Regular Season Eastern Conference Rank: 12
On paper, this team didn’t look horrible heading into the 2009 season, with a finally healthy Elton Brand paired up with Andre Iguodala and receiving support from an uber athletic Thaddeus Young and an energetic Lou Williams. In 2008, after Brand had gone down with an injury, the team squeaked by into the Playoffs with a 41-41 record. In getting Brand back from his hurt shoulder, the team surely expected to improve upon their .500 record and possibly make some noise in the Playoffs. After all, that is why they gave such a huge contract to Elton Brand.
However, the team’s calculations went horribly wrong – the Brand experiment was so obviously a bad choice of free agent splash, and although the team should be lauded for its willingness to spend money to improve itself, they chose a slow, aging, injury prone and low-post operating Elton Brand on which to splurge.
In the years before Brand arrived, the 76ers had thrived on being athletic, energetic, and frisky – too annoying for teams to fully squash and able to run tired clubs out of the building during the regular season. They weren’t particularly talented, but had a mediocre core and exciting athletes which, although without a particularly bright future, still were pretty fun to watch. They had no chance in the Playoffs because they had no long-lived advantage that could give them the edge in a seven game series, but at least they had an identity as a running team.
But when Brand arrived, the team had to accommodate their new multimillion dollar acquisition; their fast pace which was their only real advantage became relegated to the 2nd option, behind a struggling post game revolving around an over-the-hill Brand. Which is also why when he went down in 2008, the team recovered and reached the Playoffs – they could go back to playing fast without having to slow it down forcefully.
So it probably didn’t come as a surprise to anyone except the 76ers that they were a terrible team in 2009. In this case, the whole was less than the sum of the parts, because each of the parts didn’t mesh with one another.
Additionally, Andre Iguodala was never a real number one option, and never will be. He is excellent on defense and is amazing at slashing to the rim and finishing, and he throws a pretty pass, but he should be shot with a tranquilizer every time he attempts a jumpshot. If he were a supporting player to a true franchise cornerstone and counted on only to hit the hoop and dunk the ball, shut down the other team’s best two guard, and make the occasional play, he would be phenomenal and probably an All Star.
However, in his current situation the 76ers are asking too much from him; he isn’t worth the contract he was given as an $80 million man. He should be earning $10 million a year, max. But because he asked to be paid like a number one option, he is treated as such, and his team suffers because of it. The Sixers don’t have any chance to improve or become real contenders until they can find a real alpha dog to lead the team.
Luckily for them, the Sixers think they’ve found their man in Evan Turner, the 2nd overall pick in the draft. At Ohio State, he was the go-to guy, and played through a pretty gruesome back injury to lead the team with clutch buckets, triple doubles, and buzzer beaters. He looks to have a promising future with the team.
Additionally, the Sixers made a coaching change, bringing in Doug Collins from the TNT broadcasting booth. I’m not sure about his coaching expertise, but if his bright insight and great analysis as a broadcaster carries over into his coaching, the team shouldn’t have a problem in leadership or strategy.
This next season, the team will look to rebound – whereas a few seasons ago a low seed in the Playoffs didn’t cut it for them, this year it would be a welcome sign, although that most likely won’t happen.
The Sixers should try to return to their run and gun ways, to at least stand a chance at the Playoffs, leaving Turner at the point or the two guard position to most effectively maximize his abilities as a combo guard. He will take his lumps as a rookie thrust into a starring role, but he was the most NBA ready rookie available and even though he had a lower ceiling than others like Wall or Favors, he stands the best chance to contribute right away.
Hopefully the team will be smart and use Brand sparingly as a change of pace post player for when they can’t run on the break, and with more continued development from their 20 year old 2009 draft pick Jrue Holiday, they might be able to sneak up on some teams.
They still have athletes like Young and Iguodala, and an efficient Marreese Speights (who was one of the top PER performers according to John Hollinger), so the team isn’t all bad. However, with no cap room and two albatrosses on their payroll, they can only hope to improve internally and with the addition of Turner.
There are only two issues to answer when assessing the Sixers’ chances this year; the first being Turner’s impact and ability, and the second being the improvement of Holiday and to a lesser degree, Thad Young and Speights. All other players on the team are relatively known – Iguodala is a constant, Brand is only getting worse, Hawes has a low ceiling, and Lou Williams and Willie Green are at best energetic backups.
I think that Holiday will put up solid numbers and be a dependable starting point guard, and the others will improve marginally, so the brunt of the improvement lies in the addition of Turner, whom I believe is good for a 15-5-4 type of season. Solid by any stretch of measure but not good enough to lead a team to a Playoff berth.
Throughout the year, the team will be able to sneak up on a few ball clubs, especially on those with back-to-back games, and their energy and frenetic pace will help them steal a few. However, there is little improvement available and the Sixers will be looking at a record between 25 and 30 wins, almost like a year ago. Turner may be the real deal, but his first year won’t be all roses, so for now the Sixers will be back to playing lottery-level basketball in front of measly home crowds.