"Playoff experience will be good for this young roster."
I've seen that referenced a couple of times now by members of the Philadelphia media, and I'm sure we'll see it referenced a couple more times before the Sixers lose in the first round of the playoffs to either the Heat or the Bulls. It's a common cliche, and one that Sixers faithful have often heard repeated as we have waited for our young players to take their transcendent leaps into superstardom. A leap into superstardom propelled, if sportswriters would have you believe, by a quick 5 or 6 game playoff humiliation.
But for a fan base that hasn't won a playoff series since 2003, It's a saying that has begun to ring hollow.
That 4-1 loss to the Detroit Pistons in 2005 didn't transform a 21 year old role-player in Andre Iguodala into a superstar, although it did help Billy King convince himself that 23 year old Samuel Dalembert was worth around 6 years, $65 million, believing the 11.6 points, 12.4 rebounds he averaged during those 5 games was a better indication of his potential than the 8.2 points and 7.5 rebounds he averaged in the 82 prior regular season games.
(Dalembert has posted career averages of 8.0 points and 8.2 rebounds per game).
The 4-2 series loss to the Pistons in the first round of the 2008 playoffs was supposed to be great experience for Thaddeus Young and Louis Williams and form the basis of a contending team. The same was said for the 6 postseason games against the Magic the following year, this time allegedly showing a young Marreese Speights what it took to win in the NBA. Andre Iguodala got past his playoff jitters by averaging 21.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists that year and the Sixers were off to contention.
After a horrible Eddie Jordan year, Doug Collins came in and righted the ship, getting back to the playoffs for 5 games against the Heat that was supposed to propel a 20 year old Jrue Holiday and a rookie in Evan Turner into the backcourt of the future. Instead, Holiday regressed and Turner is once again coming off the bench for Jodie Meeks.
All these years gone by, 4 first round exits in the past 7 years (about to be 5 in the past 8), and the Sixers aren't any closer to a championship. They were a .524 team in 2004-2005, a .488 team in 2007-2008, a .500 team in 2008-2009, and a .500 team in 2010-2011. Right now they sit with a .531 winning percentage with 2 meaningless games remaining.
Progress? Nope. The cast is different, the excuse is still the same, and unfortunately the reality is the same as well. Talent wins in the NBA, and the Sixers don't have enough of it. Playoff experience doesn't turn an average talent into a superstar, no matter how many times they get bounced in the first round. This experience isn't going to pull the Sixers out of the quicksand of mediocrity.
Now, that doesn't mean I don't believe in player development, experience, or believe in the value playoff experience can provide. I do. I believe the experience the Sixers gained during the 1999 and 2000 playoffs greatly contributed to that team that went to the finals. I think the Thunder's first round exit in 2010 helped that young core take the next steps in subsequent years.
But there's one huge difference between those teams and the Sixers -- well, at a generously listed 6', huge might be the wrong choice of words -- they had their young superstar to build around. This Sixers team doesn't have a 23 year old Allen Iverson or a 21 year old Kevin Durant and a 21 year old Russell Westbrook to build around. And when they do acquire that superstar? He's almost certainly going to have to go through playoff growing pains himself, as even Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan had to suffer through a first round playoff exit or two before they gained the experience -- and the supporting cast -- to start winning in May and June.
I also believe that playing 10-12 or more competitive games, like the Sixers did in 1999 and 2000, is vastly different than playing 5 somewhat competitive games where the series was never in doubt.
If you look through the annals of NBA basketball you would be hard pressed to find a near .500 team that lost in the first round, without a young, rising superstar, who became title contenders without major roster change. Remember the 2007-2008 Toronto Raptors team that went 41-41 and lost in the first round to the Orlando Magic? History won't either. Neither will anyone care about the Washington Wizards from 2004-2005 through 2007-2008, or even the current iteration of the Atlanta Hawks, the team that represents the realistic upside of the current Sixers roster.
None of this is to say that playing 5-6 games against the Bulls or Heat can't help Jrue Holiday or Evan Turner, although it's certainly not the absolute certainty most portray it as. Playoff experience isn't immaterial to player development, just overstated. But to the Sixers development as legitimate contenders?
Show me the talent (and, thus, the lottery balls). I'll worry about the secondary pieces once I know who I'm building around.
Enjoy these next 2 weeks, because playoff basketball is fun. But don't tell me that this is going to propel the Sixers into legitimacy.