With training camp less than a week away, it's time to start thinking big picture about this season.
This is the 4th consecutive year that Liberty Ballers has participated in Celtics Blog's annual team preview series. Last year was depressing because it was written mid-lockout. The words "Marreese Speights is still ambivalent to using brain waves and athleticism simultaneously" were written. That will not be the case in this preview. Here's Jordan's from 2010 where he thinks Marreese Speights was going to break out, and here's Jordan's from the Eddie Jordan year of 2009 where he predicts the Sixers will go 48-34. Nostalgia's the best. Coach Cheeks ended practice early today.
But on to this year:
Team Name: PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Last Year's Record: 35-31
Key Losses: Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Louis Williams, MOE HARKLESS (WAH), Jodie Meeks, Nikola Vucevic, Sam Young, Tony Battie, Our Virginity.
Key Additions: Andrew Bynum, Dorell Wright, Nick Young, Kwame Brown, Arnett Moultrie, Jason Richardson, a GM.
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
HA. Everything. The Sixers retain just 5 players from last year's team -- Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young, Lavoy Allen -- because the front office knew that team had maxed out its potential as an overachieving bunch of scrappers. We give them all the credit in the world for tearing down a team that was just a few inches away from going to the Eastern Conference Finals.
We love Iguodala here, but he was largely unappreciated by most Sixers fans and, in spite of how great he is, Andre's not the guy you build a team around. Moving him (and Vuce -- I'm just thrilled I don't have to pretend I know how to pronounce his name anymore) was absolutely necessary for a bunch of reasons. The biggest of which being the biggest human on the team, Andrew Bynum. He'll be 25 when the season starts, and he's the 2nd best center in the league. That they now have a legitimate franchise player to build a champion around is the only important thing. Until this point, they were just playing with themselves in the corner. Sure it's fun, but you don't win any championships playing pocketball with Lou Williams leading your team in scoring.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
I think they haven't figured it out yet. They brought in a bunch of guys who can shoot (J-Rich, Dorell, Swaggy), but until Evan and Thad develop an outside shot, I don't think they can be called a good shooting team. They were a fantastic defensive team last year, but losing Iguodala and Brand will hurt a lot, even if Bynum makes up for a lot of their interior weaknesses in the middle. Maybe rebounding, because of how good Bynum is on the glass, with an elite wing rebounder in Turner and a terrific offensive rebounder in Thad. Hawes, Kwame, and Lavoy are all solid enough up front to make this team pretty great on the glass.
I'd say their biggest strengths are that they are quite young and very cap flexible. They didn't get locked into a terribly long Lou Williams contract and with the deal Jeff Green was gifted in Boston, that Thad contract looks better every day. As confounding as it was to see them sign both Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown, they're both on relatively team-friendly deals, and I'd guess one of them is moved by the offseason or as early as the trade deadline.
A lot of that freed up money will go into giving Bynum a max contract, but the big question is what they'll do with Jrue. He's got a qualifying offer for next season, but he's already mentioned his own desire for a max deal (which won't happen) and things could get tricky this offseason. With limited draft picks over the next few seasons, they'll have to keep costs down as best they can in other ways. Having Jrue agree to a team-friendly deal would be a big step in the right direction.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
I think the front office has done a pretty great job at bringing in a deep, young roster with strengths everywhere on the court. I'd like a better backup point guard, but it looks like Collins is going to use Evan at point when Jrue is taking a breather.
The weakness at this point is just that they haven't played together. It'll take some time for them to adjust to playing styles and for Doug to figure out how to best tailor the offense to what Bynum does best. It really wouldn't surprise me to see them stumble out of the gate, but we're stressing patience because the big picture is more important than this season.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Chemistry and cohesiveness is paramount to win/loss record this season. I don't think it's completely out of the question for everything to click and they'd finish as high as 2nd in the East, but a more realistic place would be 4th/5th with a strong finish. Having Bynum makes them a difficult matchup because no one in the Eastern Conference can handle him one-on-one. If they have the shooters to make them pay for doubling (as Rich goes over in great detail here), they could become a very good basketball team.
But aside from signing Bynum to a max contract, the Sixers' goal should be figuring out if Evan Turner, once and for all, can be the player they drafted him to be or if he's simply not efficient enough to be one of the franchise cornerstones. That'll determine a lot of things heading into next season. Jrue will also need to improve on last year's disappointment, and having a legitimate big man will absolutely help him develop.
Other than that, win some games, learn to play together, and get ready to be even better in 2013-14.
5. Who gets traded first?
It's got to be one of Spencer or Kwame. If they knew they were getting Bynum (they didn't), there's no chance they would have brought both of them in. Even though having too many bigs isn't a *bad* thing, they're going to want to give minutes to Lavoy and Poultry, and that'll make one or both of these guys expendable.
My guess is that Thad eventually starts at the 4. Training camp will decide who gets the nod for Game One, but I think Doug is going to want Thad's quickness at the 4 to create matchup problems for the opponent and Hawes will be relegated to the bench until he gets traded. He'll bring back more of a return, and I think that return is going to be a first rounder. They don't love having to give up first in two of the next three drafts, and I'm banking on them finding a way to get a hold of one, even if it is towards the back end of the first round.
Maybe Hawes goes to Miami? That'd be goofy.
We'll have individual player previews coming up soon to give you all the 2012 season preview fixin's you could ask for. Check out all the other season previews in this supergroup. I love you.