MIAMI, FL - APRIL 27: Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers walks off the floor after fouling out during game five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on April 27, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Another season, another mediocre record and first round elimination in the books. Since the Allen Iverson trade the Sixers have a combined record of 179-226. They've made the playoffs three out of the last five years, posted a 5-12 record overall, and never had a legitimate shot of advancing past the first round.
Although the youthful, athletic, hard-working Sixers have been a blast to watch over the last five seasons (minus the Eddie Jordan catastrophe) every season ends the same way, with their flaws exposed in the playoffs and every Sixers fan left thinking, "We're so far away, and we'll never reach the next level without a superstar." Every team needs at least one superstar to build around. Not only to win championships, but to bring hope, and to sell tickets. A team with a young superstar could win 17 games and still have the entire fanbase buzzing and sell out every game. Why? Because they have the main ingredient to a championship contender; they just need to "build around him". The Sixers don't have that guy, or anyone resembling that guy.
But they have something. They have a potential backcourt of 20 year old Jrue Holiday and 22 year old Evan Turner. It's extremely unlikely that either will become a superstar, but at such young ages their ceilings are difficult to project. Both players – playing in their first playoff series – were the Sixers best player at one point or another. Not only did they rise to the occasion offensively (against a great defensive team) they each held their own against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, defensively – not an easy task for anyone, let alone backcourt babies like Holiday and Turner.
Don't confuse this with the Sixers being "close" however. They're still an extremely flawed basketball team, mainly because of their poorly assembled roster. The brilliance of Coach Collins and the underrated leadership and basketball ability of Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand helped mask a lot of the Sixers warts. They're certainly not as talented as their record, or their play in the playoffs indicate; they worked for every win, every inch, every possession, all season long. That's not common practice for NBA teams, and it's why the Sixers ultimately overachieved.
There's still a ton of work to be done. Finding a capable big man or two is a necessity, and more shooters could always be had. But a foundation has been laid. I can envision a starting backcourt of Holiday-Turner contending for a title one day. I'm confident in Coach Collins leadership and promise to bring basketball relevance back to Philly. I'm more comfortable with Rod Thorn in charge of basketball operations than I ever was with Ed Stefanski. Unlike year's past I feel like there's something to build on.
With a few legitimate young pieces in place, the monster contracts of Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala becoming more tradable, and a semi-competent front office – from Thorn, to DiLeo, to Collins – at the helm the Sixers are believe or not, headed in the right direction. It is however, important to understand how now's not the time to mess around. One 5 year, 60 million dollar
contract mistake handed out to Thaddeus Young could destroy the little foundation the Sixers have laid the past two years and set them back another half-decade.
Whatever happens this off-season should be fun, and we'll have it all covered here at Liberty Ballers. More to come in the next few days.