No team in the NBA seems more content to stay stuck in the mud as the Philadelphia 76ers. They made a bevy of alterations this summer, from management to coaching to player personnel, and yet nothing much has tangibly changed for this team as a result. They still can't shoot, they're still handcuffed by Elton Brand's contract and they still have no shot at being a relevant force in the Eastern Conference. While no one felt that trading Allen Iverson was a bad idea all those years ago, the team has been seriously lost in the time that followed. At least with Iverson the team knew who they were building around, whereas nowadays pinpointing the direction of this franchise is as difficult as pinpointing the next stage of Iverson's career.
This team was in the bottom-third in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season. They sat below the middle-of-the-pack in terms of their rebounding rate, ditto their assist rate, and they couldn't overcome their pedestrian shooting (53.4% true-shooting percentage) with a quality high-octane attack (22nd in the league in pace). Nothing they did last season seemed to work and that is why when the chips fell in April they were 27-55, the sixth-worst team in the NBA.
With all of their holes, one would have assumed that a summer of change was ahead, and while much has been remodeled, little looks any different. They hired another name coach (Doug Collins) that is light on Playoff experience or success (a .359 Playoff winning-percentage in just 38 games), and he hasn't been out of the first round since 1989 when he coached Michael Jordan and the Bulls. They used their second-overall pick to grab Evan Turner, a shooting guard that can't shoot and one that replicates much of the skills (and detriments) of the team's pseudo-star, Andre Iguodala. Their skills were seen as so similar, in fact, that most assumed that Iguodala would have been shipped out to help address other holes on the roster after Turner was drafted. He, of course, remains on the team with all of his duplicating skills in tow.
Despite their uninspired recent play, they aren't even in a position to make big moves down the road. Unlike New Jersey, Minnesota, Indiana or even New York, they have very little cap space coming their way next summer (especially if they opt to re-sign Thaddeus Young) and they have no additional draft picks (they actually traded away next year's second round pick, as well as a future first rounder they possessed from Utah) and their young talent pool, while adequate, lacks any real star power or coveted assets. Jrue Holiday could have a breakout year, but in an era of quality youth at the point guard spot, he'll have to really impress to make his mark in the league.
The basic fact is, then, that as it pertains to Philly, there really isn't all that much to examine. Their warts of a year ago are still present, they haven't done anything substantial to realign their fortunes, and so expecting more of what the team showed last year seems like a pretty reasonable prospect for this club. Even if one affords them ten more wins this season, based on continued chemistry development and a solid year from Evans (ten games is generous, considering Charlotte only improved nine games last year and they made some meaningful trades), the team still only winds up with 37 wins and a trip to the lottery. The Sixers have some assets to play with, but until they show that they have the stomach to make some big (and possibly controversial) moves that actually move the needle a little bit, their future will remain as bleak as the prognostications for this season.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP
PG – JRUE HOLIDAY
Holiday really emerged at the end of last season, stringing together some quality play in March and April that, the Sixers hope, could catapult him into a breakout year this season. He started shooting 50% from the floor and 40% from three en route to 12-points-per-game while also handing out 6-assists-per-game in that span. For a non-lottery pick last season, that's not a bad return. However, it was not as good as the seasons put up by Darren Collison and Ty Lawson, nor were the numbers THAT outrageous that anyone should be booking a trip to the Rookie-Sophomore game. Plus, with Andre Iguodala being a ball-dominating forward, and Evan Turner being a ball-dominating guard, it remains to be seen if there is even enough ball left over for Holiday to have a meaningful impact in a game as a playmaker, distributor, or even as a ball-handler.
SG – EVAN TURNER
While no one wants to look at Summer League as anything more than what it is, Turner definitely looked out of sorts playing in Orlando this summer. He was ineffective, he was chirpy with the refs and he looked disinterested in most of what was going on during his week of play. To his credit, he has since derided his own play and has described his experience there as a "wake-up" to the competitive level of NBA ball, but Sixers fans have to be at least a little concerned about Turner being caught off guard by the level of play in SUMMER LEAGUE. Not even Vegas Summer League, either, where most of the teams play, but the Orlando Summer League. He'll be a fine rookie, but as the second-overall pick he'll be facing a lot more scrutiny than he appears ready for.
SF – ANDRE IGUODALA
So, it seems safe to start writing some of these evaluations of Iguodala in ink after six NBA seasons. He's never going to be a deadly three-point shooter, he's never going to be particularly careful with the ball and he's never going to be the superstar the Sixers were hoping for when they traded away Iverson and handed him the reigns to the team. Iguodala is a great support piece, but his game is just too limited to be counted on at such a high level. However, he plays in every game of the season, he is a dedicated defender when he wants to be and while he's not particularly efficient, he rebounds and assists at a rate that exceeds most at his position. If Turner can turn out to be a more reliable offensive threat, then Iggy could slide into the supporting role he seems destined for. If Turner can't do much more than Iguodala, though, then expect that trade machine to start firing up again with teams once again lining up to try and pilfer Iguodala on the cheap from a desperate (and that is the only way to describe the Sixers) team.
PF – THADDEUS YOUNG
Young is so much more effective as a power forward in this league than as a small forward it's funny (12.5 PER versus 17.2 PER), yet people still seem to wonder what his natural NBA position is. In a league that is continually straying farther away from traditional player roles and positional definitions, it doesn't even really seem to matter, yet Doug Collins is a traditional coach and if he insists of playing Young at small forward then you can start lopping zeros off of his new contract next summer. As a power forward, Young can use his quickness to get by slower defenders and yet he can use his size to give most modern power forwards enough trouble on defence. As a small forward Young has no marked advantage and he becomes just another big, athletic wing in a league with guys far better than him at his position. It will be a very interesting pre-season with this team as we wait and see if Collins is ready to grow with the game or not as it pertains to his use of Young's attributes.
C – ELTON BRAND
After two summers of promises, let's assume that Brand's days as an All-Star are officially over. His PER over the last two seasons (14.6 and 15.7) were by far the worst of his career and days of him being 20+ in PER are long gone. Let's instead see if anyone can actually make him a positive asset to a club paying him $16 million this season. It's not all on Brand, since he's always been a hard worker, but his body has betrayed him and it now falls on him and his coaches to re-define how he can best help a ball club. As a 6-foot-8 centre, he will be undersized in just about any matchup, but his strength and smarts should allow him to survive there while allowing the rest of the lineup to get out and run without him AND a traditional centre slowing down the attack. Again, Collins may want to use Young as a small forward or as a reserve, which could open up Brand's natural power forward slot, but at this point in his career one hopes no one is making those kind of adjustments to actually accommodate Brand. He's a shell of his former self and has to be made to fit in, not expected to stand out.