can maximize their potential, then the Sixers could actually be one very talented big man away from being legitimate. Jrue should be taking the ball to the basket and tailoring his game after Deron Williams, while Evan's game could most resemble Paul Pierce. These are their ceilings that can only be reached if the team is placed in their hands.
Thaddeus Young is very interesting and could develop into an actual basketball player someday. But he's got way too many holes in his game to be considered a starting power forward and after four years in the league, it seems unlikely that he'll ever develop a jump shot, improve his defense, or become at least an average defensive rebounder. Jodie Meeks is a bench player. That he is starting is unfortunate. Nikola Vucevic looks like he'll top out as a below-average starting center but could be nice as a first big off the bench. The same can be said for current starter, Spencer Hawes. Craig Brackins and Lavoy Allen figure to be role players now and going forward. Marreese Speights is on his way out.
The decision being made not to amnesty Brand and trade Iguodala should surprise no one, but it is indicative of the direction the new owners, Rod Thorn, and Doug Collins feel this team is going. Getting the cap flexibility would be huge in going after a top-flight big man in the 2013 offseason, but the front office has convinced itself that this team can win a championship by the time Elton's contract expires. They've also showed their hand on priorities, leaving a supremely talented and under-appreciated but miscast Iguodala in front of the potentially more rounded Turner. The best move for the future of the franchise would be to amnesty Brand, trade Iguodala for expiring contracts and a lottery pick and let Jrue and Evan run the team, hopefully acquiring a young and able big man in the process. But this would upset the trajectory of the post-Iverson era mediocrity and lose all twelve fans the Sixers have gained since their playoff cup of coffee last season.
There's no question the Sixers will be hovering just over .500 the next two years. What happens after that depends on how Jrue and Evan have developed and whether a stud big man has fallen into their lap in the middle of the first round. If the Sixers want to win a championship - not just make the playoffs, not win a few games - win a championship, they will need to bring in significant talent that can only be acquired by ridding themselves of who they believe to be integral players to their current "success".
It's undeniably depressing to think like this as an NBA fan because yes, watching your favorite team win is infinitely more fun than watching them lose, but it's significantly more distressing to think that the Sixers' goal is not to win a championship. This isn't Little League, this is a business. And while the 2011-12 Sixers figure to be an exciting, relatively young team to watch, that nagging consciousness in the back of your head will linger for years to come.